AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Rollerball
Director: Norman Jewison (Dir)
Release Date:   Jul 1975
Premiere Information:   New York and Los Angeles openings: 25 Jun 1975
Production Date:   29 Jul--late Nov 1974 in Munich, West Germany and Pinewood Studios, London
Duration (in mins):   123, 128 or 129
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Cast:   James Caan (Jonathan E [also known as Jonathan Evans])  
    John Houseman (Bartholomew)  
    Maud Adams (Ella)  
    John Beck (Moonpie)  
    Moses Gunn (Cletus)  
    Pamela Hensley (Mackie)  
    Barbara Trentham (Daphne)  
    John Normington (Executive)  
    Shane Rimmer (Team executive)  
    Burt Kwouk (Doctor)  
    Nancy Bleier (Girl in library, Luxury Centre)  
    Rick Le Parmentier (Bartholomew's aide)  
    Robert Ito (Instructor)  
  and Ralph Richardson (Librarian)  
    Alfred Thomas (Rusty, Team trainer)  
    Burnell Tucker (Jonathan's captain of guard)  
    Angus MacInnes (Jonathan's guard no. 1)  
    Loftus Burton (Reporter)  
    Abi Gouhad (Reporter)  
    Clive F. Baker (Skater)  
    Francis M. Barham (Skater)  
    Barrie Bigg (Skater)  
    Andre Billingslea (Skater)  
    Graham Cain (Skater)  
    Robert Dancel (Skater)  
    Richard Dumpit (Skater)  
    Charles Gipson (Skater)  
    Robert Halford (Skater)  
    Greg Hamane (Skater)  
    Horst Heering (Skater)  
    Courtenay Hildyard (Skater)  
    Peter R. Johnson (Skater)  
    Philip King (Skater)  
    Ed Kubo (Skater)  
    Peter Lew (Skater)  
    Dal Miranda (Skater)  
    Carl-Heinz Passow (Skater)  
    Roger V. Pout (Skater)  
    Patrick Prendergast (Skater)  
    Christopher P. Sarsfield (Skater)  
    Jojo Stafford (Skater)  
    Sam Tiapula (Skater)  
    Timothy Tong (Skater)  
    Ronald Turbin (Skater)  
    Wade Utsomomiya (Skater)  
    Henry D. Watkins (Skater)  
    John F. Wickwar (Skater)  
    Stephen Boyum (Biker)  
    Alan Hamane (Biker)  
    Bob Leon (Biker)  
    Danny Wong (Biker)  

Summary: In the early twenty-first century, world strife and warfare have been eliminated after corporate wars divide the world into major company holdings. The population’s needs and wants have all been satisfied by corporations which are run by the executive class who make decisions for the overall common good. In order to entertain the public, corporations form an exciting, physically grueling global competition known as Rollerball, made up of teams of roller skaters and motorcyclists who compete on indoor angled tracks, and score by placing a heavy steel ball into a small, magnetic goal. Houston is home to the defending world champion team sponsored by Energy Corp, and which features its superstar captain, Jonathan Evans, known to the world through multi-vision television broadcasts, as Jonathan E. After a particular vigorous and brutal play-off game between Houston and Madrid which Houston wins after Jonathan scores three goals, Energy Corp’s chief executive, Bartholomew congratulates the team in their locker room. Directing ample praise toward Jonathan, Bartholomew adds that multi-vision will produce a special television broadcast devoted to Jonathan. The next day, per Bartholomew’s invitation, Jonathan visits the chief executive at Energy Corp headquarters, where to his amazement, Bartholomew informs him that the corporation wants him to retire. Stunned, Jonathan protests that despite playing ten years his team still needs him, but Bartholomew suggests that change is inevitable. When Jonathan remains bewildered, Bartholomew reminds him of all the creature comforts the corporation has provided him for leading Houston to many winning seasons. Jonathan points out that he has always fulfilled the corporation’s demands, including surrendering his wife Ella to an executive who wanted her, but Bartholomew dismisses this. Frustrated by Jonathan’s continued hesitation, Bartholomew advises him to return to his private ranch and consider his situation. Flown by a company helicopter to his ranch, Jonathan arrives to find that Mackie, his girlfriend of six months, has been ordered by the corporation to leave him. Upset because Jonathan prefers to spend time with his personal trainer, Cletus, rather than with her on their final evening, Mackie departs. Jonathan relays his uncertainties about the retirement order to Cletus and asks his friend to see if he can find out why the corporation has demanded it. Despite the meeting with Bartholomew, Jonathan attends practice as usual for the upcoming semifinal game against Tokyo. Afterward, Jonathan and his teammate and best friend, Moonpie, visit a library where Jonathan has ordered several books. A clerk tells Jonathan, however, that all books have been restricted as