Top 50 Deadly Competition Films

There is no greater example of the Death Match movie genre than Mortal Kombat. The word mortal is literally in the title, and the game is known for its bloody violence and the opportunity to serve out a “Fatality!” on your opponent at the end of a round.

It is far from the first Death Match movie, though. When the first Mortal Kombat was released back in 1995, there was already a legacy of Deadly Competition movies stretching all the way back to the early 1930s with the grand-daddy of them all, The Most Dangerous Game, depicting a crazed hunter who hunts humans.

Many others followed, and the way in which the competition threatened (or took) the contestants’ lives frequently got more violent or more creative, and sometimes both. So in honour of the release of the new (and appropriately R-rated) adaptation of Mortal Kombat, here is a mega-list of 50 Deadly Competition films, listed in order of their release.

1) The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The one that started it all. From the same creative team that made the original King Kong (and also starring Kong’s love interest, Fay Wray), this one about a crazed hunter stalking people trapped on his island home gets its title from the hunter’s description of humans as “the most dangerous game” one can hunt.

2) Run for the Sun (1956)

This is another adaptation of the original story “The Most Dangerous Game” that brought about the first film on the list. However, this one has some added historical context as Richard Widmark and friends find themselves hunted not by a single crazed hunter, but by Nazi war criminals.

3) Bloodlust! (1961)

Nearly thirty years after The Most Dangerous Game, low-budget filmmakers were still ripping off the central premise for a quick buck, and one of the best (worst?) examples is Bloodlust! The same central premise, but with questionable production value, this one ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s.

4) The 10th Victim (1965)

An Italian film from the 1960s starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress? You might be expecting something psychedelic and sexy, and you’d be right. But you might NOT expect a wild future with a popular contest called “Big Hunt” and a romantic entanglement between hunter and hunted.

5) The Naked Prey (1965)

A period piece set in Africa, the story follows Cornell Wilde as a safari guide who refuses to respect a local tribe’s territory and laws, and he finds himself naked and weaponless, fleeing a death sentence across the wilds of Africa.

6) The Gladiators (1969)

In a post-nuclear future, the world settles their differences by choosing small teams of skilled combatants to fight each other for superiority. This is the first of British director Peter Watkins’ films on the list; Watkins won an Oscar for Best Documentary for his film The War Game, which was actually a fake documentary.

7) Punishment Park (1971)

Peter Watkins’ first deadly competition film is followed by his second, which is much more well known and an early entry in the science-fiction/horror fake documentary subgenre. Soldiers force hippies and other anti-establishment figures to take a harrowing hike across miles of desert as punishment for their “illegal” acts. The documentary feel makes this film frighteningly realistic.

8) Enter the Dragon (1973)

A fantastic martial arts action film starring Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, and John Saxon, the story follows Lee as a secret agent entering a deadly fighting competition on a private island run by a mysterious criminal. Sound familiar? That’s because this movie was the inspiration for director Paul W.S. Anderson’s version of Mortal Kombat.

9) Open Season (1974)

Peter Fonda is terrifying in this film about a group of three Vietnam veterans who kidnap and hunt people. This one sets itself apart with great supporting performances from Richard Lynch and William Holden, as well as the excellent addition of a revenge subplot involving the loved one of a previous victim.

10) Death Race 2000 (1975)

Paul Bartel’s science fiction/action film is actually a cheeky satire on consumerism, television, and people’s love of violence in sport. A great cast including David Carradine, Mary Woronov, and a young Sylvester Stallone elevates this fun exploitation classic about a murderous televised car competition.

11) Rollerball (1975)

Though the film came out after Death Race 2000, this was the film that Roger Corman decided to make a cheap knock-off of when he produced his film. This one, from director Norman Jewison, is a near-future tale of a violent sport like roller derby and the popular sports star who bucks the totalitarian system that made him famous.

12) Rituals (1977)

Deliverance by way of Canada, Rituals is a tense thriller about a group of doctors on a wilderness trip who find themselves stranded and stalked by someone who they can’t see, but who is stealing their supplies and toying with them.

13) Welcome to Blood City (1977)

One half Lord of the Flies, one half Westworld. Add a pinch of Jack Palance, and you have Welcome to Blood City, a strange action thriller about people with amnesia who wake up in an old western town and have to kill to get ahead.

14) Deathsport (1978)

Producer Roger Corman ripped off his own ripoff, creating Deathsport after Death Race 2000 proved to be a financial success. Swap out cars for motorcycles and original director Paul Bartel for Alan Arkush, and you have a fun pseudo-Mad Max entry in the post-apocalypse contest subgenre.

15) TAG: The Assassination Game (1982)

This college-set action-thriller cashes in on the short-lived fad of fake assassination games played on college campuses, with the twist here that instead of innocuous little fake darts, a mysterious hunter is using real ammo to take out other players.

16) Turkey Shoot (1982)

Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey are thrown into a re-education camp where the guards play survival games with the prisoners as the prey. Beloved exploitation director Brian Trenchard-Smith gives this movie energy and a sleazy charm.

17) Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984)

Starring Fred Williamson? Directed by Lucio Fulci? A movie about a totalitarian future society creating a new televised version of classic Gladiator games? What else do you need to know?

18) Gymkata (1985)

When you combine gymnastics… and karate… you get… a movie about a gymnast spy who enters a deadly and mysterious competition in a foreign country? Yeah, okay. Sure. It’s directed by Robert Clouse, who made Enter the Dragon, so it gets the benefit of the doubt.

19) The Zero Boys (1986)

What starts as a survival game by a group of friends having fun in the wilderness suddenly becomes a fight for their lives. Ninja Academy director Nico Mastorakis brings energy to the proceedings, and beloved horror actress Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet plays one of the lead roles.

20) Deadly Prey (1987)

People being kidnapped off the street to serve as “practice hunts” for mercenaries in training at a secret camp! What can we do? We can sit back and enjoy the very 1980s action vibe of the film and the delightful performances from Cameron Mitchell and Troy Donahue. And yes, the movie’s hero is rocking some cut-off jean shorts.

21) The Running Man (1987)

Murder on television. Opera-singing killers. Richard Dawson as the smarmiest TV host of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a unitard. Along with The Most Dangerous Game, this film is one of the most famous deadly competitions in film history with some fantastic action set pieces.

22) Hard Target (1993)

After John Woo reinvented action cinema in Hong Kong but hadn’t hit it big in America with Face/Off, he made this Jean-Claude Van Damme actioner about humans hunting humans in New Orleans. I could sell it in a thousand ways, but the best one is to tell you that this is the movie where Van Damme knocks a snake unconscious by punching it in the head. You’re welcome.

23) Surviving the Game (1994)

Half the appeal of these films is seeing who they’ve chosen to be on either side of the hunt. In the case of Surviving the Game, the line-up is impressive: Ice T, Rutger Hauer, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Busey, the list goes on. And with an expert action director like Ernest R. Dickerson, there’s lots to love here.

24) Mortal Kombat (1995)

It finally arrives! An iconic entry in the subgenre, the film was a big hit, had an enormously successful soundtrack, and had some surprisingly excellent practical effects, particularly with the multi-armed Goro. Be sure to check out the original film before you go see the new one.

25) The Pest (1997)

Did you know that there was a pseudo-remake of The Most Dangerous Game that was a broad comedy starring John Leguizamo in a performance so annoying it’s hard to believe it happened after his breakthrough performances in Carlito’s Way and Romeo + Juliet? Because it’s real, and it hasn’t dated well. But my love of Leguizamo as a tornado of energy makes at least a single watch worthwhile.

26) Battle Royale (2000)

Brutal, violent, and funny, with a cameo from director Takeshi Kitano, this movie hits the ground running and never lets up. One of the most effective and well made of the deadly competition films, it is a personal favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s, and he references it in Kill Bill.

27) Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

An early satire of the new boom of reality competition TV that started with Survivor, Series 7: The Contenders is played as a marathon of episodes of the famous series. Brooke Smith is great in the central role of the pregnant central contestant. Smart ideas and thrilling action.

28) Battlefield Baseball (2003)

What would make baseball more entertaining to watch? Death! That’s what this movie has to offer in spades, along with a wild sense of humor and a fascinating new world. It is based on the manga series of the same name.

29) Death Race (2008)

Director Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the Deadly Competition after Mortal Kombat with this remake of the Paul Bartel original. Darker and less satirical than the original, this one leans into the action heavily and does not disappoint.

30) Exam (2009)

In the future, good jobs are scarce and there’s an illness affecting much of the population. A company with the cure for that disease has a single job opening, and a handful of people all want it. They get into a room together for the test to see who should get the job. It gets cutthroat, and that’s not an expression. This smart contained thriller from director Stuart Hazeldine has a skilled ensemble cast and a script with plenty of twists and turns.

31) Gamer (2009)

Neveldine and Taylor continue their action-fueled run, following up Crank with this movie about a future game where players control convicts from death row as they battle each other to the death. Committed performances from Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall make this a fun time in a dark world.

32) The Killing Room (2009)

A small handful of people sign up for a research study about psychology. They quickly learn that the study was a front for a government-run test program of some kind, and their lives are at stake. This movie came and went with little fanfare, which is strange considering the impressive cast that includes Nick Cannon, Chloe Sevigny, Shea Whigham, Timothy Hutton, and Clea Duvall.

33) The Tournament (2009)

From the “rich white guys are above the law” category of Deadly Competition films, this one has a cadre of rich men watching a small English town full of thousands of CCTV cameras and 30 assassins. Whoever survives the next 24 hours wins the $10 million prize. The always-reliable Robert Carlyle and Ving Rhames join a cast of great character actors for a bloody contest.

34) Arena (2011)

The only thing that sets this “futuristic gladiator games” film apart from the handful of ones that came out in the 1970s and early 1980s is the updated effects and the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson. And that is to its benefit, because this throwback action film is fondly reminiscent of the greatest of the worst kind of 80s action filmmaking.

