In the realm of the greatest thriller and horror movies is a subgenre that has grown in popularity over the years – the “death game” films. These are brutal and often disturbing works that thrust characters into ruthless games of survival, with only the most cunning, creative, or desperate players coming out alive. There are some standouts from the niche that are critically acclaimed thanks to their uniqueness, complexity, or bold genre-defining concepts that would go on to shape and influence modern death game movies.
From controversial classics like Battle Royale to beloved blockbusters like The Hunger Games, the best death game movies depict violent battles bound by twisted sets of rules that ensure there will be bloodshed. These adrenaline-pumping films can get viewers invested in the characters’ fates and lives, which are inevitably cut short when the games begin.
Ready or Not is a one-of-a-kind death game movie because it only features one player – Grace (Scream VI‘s Samara Weaving) – who goes against her soon-to-be husband’s entire family. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the film depicts Grace’s unfortunate wedding night after she participates in a seemingly innocent family tradition. She draws a game card from a puzzle box, revealing that she has picked “Hide-and-Seek,” which soon leads to her being hunted by every single member of the family.
Aside from featuring one of the best final girls in horror, Ready or Not is a unique entry in the subgenre because of its use of black comedy. As family members suffer horrific injuries while trying and failing to catch Grace, there are numerous comical scenes that will have audiences laughing at the most inappropriate moments. As if all that wasn’t enough, the 2019 film is also a comedic commentary on excessive wealth, with Grace’s iconic line perfectly summing up her experience as a victim of the death game: “F**king rich people.”
Ready or Not is streaming on Fubo TV.
When a group of strangers wakes up in bizarre Kafkaesque cube-like rooms, they have no idea what horrors are about to unfold. 1997’s sci-fi horror classic Cube portrays the prisoners’ gruesome experiences as they learn that some rooms have lethal traps. They eventually learn that they must use their skills and work together to somehow get out of the deadly maze alive.
Director Vincenzo Natali’s indie film is a cult classic that was once overlooked in the death game subgenre. It has since gained more attention from audiences and critics alike for its invaluable role in defining the niche and influencing modern and more successful counterparts like Saw. While Cube suffers from weak dialogue and questionable pacing, its groundbreaking set pieces, creative traps, and tense atmosphere undoubtedly helped shape the subgenre that fans know and love today. Anyone who enjoys most death game movies may want to check out the film that started it all.
Cube can be streamed on Tubi.
Directed by Gary Ross based on Suzanne Collins’s eponymous 2008 novel, The Hunger Games is a massively popular dystopian movie that would start a thriving franchise. Starring Jennifer Lawrence in one of her biggest roles, the film takes place in a future where the Capitol of Panem forces representatives from its 12 districts to compete in the Hunger Games. The televised event has its participants fight to the death, with the final survivor hailed as the winner. When the District 12 Tribute Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) joins the game, it changes her destiny and Panem’s future.
The Hunger Games became a cultural phenomenon when it first premiered in 2012, attracting not just readers, but new fans who would continue to support its three sequels. With a fourth one, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, now showing in theaters, it’s easy to see just how successful the franchise has become. It’s the perfect time to revisit the first movie, which has aged surprisingly well. With its emotional story tinged with political commentary and its spell-binding soundtrack featuring award-winning songs like Safe & Sound, there are plenty of reasons why The Hunger Games has earned its spot alongside the greats of the genre.
The Hunger Games is streaming on Peacock.
Saw is a horror movie that needs no introduction. The film is the first entry in an enduring franchise that recently terrified fans with Saw X. The first Saw movie is also James Wan’s impressive directorial debut, hinting at his future catalog of legendary horror franchises like Insidious and The Conjuring. It all begins with the spine-chilling introduction of Jigsaw, a merciless serial killer who informs his latest victims, Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), that they must complete his sick game if one of them hopes to survive.
The low-budget film made headlines for its disturbing premise and abundance of blood and gore. Before long, Jigsaw’s death games would have a global fanbase that’s still growing today. While the franchise has come a long way from its first entry, the original Saw movie is still worth rewatching thanks to its straightforward execution of the concept and depiction of some of the best traps and impressive set pieces.
Saw is streaming on Hulu.
Battle Royale is a controversial Japanese cult classic film based on a similarly contentious novel by Koushun Takami. The death game movie was director Kinji Fukasaku’s final and most influential film, as 2000’s Battle Royale redefined what the term meant and is credited with the creation of the booming battle royale genre. It focused on a group of 9th graders who are sent to kill each other on a deserted island. With explosive collars around their neck and a rule that states there must only be one survivor, they have no choice but to murder their fellow students to survive the game.
The film was banned in several countries due to its portrayal of shockingly young characters and the excessive violence they use to stay alive. Combining melodrama, youth violence, and wild mayhem, Battle Royale aims not just to startle and entertain, but also to point out moral conflicts through its provocative brutality. Most death game movies that followed Fukasaku’s masterpiece would inevitably be compared to the Japanese film, which still enjoys its reputation as a pioneer of the subgenre.
Battle Royale is streaming on Freevee.
- 5 cheesy Netflix Christmas movies you need to watch right now
- The best free movies on YouTube right now (December 2023)
- 3 great Christmas action movies you should watch right now
- 3 SNL Digital Shorts you should watch right now
- 5 movies like Napoleon you should watch right now