The cinematic canvas is a broad one indeed. On the silver screen worlds and universes are created to enthrall and delight in equal measure. One of the many staples when world building a future on screen are the small details which go to make up a fully-realised world. As well as futuristic costumes, set designs, and even languages, games are often an integral part of what goes to making a coherent and believable verisimilitude.
Some of these games, like Harry Potter’s Quidditch, play an important part in the development of the characters. Others are more central to the film. Whether your preferred games live online, are played in front of a crowd of thousands, or are held in UK casinos, cinema audiences around the world can’t get enough of the thrill of the game.
In this article we are going to look at some films in which new and invented games play a vital role.
The Running Man
In the ’80s Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the box office. From battling sci-fi aliens to waging war against terrorist insurgents (and hearing the lamentations of their women’s tears) if there was a big budget action film chances are that Annie was in there somewhere. 1987’s The Running Man is based on a Stephen King novel (writing as Richard Bachman) in which a futuristic society spend their time watching normal people battle it out on TV for their entertainment. Nothing short of prescient, eh? While the film version diverted from King’s original vision, there are more than enough thrills, interesting social commentary, and cheesy one-liners to satisfy any couch potato. Here’s a taste, but be warned – there’s some NSFWery here.
Giving us a look at Cold War politics through the prism of the booming home computer scene may not have been an easy sell for many studios in the ’80s. However John Badham’s 1983 science fiction film took that notion to terrifying and enthralling ends. The film made a huge return on its $12 million budget, was premiered at Cannes, and was nominated for three Academy Awards – not bad for a film about nuclear proliferation and the dangers of supercomputers… something which would continue to haunt Hollywood through the years of The Terminator and its sequels.
1975’s Rollerball was directed by In the Heat of the Night’s Norman Jewison, and gave us James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams and Ralph Richardson in a story about corporate secrecy, social censorship, and the dangers of following the rules when you don’t know who set them. The titular game is an incredibly violent one, with skaters and bikers comprising two teams chasing the titular object. You can forget the 2002 remake, the ’70s were rife with social commentary as told through science fiction. The likes of A Clockwork Orange, Logan’s Run and Westworld all had something to say not about the game but about the people who play it.
Right now audiences are awaiting the third film in the Jumanji series. This time Jack Black, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan return from their first adventure with the haunted game. The 1995 original starred the late great Robin Williams, and told a magical and imaginative story about a board game that you play for real. This hook allows for a huge imagined journey, and is perfect for big-screen action adventure. That the film series is still enticing audiences in droves, albeit with an updated video game rather than a board game, is testament to how a simple great idea can thrill audiences across the decades.
Star Wars dejarik
In 1977’s Star Wars there is a small scene on the Millennium Falcon which involves a holographic game which seems to be a cross between chess and punching someone in the face. The stop motion animation of the game gives it a Harryhausen quality and its inclusion as a small part of the world of Star Wars goes a long way to establishing the galaxy far, far away. Not only did it allow for character moments (C-3PO’s inability to bend the rules, as well as an inferred warning about the strength of a certain Wookiee), it gave the film one of its many visual idiosyncrasies.
In 2015’s The Force Awakens the game picks up again right where it left off almost 40 years before giving long time Star Wars fans a small moment of nostalgia.
Now who’s for a game of Sabacc…?