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Rollerball is a 1975 dystopian fiction film directed by Norman Jewison from a screenplay by William Harrison, who adapted his own short story "Roller Ball Murder", which first appeared in 1973 in Esquire magazine.

The game

In the film, the world of 2018 is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houstonmarker which deals with nominally-peer corporations controlling access to all Transport, Luxury, Housing, Communication, and Food on a global basis.

The film's title is the name of a violent, globally-popular sport around which the events of the film take place. It is similar to Roller Derby in that two teams clad in body armor skate on roller skates around a banked, circular track. There, however, the similarity ends. The object of the game is to score points by the offensive team (the team in possession of the ball) throwing a softball-sized steel ball into the goal, which is a magnetic, cone-shaped area inset into the wall of the arena. The team without possession of the ball is defensive and acts to prevent scoring. It is a full-contact sport in which players have considerable leeway to attack opposing players in order to take or maintain possession of the ball and to score points (in the overpopulated world of the original short story, the object of the game is to kill off the other players). In addition, each team has three players who ride motorcycles which teammates can latch on and be towed. The player in possession of the ball must hold it in plain view at all times.

Rollerball teams, named after the cities in which they are based, are owned by the various global corporations. Energy Corporation sponsors the Houston team. The game is a substitute for all current team sports and for warfare. While its ostensible purpose is entertainment, Mr. Bartholomew, a high-level executive of the Energy Corporation, describes it as a sport designed to show the futility of individual effort.

Plot summary

Jonathan E with the rest of the Houston rollerball team.
Jonathan is wearing No.6
Teammate Moonpie survives in Sarcophagus against the doctors will
Jonathan E is the last man standing after the game against New York

The film tells the story of Jonathan E (James Caan), the veteran star of the Energy Corporation's Houstonmarker team. By virtue of his stellar performance over the years, Jonathan has become the most recognizable Rollerballer in history; civilians all over the world recognize him on sight. This recognition is problematic for the hegemonic corporations. After another impressive performance in Houston's season-ending victory over the Madridmarker team, Energy Corporation chairman Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman) congratulates the team and announces that the corporation, running out of ways to properly reward their champion, will feature Jonathan on a "multivision" special devoted to his career.

Mr. Bartholomew later reveals to Jonathan that the corporate executives want him to retire, and offers Jonathan a lavish retirement package including an incentive package featuring "privileges," the currency of the society, asking him to announce his retirement on his televised special. Mr. Bartholomew emphasizes the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, but does not reveal why the directorate wants Jonathan to retire. It is revealed that Jonathan was married to a woman, Ella (Maud Adams), and that the marriage ended when she was promised to an executive.

The film revolves around the struggle of Jonathan to understand why he faces so much pressure to retire, which he ponders at his Texas ranch with his personal coach and his corporate-provided concubine. Jonathan gives advice to a group of up-and-coming Rollerball players, emphasizing the importance of skill and technique. He later tries to access some books from a library, but finds that the books have been classified, transcribed, and stored in one of the major corporate computer banks. Jonathan comforts himself at his ranch by watching video of his ex-wife, and finds that the corporation has sent him another concubine, Daphne.

For Jonathan, Rollerball soon degrades into senseless violence as the rules of upcoming games are made more dangerous in order to force Jonathan out one way or another. It is announced that the semi-final game versus the Tokyomarker team will be played with no penalties and limited player substitutions, yet Jonathan refuses to yield and intends to play in the game. Summoned to the filming of his televised special, he struggles with Daphne and the host. An instructor insists on teaching the Houston team how to counter the Tokyo team's unorthodox martial arts skills, but the team, brimming with confidence, drowns him out with chants of "Houston!" The brutality of the match claims the lives of several players, including Houston's lead biker, Blue, and leaves Jonathan's best friend and teammate Moonpie (John Beck) brain-dead. Jonathan defies a flustered doctor in the Tokyo hospital, and insists on keeping Moonpie on life support and transporting him elsewhere to receive medical care.

The corporations hold an emergency meeting to discuss Jonathan's obstinate refusal to retire, and decide that the championship game against the New Yorkmarker team will be played without penalties, player substitutions, or a time-limit, in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to participate, will be killed during the course of the game. The executives' meeting reveals why they are demanding Jonathan's retirement: Rollerball was conceived not merely to slake bloodlust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's singular talent and longevity in the sport defeats the intended purpose of Rollerball.

After much personal introspection, and further delving into the true nature of the corporations that run the world, Jonathan decides he is going to play in the game despite the obvious dangers. Naturally, the final game quickly loses all semblance of order as players are crippled and killed in swift order. The crowd, raucous and energetic at the game's beginning, gradually become more and more subdued as the carnage builds and degrades to a gladiatorial "last man standing" event.

