Before Jason Statham was punching giant sharks and teaming up with other action stars to compare muscles, he starred in a film that’s more Twisted Metal than the Peacock series: Death Race. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon) and released in 2008, this all-action affair has a need for speed and lethal high-stakes racing. (Think of it as a more dangerous version of Fast and the Furious.) Not only are the souped-up awesome to behold, but the film is also jam-packed with a stellar cast including Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Joan Allen, and Jason Clarke.
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The story is simple: A cruel warden (Allen) offers prisoners the chance to earn their freedom if they participate in a deadly car race where the rules don’t apply. Statham portrays the lead character Jensen Ames, who doesn’t deserve to be in prison so he’ll take any opportunity to get out. Naturally, he puts the pedal to the metal and carnage unfolds.
Was it a remake of Death Race 2000?
While Death Race is referred to as a remake of Roger Corman’s 1975 film Death Race 2000, which stars Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine, it holds the loosest connection in the grand context of the story. Jason Statham told Rotten Tomatoes that he hadn’t even watched the original film. “The only similarity is that it’s a race to the death and it’s got Machine Gun Joe and Frankenstein – they’re two characters from the original – the rest is more homage,” Statham said. “We didn’t get too tied down with trying to nail ourselves to the original.”
According to Statham, director Paul W. S. Anderson wanted to do something different – even telling the actor it was okay if he hadn’t watched Corman’s movie. Anderson himself stated in the commentary for Death Race that he sees it more as a prequel than a remake. Regardless, it’s easy to watch this film without having to worry too much about what came before it since it works well on its own.
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In 1995, the demolition derby video game known as Twisted Metal was released on PlayStation, then later on PC. This title kickstarted a franchise that culminated with its own show on Peacock, starring Anthony Mackie, Stephanie Beatriz, Samoa Joe, and Neve Campbell. While the streaming series deviates from the source material and tells a story far richer in its narrative, the concept of Twisted Metal is essentially about a vehicular tournament where the drivers would need to destroy other cars to come out on top.
As fans have pointed out, it’s clear Twisted Metal was inspired by the premise of Death Race 2000. Subsequently, the video game series also helped to shape the look and tone of 2008’s Death Race. While the Jason Statham-led film may not have had the Twisted Metal moniker attached to it, the soul of the series still permeated on screen through the weapons and carnage on display. All that was missing was Sweet Tooth and his ice cream truck.
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The legacy of Death Race
Much like anything Jason Statham touches, a franchise follows suit. Similarly, Death Race sped off to a respectable $76 million from a $45 million budget. It wasn’t exactly enough to merit more big screen releases, or a nice hefty budget for the productions, but the series found success in the straight-to-home video market.
2010’s Death Race 2 and 2013’s Death Race 3: Inferno serve as prequels to the 2008 movie, while 2018’s Death Race: Beyond Anarchy is considered the direct sequel to the original films. Statham didn’t return for any of the sequels – since he was too busy playing with Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren in The Expendables – but that doesn’t take away from their B-movie goodness and entertainment value. If action-packed car clashes, tough guy dialogue, and over-the-top silliness are what the audience craves, they can’t go wrong with the Death Race series.
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