35) Freerunner (2011)

A race against time to save himself and his love, this story of a freerunner in a future world trying to stop the detonation of a bomb around his neck is an action blast without ever breaking any new ground. If you mixed equal parts Fortress and District B13, you’d get this movie, and that’s not a bad thing.

36) The Hunger Games series (2012-2015)

Probably the most famous set of films on the list, The Hunger Games is basically Battle Royale with less violence and more romantic melodrama. Katniss is the archer who volunteers to save her younger sister from the deadly contest that pits young people in a fight to the death that is televised across the world and keeps the powerful in power.

37) Would You Rather? (2012)

A handful of desperate people in need of money all show up at a special evening with a wealthy weirdo played perfectly by Jeffrey Combs, and he reveals that the contest they’re all embarking on is a series of horrifying choices they have to make one by one, to hurt others and survive through to the end of the night. A great cast and some gruesome set pieces make this a fun but brutal contest.

38) Cheap Thrills (2013)

Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are old friends who reconnect one night in a bar, only to find themselves wrapped up in a series of escalating contests from an odd couple who offer them increasingly large sums of money to do dumb, dangerous dares. The film is an ice-cold comedy that skewers capitalism and sports a delightfully dark turn from comic actor David Koechner from The Office and Anchorman.

39) The Human Race (2013)

Swept out of their normal lives, dozens of people find themselves on a path through an otherwise deserted town. They are told to run the path; if they slow down, turn back, or leave the path, they will be killed. There can be only one winner in the end. This film from director Paul Hough has adrenaline to burn, and the film makes a lot of its low budget by making smart creative choices.

40) Raze (2013)

This bare-knuckle combat competition involved 50 kidnapped women forced to fight each other to the death. In case you’re wondering if simple fist-fighting can make for a brutal and compelling film, keep in mind that the star of the film is badass stuntwoman/actress (and Death Proof star) Zoe Bell. Enough said.

41) Mockingbird (2014)

At first, the people receiving video cameras in the mail think they’re part of a fun contest to win a lot of money. But by the end of the evening, they’ll be happy just to still be alive. From Bryan Bertino, writer/director of The Strangers, this found footage horror-thriller was buried on streaming instead of getting a much-deserved theatrical run.

42) Circle (2015)

50 people wake up in a room. There is a continuous two-minute countdown, and after two minutes, one of them must die. Let the voting begin. This film milks a lot of tension out of its simple premise and its one location, and the final act of the film is a great observation of cutthroat humanity and a critique of the American voting system.

43) 13 Sins (2014)

A man in desperate need of some fast cash discovers what seems like a simple contest: complete 13 challenges, and reap rewards. But the further he gets into the game, the darker the challenges get and the more dangerous it becomes for him. And the last thing in the world he can do is stop. Directed by Daniel Stamm, who made the brilliant A Necessary Death, the film is effectively tense and unnerving.

44) 31 (2016)

So, you want more of The Purge, but you want it to be dirtier and more redneck, with a half-baked story of haves versus have-nots and the classic Rob Zombie vibe? Then you’re in luck! Seriously, though, while it’s not perfect, a fantastic turn from the excellent Richard Brake and some great visuals from Zombie make this a worthwhile watch.

45) The Belko Experiment (2016)

Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn wrote the script for this darkly funny horror film about a company building that locks down and announces to its employees that they are to kill each other in order to survive, or the company will kill them. There’s a game cast including the always-fun John C. McGinley as well as John Gallagher, Jr., who has become something of a genre phenom after turns in this film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Hush.

46) Nerve (2016)

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are sexy young people wrapped up in an escalating game of Truth or Dare online. The movie is hyperactive, neon-soaked, and it was directed by the guys who made the Catfish movie. What does that mean? I don’t know, but the movie is dumb fun.

47) Escape Room (2019)

It’s the most obvious hook in the world, and yet it works so well: a group of people invited to an elite escape room discover that the timers in the rooms are ticking and the threats are real. Lives are lost and mysteries are solved as the group tries to find out how to get out and why they were chosen to endure the contest in the first place.

48) The Furies (2019)

This smart and well-made film takes the classic trope of the masked killer and the survivor girl and completely turns it on its head, creating a new kind of slasher story and complicating the roles of each character in fascinating ways. The competition is impressively graphic, and the movie provides a cool variety of slashers in rapid succession.

49) Ready or Not (2019)

She thought she was marrying into a wealthy family whose riches came from a board game empire. She found out the hard way that one of the family’s games was much more sinister and deadly than she ever could have imagined. Samara Weaving is a dynamo in this horror-comedy in the “eat the rich” vein.

50) The Hunt (2020)

A group of unsuspecting Americans wake up gagged in the woods and find themselves hunted by someone they can’t see. A small handful of survivors seeks escape, but the more they learn about their hunters, the stranger the situation gets. The film is fast and funny, but the real takeaway is the powerhouse performance from Betty Gilpin, who effortlessly owns the screen for every second she’s on it.

So there you have it: 50 movies with deadly competitions that you can watch to prepare yourself for the coming carnage that awaits you in Mortal Kombat. Can you find them all and get a “Flawless Victory”?

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