Theatrical release poster by Bob Peak
|Directed by||Norman Jewison|
|Produced by||Norman Jewison|
|Screenplay by||William Harrison|
|Based on||"Roller Ball Murder"|
by William Harrison
|Music by||André Previn|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$30 million|
Rollerball is a 1975 science fiction sports film directed and produced by Norman Jewison. It stars James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn and Ralph Richardson. The screenplay, written by William Harrison, adapted his own short story, "Roller Ball Murder", which had first appeared in the September 1973 issue of Esquire.
Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the team captain and veteran star of the Houston Rollerball team. He has become the sport's most recognizable and talented player. After another impressive performance against Madrid, Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), chairman of the Energy Corporation, whose headquarters is Houston, announces that Jonathan will be featured in a "multivision" broadcast about his career.
Bartholomew tells Jonathan that he wants him to retire. He offers the Rollerballer a lavish retirement package if Jonathan makes the announcement during the special. He then preaches the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, never explaining exactly why he must retire. Jonathan refuses, and requests to see his former wife Ella (Maud Adams), who had been taken from him some time earlier by a corporate executive who wanted her for himself.
Suspicious of a forced retirement, Jonathan goes to a library and asks for books about the corporation and history. He finds that all books have been digitized and "edited" to suit the corporations, and are now stored on supercomputers at large protected corporate locations.
Rollerball soon degrades into senseless violence as the rules are changed just to force Jonathan out. Houston's semi-final game against Tokyo has no penalties and only limited substitutions. The brutality of the match kills several players, including Houston's lead biker, Blue. Jonathan's best friend and teammate, Moonpie (John Beck), is left in a vegetative state. Despite the violence, Houston is victorious and will play New York for the world championship.
Bartholomew hosts an executive teleconference to discuss the game's future. They decide that the Houston – New York game will be played with no penalties, no substitutions, and no time limit in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to play, will be killed during the game. The conference reveals why Jonathan must retire: Rollerball was conceived not only to satisfy man's bloodlust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's popularity and longevity as a player threatens this purpose.
Jonathan makes his way to Geneva to access the world's central supercomputer, known as "Zero". While revered as the repository of all human knowledge, Zero is flawed, which is revealed when the librarian mentions that Zero has "lost" the entire 13th century. Jonathan's goal is to find out how the corporations make their decisions, but the result is indecipherable computer doubletalk.
Afterwards, Jonathan receives a visit from his former wife Ella, who has been sent to convince him to retire and to make it clear that the coming game will be "to the death." Jonathan realizes his wife's visit was set up by the executives, and erasing a long cherished movie of the two of them, stating, "I just wanted you on my side." Jonathan decides that despite the dangers, he will play.
The final match quickly loses any semblance of order that it might have had as the players are injured or killed. The crowd, ecstatic at first, gradually becomes more subdued as the carnage unfolds before them and the game devolves into a gladiatorial fight. Jonathan is soon the only player left on the track for Houston, while a skater and a bikeman remain from New York. After a violent struggle in front of Mr. Bartholomew's box, Jonathan dispatches the skater and takes the ball. The biker charges, but Jonathan counters, knocking him off his bike and down to the inside of the track. He pins the biker down and raises the ball over his head, then pauses. Refusing to kill his fallen opponent, Jonathan gets to his feet and painfully makes his way to the goal, slamming the ball home and scoring the game's only point.
Jonathan skates around the track in silent victory. The coaches and fans of both teams chant his name, first softly, then louder and louder as he skates faster and faster. Mr. Bartholomew exits the arena hurriedly, possibly fearing a riot as the chant of "Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!" becomes a roar. The film ends on a freeze frame of Jonathan's face, as the beginning of Toccata and Fugue in D minor plays over the scene, as at the beginning of the movie.
The game and its rules
- Rollerball is played by two teams of 12 players each (nine roller-skaters, three motorcyclists).
- The game is played in three 20-minute periods, making for one hour of total playing time.
- A steel ball is shot into a circular arena (whose "sidelines" for both teams are located in its center). One of the teams must capture the ball before it rolls into the "gutter" and a new ball must be fired.
