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6 Heroic Condemned Criminals in Sci-Fi Movies

Whenever there’s something crazy, violent, illegal, and potentially lethal to be done in movies, condemned prisoners are the ones to do it. They can get death row inmates to agree to fight a suicide mission, participate in lethal combat in weaponized cars, let their brains be controlled, or anything else. I know death row prisoners are desperate, but are they really that eager a source of labor? And even if they were willing to do it, these movies always have to set in a near-future with a decaying government, because the current political climate would never let prisoners be exposed to that kind of thing.

Imagine a movie where a prisoner's on death row, and someone says, “Hey, good news. There’s a new program that can get you out. The only catch is that you’ll have to put on a clown suit, strap a bomb to your chest, and run through a maze while genetically-engineered dinosaurs chase you on live television.” And the prisoner goes, “No, thanks. I think I’ll just wait on my appeal. Or a petition from the governor.” I’d like to see that. Until then, here are six of the most heroic condemned prisoners in movies.

1. John "Kable" Tillman (Gamer)

Kable Tillman (Gerard Butler), Gamer
In a future where nanotechnology allows people to be remote controlled, condemned criminals participate in a live action version of first person shooters called Slayers. Gamers control their bodies, but death is all to real. Win enough games, and the prisoner gets his freedom. Kable is one of the best, but he's forced to escape and find the truth about his past.

2. Parker Barnes (Virtuosity)

Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington), Virtuosity
After killing the terrorist who killed his family, police officer turned death row inmate Barnes is forced to test virtual reality simulations of police training. When virtual killer SID 6.7 escapes into the real world, Parker gets a chance to get his freedom by stopping him. Virtually. Remember when virtual reality crap like this actually seemed possible?

3. Ben Richards (The Running Man)

Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), The Running Man
In this dystopian future, criminals aren't sent to the electric chair or the gas chamber. They're forced to run for their lives against futuristic gladiators on a televised game show. Ben Richards is convicted of refusing to kill civilians, and forced into the arena. But he surprises everyone when he's actually winning. Let's be honest. If this show was on the air, it would totally be a hit.

4. Kevin Flynn (TRON)

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), TRON
Flynn is a human programmer who gets pulled into the virtual computer world he's created. Convicted of rebellion against the MCP, he's forced to play in the Games, including disks and lightcycles. His skills make his opponents believe in users.

5. Snake Plissken (Escape From New York)

"Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell), Escape From New York
In a near future, New York has been turned into a maximum security prison. When the president's plane crashes in New York, condemned prisoner Snake Plissken is offered a chance at freedom by rescuing the president. You may have heard he was dead, but he's very much alive.

6. John Spartan (Demolition Man)

John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), Demolition Man
When a tough cop trying to stop a psychotic killer gets framed for murder, he's sentenced to cryogenic freezing. Spartan wakes up in a future where everyone is politically correct and meat is banned. At least he got some mad knitting skills out of it.

Who is your favorite condemned criminal? What other condemned criminals can you list?

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  1. Does Riddick count as one?

    I've only seen 4 of the movies you've listed, but I liked John Spartan, Snake, and Ben Richards.

    McKye Over Coffee

  2. I still want to know about the "three seashells"

  3. I'm partial to Snake, he did it twice.

  4. It's not strictly relevant, but #6 still makes me think of "I am the law!!!" Actually, it totally is relevant. I take that back. "I am the law!!!"


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