Towards the end, Jonathan is the last mobile member of the Houston team. Two players remain from New York. After a brief and violent struggle, Jonathan dispatches one of the players, then gets possession of the ball, grabs the last, helpless New York player by the collar and readies to fatally smite him as the crowd, both coaches and Mr. Bartholomew watch in complete silence.

With a moment's pause, Jonathan releases his opponent, slowly gets to his feet, and painfully makes his way to the goal, scoring for the last time.

While Mr. Bartholomew leaves in defeat and (perhaps) disgust, the coaches and fans of both teams start chanting "Jon-a-than!" louder and louder as Jonathan circles the track. As the cheering reaches a climax, the movie cuts to a sudden still of Jonathan, against the same music that opened the film, Toccata from Bach's iconic Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Differences from the short story

Game rules differences
"Roller Ball Murder" Rollerball
The track is oval, with a long axis of 50 yards and a short axis of 30 yards The track is circular, approximately 50 yards in diameter
Teams consist of twenty players: ten roller skaters, five motorbike riders, and five runners (or clubbers) Teams are ten strong: three motorbike riders and seven skaters (five skaters + two catchers)
Points are scored when a team's runners manage to pass the opposing skaters, pick up a ball and pass it to one of their bikers Teams score by throwing or placing the ball into the goal, a small, conical, magnetic hole on the outer edge of the track
Balls are fired by several cannons (up to four will be in play at once in one game), in the same direction players skate, with the aim of hitting and disabling players from behind. In the last two games of the story, the balls are oblong, to increase the chance of hitting players There is apparently only one cannon, balls are fired in the opposite direction, are always spherical, and are used for scoring points
Games typically last two hours, with no rest periods Games have three periods of twenty minutes, with rest periods of two minutes in between
At the start, games with Jonathan E already have no substitutions and - in practice - no penalties. Other games, which he has heard about but not apparently seen, have no time limits or mixed sex teams No time limit, no penalties and no substitutions is only in place for the final game
Rule changes are presented as being made to satisfy the global audience's demand for more blood during games Rule changes are made to kill Jonathan E

Filming locations

Among the filming locations used was the Rudi-Sedlmayer-Hallemarker as arena, the then-new BMW Headquartersmarker and Museum buildings in Munichmarker, Germanymarker, appearing as the headquarter buildings of Energy Corporation and at the Olympiapark, Munichmarker.


The film is noteworthy for its use of classical music for establishing atmosphere, particularly the Toccata from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which is heard during the opening sequence and again during the film's climax, the Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto, and the Largo from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.


Reviews for the film have been mostly positive. Variety praised the film, citing that "the performances of the principals are uniformly tops." TV Guide gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, saying that "the performances of Caan and Richardson are excellent, and the rollerball sequences are fast-paced and interesting." James Rocchi of Netflix said in his review that "the combination of Roman Empire-styled decadence and violence mixed with a vision of a bizarre, loveless corporate future is evocative and unsettling."

On the other hand, Jay Cocks of Time Magazine posted a negative review of the film, saying that Caan looked "unconvinced and uncomfortable" as Jonathan E. JoBlo gave the film a 5/10 on his review, citing that "this original version could EASILY have been trimmed down quite some with plenty of repetitive moments popping up throughout the film."

The film is currently ranked at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, in contrast to the remake's 4% rating.

Other media

  • Speedball (1988), developed by the Bitmap Brothers for the Amiga and later ported to other systems, bears many similarities to Rollerball and includes specific references to the film, such as Jonathan E tapping his knuckles before the start of a game.

  • In the videogame Rocky Legends, close to the arena in Times Square there is a theater with a large Rollerball billboard with the tagline (In the future...).

  • In episode 4 "Now You Coliseum, Now You Don't" of the 2008 British Animated television series the Chop Socky Chooks features the villain Dr. Wasabi capturing the story's protagonists, forcing them to play a game similar to Rollerball. The episode's plot is similar to the plot of the original Rollerball movie.

  • The board game Blood Bowl and derivative video games combines the action of Rugby with the violent aspects of this film.

  • The UK comedy show "The Goodies", used Rollerball as a premies for the episode "2001 and a Bit". As Rollerball was not exciting to the audience, they created a new version, called Rolleregg, a mix between Rollerball, and a egg and spoon race.

Listen to

See also


  1. Variety - Rollerball Review
  2. TV Guide - Rollerball
  3. Netflix - Rollerball review
  4. Time Magazine - Rollerball Review
  5. JoBlo's Movie Review of Rollerball
  6. Rotten Tomatoes - Rollerball

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