With video games such as Fortnite and PUBG becoming worldwide phenomenons, the term “battle royale” has become part of the common vernacular. The term has existed for decades, however, and the concept of “a group of characters forced to fight until only one remains” has been featured in movies for just as long. Television has also gotten in on the trend, with the mega-hit Squid Game adopting the same core idea to become one of Netflix’s biggest Emmy-award winners.
Battle Royale is often credited with creating the genre, though the author of the novel the film was based on, Koushun Takami, was inspired by professional wrestling. The idea of a large group of wrestlers fighting in one ring translated easily into a fictional death game, and other creators have iterated on the idea. Whether it’s schoolchildren, inmates, or some of the most popular fictional characters in the world fighting to the death, battle royales have remained popular in all forms of entertainment.
Updated on April 14, 2023, by Ty Weinert:
The success of Fortnite and the battle royale genre in video games can be traced back to Battle Royale. While that 2000 classic was not the first in the genre, it was the one that popularized the concept and brought it mainstream attention. While any list of the best battle royale movies is sure to be headlined by the Japanese masterpiece, there are plenty of other quality movies in the traditionally violent genre.
14 ‘Triggered’ (2020)
A recent indie effort from South Africa, Triggered finds a group of friends kidnaped and dumped in the woods with bombs strapped to their chests. Each has a different time limit until their bomb will detonate, and they can increase their time by killing their friends and taking theirs.
The fact that Triggered focuses on a group of friends rather than strangers is a nice touch, as it allows the characters to drop shocking confessions on each other as death draws near. It also makes the situation grimmer, as the youths must murder their closest friends to stay alive.
13 ‘House of 9’ (2005)
A claustrophobic thriller from England, House of 9 follows nine strangers who awaken locked up in a house together, with no way out and no contact with the outside world. A voice over the house’s PA system informs them they have been brought together to play a game and that only the last one alive will be set free, with a fee of $5 million as their reward.
House of 9 is unique because the players are not given a deadline. They are free to spend their time simply living together, aware this will not result in their release. Of course, their situation creates tension, and it is not long before the cast, which includes Dennis Hopper and Peter Capaldi, begins turning on each other.
12 ‘Mean Guns’ (1997)
The rare battle royale film that actually predates Battle Royale, Mean Guns features rapper Ice-T as Vincent Moon, a crime boss who has lured 100 of his enemies to an abandoned prison. Arming them with guns and ammo, Moon informs them they have become trapped in a death game, where the last three remaining will split a $10 million cash prize.
Among the hardened killers is Cam (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), an innocent accountant who was abducted after attempting to give evidence of Moon’s crimes to the police. She makes an uneasy alliance with a small group of assassins in the movie, including the unstable Lou (Christoper Lambert). Together, they fight their way to the finale.
11 ‘Circle’ (2015)
Doing away with the guns and violence that populate most of the films on this list, Circle instead pits its players against each other in a game where they must vote on who dies. Fifty strangers wake up in a dark, empty room with a lit dome in the center. Every two minutes, the dome will kill a player of their choosing until only one remains.
With such a large cast, Circle is able to include a diverse group of characters. They represent different races, sexual orientations, social classes, and religious beliefs, and these topics are hotly debated among the cast as they decide who to kill next. It makes for one of the more psychological battle royale films as lives are lost over words rather than bullets.
10 ‘The Condemned’ (2007)
A vehicle for WWE legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to launch his acting career, The Condemned is a surprisingly entertaining action-thriller from the wrestling company’s film division. Ten death-row inmates are dropped on an island and told to fight to the death, with the sole survivor receiving a full pardon.
Austin stars as Jack Conrad, a convict who may have been wrongly imprisoned. Austin makes for a likable leading man, and it is hard not to root for him as he faces off with an international cast. Vinnie Jones chews the scenery as the movie’s big bad who represents Conrad’s biggest rival for survival.
9 ‘The Tournament’ (2009)
Swapping schoolchildren for international assassins, The Tournament finds the world’s deadliest killers voluntarily competing in a fight to the death for a $10 million prize. Among the contestants are Ving Rhames and Kelly Hu, while Robert Carlyle plays a priest with alcoholism unwillingly dragged into the game.
Due to the competition being filled with trained professionals (and remorseless killers), The Tournament is more action-packed than other entries on this list. Gunfights take place in churches, strip clubs, and even a double-decker bus, as the assassins leave carnage in their wake across a seemingly peaceful Scottish town.