- Once a player captures the ball, his team goes on offense and attempts to score by placing the ball in the defending team's goal at one side of the stadium. The defending team attempts to protect their goal and/or steal the ball.
- The ball must be held in plain view at all times, or else it "dies" and a new ball is fired.
- Skaters may latch onto their own team's motorcyclists and be towed to gain momentum.
- Motorcyclists may attempt to block the opposing team's skaters.
- Injured players are removed from the field by medics, and fresh players are substituted into the game to replace them.
- Skaters may use force against each other, but not against motorcyclists.
- Motorcyclists cannot use force against skaters or each other.
- Skaters are not permitted to forcibly engage fallen players.
Violating any of these three rules is punishable by three minutes out of play; repeated violations may result in that player being removed from the game.
- James Caan as Jonathan E.
- John Houseman as Mr. Bartholomew
- Maud Adams as Ella
- John Beck as Moonpie
- Moses Gunn as Cletus
- Ralph Richardson as The Librarian
- Pamela Hensley as Mackie
- Barbara Trentham as Daphne
- John Normington as Ballard, executive
- Shane Rimmer as Rusty, team executive
- Robert Ito as Connor, strategy coach for Houston team
- Burt Kwouk as Japanese Doctor
- Nancy Bleier as Girl in Library
- Richard LeParmentier as Bartholomew's aide
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Rollerball's arena sequences were shot at the Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle in Munich. This hall was selected because it was the only sports arena in the world with a near-circular profile, which the production could take over and re-dress for shooting.
The then-new BMW Headquarters and Museum buildings in Munich, Germany appear as the headquarters buildings of the Energy Corporation at the Olympiapark, Munich. Scenes were also filmed at Fawley Power Station, near Southampton. The sequence where Jonathan E. visits Geneva to consult with Zero the supercomputer concerning corporate decisions features exterior shots of the Palace of Nations.
Recognizing their contribution to the film's many crucial action sequences, Rollerball was the first major Hollywood production to give screen credit to its stunt performers.
The game of Rollerball was so realistic that the cast, extras, and stunt personnel played it between takes on the set. At the time of the film's release, Howard Cosell interviewed Norman Jewison and James Caan on ABC's Wide World of Sports, showing clips from the film and with the two of them explaining the rules of the game. Audiences who saw the film so loved the action of the game that Jewison was contacted multiple times by promoters, requesting that the "rights to the game" be sold so that real Rollerball leagues might be formed. Jewison was outraged, as the entire point of the movie was to show the "sickness and insanity of contact sports and their allure."
English pro wrestler Mark Rocco was a stuntman for the film. He uses the "Rollerball" name as his nickname.
Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is performed on organ by Simon Preston during the opening title sequence; it is heard once again at the end of film's final scene and over the first section of the end credits, bookending the film. Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto, and Largo from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 are also used to establish tone, mood, and atmosphere for certain scenes in the film. The classical music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn, who also wrote the "Executive Party" music for the movie.
The film earned $6.2 million in theatrical rentals at the North American box office.
All science-fiction can be roughly divided into two types of nightmares. In the first the world has gone through a nuclear holocaust and civilization has reverted to a neo-Stone Age. In the second, of which "Rollerball" is an elaborate and very silly example, all of mankind's problems have been solved but at the terrible price of individual freedom. ... The only way science-fiction of this sort makes sense is as a comment on the society for which it's intended, and the only way "Rollerball" would have made sense is a satire of our national preoccupation with televised professional sports, particularly weekend football. Yet "Rollerball" isn't a satire. It's not funny at all and, not being funny, it becomes, instead, frivolous.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and called it "a movie in love with itself" and "vapid, pretentious, and arrogant. Not even John Houseman's fine performance as a villainous corporate director is sufficient to make 'Rollerball' tolerable. The only way to enjoy it, I suppose, is to cheer at the rollerball game's mayhem." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety, however, reported that it "packs an emotional and intellectual wallop" and that James Caan gave an "excellent performance." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was also positive, calling it "a fresh, unusual and stimulating movie. In its portraying of the vast and essentially stateless multinational corporations, 'Rollerball' plays off developments which have come since Huxley's and Orwell's time." Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Monthly Film Bulletin panned Rollerball as "A classic demonstration of how several millions of dollars can be unenjoyably wasted ... this glib fable seems to be aiming at a simplified version of A Clockwork Orange without any intimations of wit or satire to carry the vague moralistic message."
