The Running Man

by Stephen King

In 2025, the world's economy is in shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. 28-year-old Ben Richards, an impoverished resident of the fictional Co-Op City, is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade. His gravely ill daughter Cathy needs medicine, and his wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the Games Network, a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on The Running Man, the Network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program. He meets with Dan Killian, the executive producer of the program, who describes the challenges he will face once the game begins. He also meets Fred Victor, the director of the show, and Bobby Thompson, the emcee and host.

The contestant is declared an enemy of the state and released with a 12-hour head start before the Hunters, an elite team of Network-employed hitmen, are sent out to kill him. The contestant earns $100 per hour that he stays alive and avoids capture, an additional $100 for each law enforcement officer or Hunter he kills, and a grand prize of $1 billion if he survives for 30 days. Viewers can receive cash rewards for informing the Network of the runner's whereabouts. The runner is given $4,800 and a pocket video camera before he leaves the studio. He can travel anywhere in the world, and each day he must videotape two messages and mail them back to the studio for broadcasting. If he neglects to send the messages, he will be held in default of his Games contract and stop accumulating prize money, but will continue to be hunted indefinitely. Killian states that no contestant has survived long enough to claim the grand prize, nor does he expect anyone to ever do so. Richards simply hopes that he will last long enough to secure his family's future with his prize money.

As the game begins, Richards obtains a disguise and false identification records, traveling first to New York City and then Boston. In Boston, he is tracked down by the Hunters and only narrowly escapes, setting off an explosion in the basement of a YMCA building that kills five police officers. He sneaks away through a sewer pipe and emerges in the city's impoverished ghetto, where he takes shelter with gang member Bradley Throckmorton and his family. Richards learns from Bradley that the air is severely polluted and that the city's poor have become a permanent underclass. Bradley also says that the Network exists only as a propaganda machine to pacify and distract the public. Richards tries to incorporate this information into his video messages, but finds that the Network dubs over his voice with obscenities and threats during the broadcast.

Bradley smuggles Richards past a government checkpoint to carjacks a woman named Amelia Williams and takes her hostage. Alerting the media to his presence, he makes his way to an airport in Derry. The police confront Richards, but he bluffs his way onto a plane past both them and the lead Hunter, Evan McCone, by pretending to be carrying an explosive charge powerful enough to destroy the entire facility. By this time, Richards has broken the Running Man survival record of eight days and five hours.

Richards takes McCone and Amelia as hostages and has the plane fly low over populated areas to avoid being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. However, Killian calls Richards aboard the plane and reveals that he knows Richards has no explosives, as the plane's security system would have detected them. To Richards' surprise, Killian offers him a chance to replace McCone as lead Hunter. Richards is hesitant to take the offer, worried that his family will become a target. Killian then informs him that Sheila and Cathy (as well as everyone else in their neighborhood) were murdered by an angry mob over ten days earlier, before Richards even first appeared on the show, and gives him some time to make his decision. Richards falls asleep and dreams of his murdered family and a gruesome crime scene. With nothing left to lose, he calls Killian back and accepts the offer. After the contact has been severed, he kills the flight crew and McCone, but suffers a mortal gunshot wound from the latter. Richards allows Amelia to jump off the plane with a parachute, and then uses his last strength to override the autopilot and fly toward the skyscraper serving as the headquarters of the Games Network.

The book ends with the plane crashing into the tower, resulting in the deaths of Richards and Killian. The novel closes with the description, "The explosion was tremendous, lighting up the night like the wrath of God, and it rained fire twenty blocks away."