…But be warned: It ain’t pretty.
25 movies that expose the ruthlessness of television – by Louisa Mellor
The Hunger Games, out now on DVD and Blu-ray, takes television’s thirst for human suffering to task, as do these 25 earlier films…
Hollywood and TV networks have readily embraced The Hunger Games, running ads for the film, promoting its cinematic, DVD and Blu-Ray release, cooing over its stars’ premiere outfits… all of which begs a fairly sizeable question: did any of them actually watch it?
The Capitol, the seat of power from which the dystopian county of Panem is ruled in The Hunger Games, is a place of excessive consumption obsessed by style trends, celebrity gossip, and bubble-headed chatter. It’s a culture so busy beautifying itself and swapping tidbits on the latest TV reality show, that it neither scrutinises the source of its wealth nor questions the regime that maintains it. Sound familiar?
Of course it does. The Capitol represents the worst of our own apolitical sleb-worshipping culture, a satirical portrait evolved from a land of E! channel, gossip mags, and Big Brother. The film Hollywood has taken to its silicone bosom is one that satirises its values and makes audiences question their passive support of TV shows in which humans are emotionally – if not literally – gutted for our entertainment. Ironic doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The Hunger Games is by no means the first film to critique society’s thirst for real-life human suffering to be served up on the small screen, but it’s the first to have achieved such box-office success, and the first to offer such satire to a mainstream teen audience. It couldn’t have done so, however, without the help of a few of the trailblazers below. Join us as we count down 25 other films that also took television to task…
25. Deathrow Gameshow (Pirro; 1987)
Released in the same year as The Running Man, Deathrow Gameshow was essentially a high-camp black comedy version of the Arnie film. Its titular game show was ‘Live or Die’, a series of televised challenges that death sentence convicts could take part in to try to win a reprieve or money for their families, hosted by peppy Chuck Toedan (John McCafferty)…
24. Stay Tuned (Hyams; 1992)
Starring the late John Ritter and Mork and Mindy’s Pam Dawber, Stay Tuned also took a comic approach to TV satire. The film imagined the fates of a pair sucked into a demonic gogglebox and forced to fight for their survival in show after show. “They can’t go home, they can only switch channels” chortles the trailer, as Ritter and Dawber’s characters must do battle with cartoons, sitcoms, game shows and movies quite literally from hell. Look out for zombie Wayne and Garth in the trailer below.
23. EDtv (Howard; 1999)
A gentle rom-com take on the early days of reality TV, Ron Howard’s EDtv suffered from comparisons to far better predecessor The Truman Show. The story of a TV exec (Ellen DeGeneres) who goes for a ratings boost by putting the life of an ordinary schmuck (Matthew McConaughey) on screen 24 hours a day, the film was neither quite funny, nor satirical enough to impress, no matter how many times McConaughey did that chicken dance. The Hunger Games’ Haymitch (a.k.a Woody Harrelson) also stars.
There are some fascinating films on this list, so it’s definitely worth reading on. But the one this article picks as #1 is simply sublime in its anger, satire, and wit. We don’t feel like we’re giving anything away – because if you’re into films and TV you already know how powerful the winner here is. NETWORK, of course. (If you can only see one film on this list, NETWORK definitely has to be the one.)