Hunting humans for sport is a grand and glorious tradition that stretches back decades in this fine, fine country of ours. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire may be the hottest humans-hunting-humans story currently rattling around in the public consciousness, but movies tackling the subject have been around since the dawn of cinema.
And it's easy to understand why: It's bloody exciting. We not only get a thrill relating to the “prey” characters, forced to use their wits and limited resources to evade capture (we like to pretend we could be that resilient in such an extreme situation), but there's a sadistic part of us that also gets a thrill relating to the “hunter” characters, using elaborate weapons and a complete disregard for all moral order to murder for fun (insert your own unhealthy murder fantasy here). At the very least, we all wish we had the wealth and ease of the hunters; the hunters in these movies are almost invariably supra-wealthy.
As tribute (see what I did there?), we here at CraveOnline have decided to compile the following list of the best humans-hunting-humans (and, in some cases, aliens-hunting-humans) movies ever made. I'll give you a one-hour head start, my little piglet, and then I'll release the critical dogs.
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Human Hunt stories first became popular in 1924 with Richard Connell's famed short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” which was adapted into an equally well-regarded 1932 feature film directed by adventure-smiths Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack who would go on to make most of King Kong in 1933. The film is a minor American classic, and hails from an era of movies when horror was less bloody, but somehow much spookier and more disturbing. In 1933, notions of cruelty seemed somehow more cruel for their lack of grit. The evil Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) was all the more monstrous for his good manners and composure, and didn't have to coat himself in blood for us to get how wicked he was. He could just talk about wanting to kill, and you knew he meant it.
A crappy, bare-faced ripoff of The Most Dangerous Game, Ralph Brooks' unknown B-movie Bloodlust! is only notable for its appearance on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Starring Robert Reed (who would go on to play Mike Brady on “The Brady Bunch”), Bloodlust! follows a group of clambake-hungry youngsters who are stranded on the island of a mad millionaire who likes to hunt and and stuff human beings. Stupid, slow, weird and awful, Bloodlust! is immensely enjoyable. But stick with the MST3K version.
First Blood (1982)
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has, since 1982, become a cultural icon of Reagan-era, up-with-soldiers badassery, so it's easy to forget that the original Rambo film, Ted Kotcheff's First Blood, is actually a dark tragedy and a salient comment on PTSD. (For my money, it's not as good as Rolling Thunder, but that's neither here nor there). Rambo is a Vietnam vet who is trying to be polite and healthy, but who is pushed into violence by an evil local cop played by Brian Dennehy. Rambo is an expert hunter, and tragically murders those who “drew first blood.” It's an awesome film, and very sad. That Rambo eventually became a badass is a little baffling in the face of this film.
The Predator movies (1987-2010)
Some of the most famous human hunters in cinema history aren't human. All we know about the aliens from the Predator franchise is that they love to hunt. We don't know the name of their species, but we know that their society may be entirely based on hunting others and collecting grisly trophies. From 1987 to 2010 we were treated to five movies to feature the creatures, and they were never anything less than awesome badass Klingon-like invisible monsters with laser guns and wrist knives who could only be brought down by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The three Predator movies are all pretty darn good, although I would steer clear of the two films wherein the monsters fight the xenomorphs from Alien.
The Running Man (1987)
A direct influence on The Hunger Games, this Stephen King-based story envisions a dystopian future wherein violent gameshows are the word of the day, and “The Running Man” (hosted by real-life gameshow host Richard Dawson) is the most popular entertainment in the world. The show releases convicted criminals into a battlefield with specialized supervillain-like hunters on their tails. In the film, a wrongfully incarcerated Arnold Schwarzenegger is drafted onto the show, and faces off with weirdos named Buzzsaw and Dynamo, trying to evade death and expose the wickedness of the (naturally corrupt) studio heads. Slick, fun, and totally exhilarating, The Running Man is an '80s classic.
I Come in Peace, a.k.a. Dark Angel (1991)
In Craig R. Baxley's cult film, an evil white-eyed alien hunter from beyond (Matthias Hues) has come to our planet to hunt humans and use them to prepare the ultimate drug. A valuable (and illegal) commodity on his home planet, the ultimate drug is made with a mix of heroin, alien chemicals, and human adrenaline, extracted from their bodies at the moment of death. Awesome, right? I'd try some. On the alien's tail is human cop Dolph Lundgren. The alien kills people with flying CDs of death. If you can resist that premise, then you are a better man than I.
Hard Target (1993)
HK action master John Woo's first foray into English language cinema was also a vehicle to carry the rising star of Jean-Claude Van Damme, one of the biggest action heroes of the early 1990s. In the film, Van Damme plays a drifter named (sigh) Chance Bordeaux who is hired to investigate an older man's disappearance. Of course he uncovers a plot constructed by wealthy murderers who hunt poor people for sport, and who eventually want to hunt Van Damme as the ultimate prey. The story is hard to follow, but the action is first rate, and Van Damme proves he has martial arts chops as the hunted who becomes the hunter.
Mean Guns (1997)
A little-known cheapie from the late '90s starring Christopher Lambert and Ice-T, Mean Guns has one of the coolest premises possible for an action film: an evil mob boss (Ice-T) has been collecting a list of assassins who have failed him on some small way. Rather than kill them all himself, he puts all 100 of them in a competition wherein they hunt one another to the death. The last three survivors get a cash prize. Directed by schlockmeister Albert Pyun (Captain America, Vicious Lips), Mean Guns is a fine, fine B-movie.
Battle Royale (2000)
Often cited as the direct influence on The Hunger Games, Japanese cult masterpiece Battle Royale has a very similar premise: In a dystopian future, a group of unwitting teenagers are transported to an island where they are ordered by a teacher (“Beat” Takeshi) to kill off one another, or die at the hands of the explosive collars they are locked into. The brutal kills are spectacular. Violent, wicked, and well regarded by fans of underground Japanese cinema, Battle Royale is one worth tracking down.
The humans-hunting-humans premise even carried into the present day with 2013's Riddick, starring Vin Diesel as the alien bounty hunter title character. The third film in the Riddick series, this chapter follows our antihero as he has to evade capture by two teams of bounty hunters who have arrived on a seemingly uninhabited planet for the express purpose of apprehending him. This time around, we're asked to sympathize with the hunter, as the “prey” characters are mostly pretty terrible people, and the murderous hunter seems to have some honor. It's a movie that also proves that the humans-hunting-humans can still, to this day, make for a decent exploitation flick.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.