8 ‘The Belko Experiment’ (2016)
Wearing its Battle Royale inspiration on its sleeve, The Belko Experiment is set in an American-run company tower in Colombia. When the 80 employees are suddenly trapped within the building, they are informed they must kill each other, otherwise, the company-mandated tracking chips in their heads will explode.
Directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and written by James Gunn, The Belko Experiment carries both filmmakers’ penchant for over-the-top violence and gore. The movie is probably the closest film to mimicking Battle Royale‘s style, as the co-workers murder each other with guns, knives, axes, and even elevators.
7 ‘Guns Akimbo’ (2019)
When computer programmer Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) leaves a negative comment on the page for an underground death game that pits real people against each other, he is abducted and forced to take part. Waking up with guns bolted to his hands, Miles must go on the run as experienced killer Nix (Samara Weaving) is tasked with hunting him down.
Guns Akimbo is an enjoyable blend of action and comedy as Miles and Nix engage in their death match across a city setting. It is a delight to see Radcliffe sink his teeth into a role that is far removed from what he is famous for, and Weaving is always great, shining as the deranged Nix who stalks the terrified Miles at every turn. As their fight is streamed online, it showcases the depravity of modern society and is one of the best movies for people obsessed with social media.
6 ‘Death Race’ (2008)
Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for the murder of his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment. The prison he is sent to is far from normal, however, as the prisoners are forced to compete in combat races where failure means death, but victory means a full pardon.
A reboot of the cult classic from 1975, Death Race loses that movie’s satirical edge in favor of flashier action. While the movie does take itself too seriously, the races prove thrilling enough as competitors are killed off, with Statham supported by a cast of talented actors that includes Joan Allen and Ian McShane.
5 ‘Series 7: The Contenders’ (2001)
Cashing in on the early days of the reality TV craze, Series 7: The Contenders is presented as a reality television show. Six strangers across America are randomly selected to compete against their will, with their only chance of survival being to murder the five other contestants.
Series 7 is a unique battle royale movie as its television presentation gives it a documentary-style feel, heavily inspired by The Blair Witch Project, which was released two years prior. The movie’s depiction of a US that glorifies gun violence still rings true in modern society, giving its message a timeless quality, despite its presentation showing its age.
4 ‘The Hunt’ (2020)
When a group of strangers wakes up in a field, they have no chance to discuss their predicament as they are immediately fired upon by hidden snipers. While most of the captives are easily dispatched, the mysterious Crystal (Betty Gilpin) proves to be a problem as she turns the tables on her hunters.
A political satire, The Hunt takes aim at both sides of the political spectrum as members of both parties are killed off in equal measure. Its mix of comedy and gruesome thrills makes for an entertaining action-thriller, while Gilpin announces herself as a capable action hero.
3 ‘The Running Man’ (1987)
Set in a dystopian version of 2017, The Running Man sees Americans tuning in each week to see TV shows that showcase prisoners fighting to the death. After police officer Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to execute civilians, he is arrested and forced to take part in one of these death games where he fights a group of hardened killers.
Loosely based on a novel by Stephen King, The Running Man abandons that book’s thriller angle to instead make a Schwarzenegger action vehicle. While it is representative of cheesy 80s action movies, The Running Man also works as a sci-fi satire, and some of its predictions from over 30 years ago have proven true.
2 ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012)
The best-selling book series that became a global hit at the box office, The Hunger Games is one of the best adaptations of a dystopian novel. Set in a bleak future where children are sacrificed to a battle royale to appease the totalitarian government, teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to spare her sister.
The book and movie were both controversial at release, as its set-up of children forced to play a death game is strikingly close to Battle Royale‘s plot. Its future setting does enough to set it apart, but its lack of blood makes it more appealing to the younger crowd. The sequel, Catching Fire, is the best Hunger Games movie, but the original is still strong.
1 ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)
An unforgettable and highly influential cult classic, Battle Royale follows 42 high school students who are kidnaped and placed on a deserted island, where they are forced to fight to the death until only one remains. Set in a dystopian version of Japan, the movie explores themes such as the loss of youth and political overreach.
The film’s hyper-violent nature sparked controversy all over the world, which further fueled its popularity. Despite its content, the film is never exploitative, and it is a well-acted and well-written masterpiece of filmmaking and one of the best films to come from Japan. Its success can be traced to the films and video games that have tried to emulate it in the two decades since its release.
NEXT: Movies Like ‘Squid Game’ to Watch for More Deadly Survival Games