TV Guide gave the film three out of four stars; it said "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."
Jay Cocks of Time Magazine said Caan looked "unconvinced and uncomfortable" as Jonathan E. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 68% of 31 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.1/10. The site's consensus reads: "In Rollerball, social commentary collides with high-speed action – and the audience is the winner."
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Cheers – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Science Fiction Film
In 1977 Caan himself rated the film 8 out of 10, saying he "couldn't do much with the character."
In 1985, IJK Software produced a game called Rocketball for the Commodore 64 computer, with the scoring rules based on the game in the movie. Then in 1989, Microïds published an unofficial successor called Killerball for the Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, and MS-DOS.
In 1997, Z-Axis Games was developing an official Rollerball video game adaption based on the film As part of MGM Interactive video game showcase lineup, The video game's promise was to recreate the action of the futuristic game played in the movie, and it was set 10 years after the events of the film in the 2098 Rollerball season, where the player would be in charge of managing their Rollerball teams around the world, made up of Rollerball players with roles such as strikers, enforcers, guard, and other players who compete using jet bikes and magnetic in-line skates. Rollerball: The Video Game was slated to be released for PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo 64 on the first quarter of 1998, but was delayed to mid-1998and then was canceled due to the publisher, MGM Interactive, going bankrupt.
Additionally, the award-winning game Speedball, and its sequel Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, were heavily influenced by the film. But Bitmap Brothers co-founder Mike Montgomery denies this and wasn't his intention and saw this claim as more of a coincidence rather than an influence.
- List of American films of 1975
- Rollerball (2002 film), a remake of the 1975 film
- Death Race 2000, a dystopian science-fiction sports film released two months before Rollerball
- Futuresport, a 1998 TV movie with a similar premise
- "ROLLERBALL (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. June 25, 1975. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
- "Rollerball". ArchiveGrid. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
- Vaughn, Stephen (2006). Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 0521852587.
- "When it comes to the crunch". The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- "Rollerball, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- "Rollerball (1975)". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
- "Rollerball (1975) Cast And Crew". MGM.com: Official website of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. 2000–2007. Retrieved October 3, 2007.
- "Contents Lists / The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 7". Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition, by William G. Contento. 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
- Cook, David A. (2000), Lost illusions: American cinema in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979, History of the American cinema, Charles Harpole, 9, Simon & Schuster, p. 243, ISBN 0-684-80463-8
- Booker, M. Keith (2010). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-8108-5570-4.
- Vaughn, Stephen (2006), Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media, Cambridge University Press, p. 55, ISBN 0-521-85258-7
- Sloan, Robin Adams (October 20, 1975). "Jewison is Outraged by Reaction to 'Rollerball'". Muncie Evening Press. Retrieved May 8, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- https://www.discogs.com/Andre-Previn-Rollerball-Original-Soundtrack-Recording/release/1188508. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- Rollerball – Original Soundtrack liner notes.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
- Canby, Vincent (June 26, 1975). "Futuristic World of 'Rollerball'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
- Siskel, Gene (June 27, 1975). "'Rollerball's' points dull the mind". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
- Murphy, Arthur D. (June 25, 1975). "Film Reviews: Rollerball". Variety. 23.
- Champlin, Charles (June 22, 1975). "It's Hell on Wheels in 'Rollerball'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (October 1975). "Rollerball". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 42 (501): 224.
- "Rollerball". TV Guide. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Netflix – Rollerball review
- Time Magazine – Rollerball Review
- "Rollerball". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- James Caan's career hitting tough times. Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963–Current file) [Chicago, Ill] November 27, 1977: e6.
- "Top 10 Most Influential Amiga Games". Wired. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
Heavily influenced by Rollerball and other futuristic, high-contact sports
- Rollerball on IMDb
- Rollerball at the TCM Movie Database
- "Roller Ball Murder" title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (for the short story on which the film is based)
- The Evolution of Rollerball A Summary of Rules of Rollerball from Book to Films.
| Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film