they are being summarized by the central computer in the central library located in Geneva. Puzzled, Moonpie expresses amazement that Jonathan would want to read anything for himself when he could easily hire a corporate teacher to answer his questions, but Jonathan admits that he wants explanations to things the corporation would likely not tell him. Back at his ranch, Jonathan is watching videos of himself with his former wife, Ella, when Mackie's replacement, Daphne, arrives. At the next Houston practice, team trainer Rusty announces new rules of no penalties and limited substitution of players which will be in effect for the Tokyo game. Later, Rusty brusquely tells Jonathan that his personal desires have no significance and he should do as the corporation asks. Soon after, Daphne accompanies Jonathan to the recording of the multi-vision special, which will be broadcast worldwide. Jonathan balks, however, when he is presented with a script announcing his retirement. Despite the producer and Daphne’s protests, Jonathan leaves the studio without making the recording. At the party to view Jonathan’s multi-vision special, Jonathan meets privately with Cletus who has learned that unknown members of the executive directorate are responsible for demanding Jonathan’s retirement and are angered by his refusal to record his retirement announcement. Cletus also reveals that, inexplicably, the directorate appears to be afraid of Jonathan. The special airs at the height of the party and at dawn, Jonathan meets Bartholomew while other party guests, under the influence of various pleasure drugs, wander outside to playfully destroy trees with a fire gun. Bartholomew patiently explains to Jonathan that Rollerball was designed so that no one man could become bigger than the game itself. Jonathan then demands compensation should he accept retirement, specifically, to see Ella again. When Bartholomew insists that Jonathan must obey the corporate order, Jonathan says the corporation cannot stop him and, before departing, turns on the video player of his special depicting hundreds of thousands of fans chanting his name. At the ranch, when Daphne insists that she must accompany Jonathan to Tokyo, he accuses her of being a corporate spy and departs without her. In Tokyo, the semi-final game rule changes prompt an excessively brutal game. After Moonpie purposely injures several Tokyo players, they gang up and beat him. Seeing the severity of his friend’s injuries, Jonathan attacks and kills the Tokyo team leader as the crowd cheers enthusiastically. After Houston wins, Jonathan visits Moonpie in the hospital only to learn that his friend is brain dead. Refusing to sign the euthanization authorization, Jonathan instead arranges to transfer Moonpie back to Houston, before he proceeds to Geneva. Meanwhile, Bartholomew, in a teleconference with the directorate, requests they vote on his proposal to eliminate all rules from the Rollerball championship. After Bartholomew explains that the games were created to display the futility of individual effort and that anyone who threatens that idea, such as Jonathan, must lose, all five members vote in agreement. In Geneva, at the central library, Jonathan is taken by the Librarian to the central computer or the “world’s brain,” Zero. Despite the Librarian assuring Jonathan he can ask whatever he wants, when Jonathan asks Zero how corporate decisions are made and by whom, the computer initially refuses to respond, then replies with prescribed definitions of corporations, then resorts to repeating “negative.” Disappointed, Jonathan returns to his ranch to find Ella awaiting him. After some initial shyness, Jonathan asks Ella about her current life and admits that he misses her. Later the couple takes a horseback ride, but Jonathan rejects Ella’s declaration that the corporation provides more than it takes from individuals. That afternoon after the couple has sex, they walk in the woods and Jonathan wonders about the time when people had a choice between comfort and freedom and again rejects Ella’s notion that comfort is freedom. When Jonathan confides that the corporation wants him to quit Rollerball, he is distressed when Ella not only urges him to do so but admits that they sent her to try and persuade him. Disappointed and angered, Jonathan returns to the house where he erases all of the home videos of his and Ella’s married life. Before departing for New York and the championship, Jonathan visits Moonpie in a private sanitarium and acknowledges that he may die in the final game. At the championships, Jonathan foregoes the usual team pep-talk and enters the track alone where the crowd immediately begins chanting his name. Learning that there will be no penalties, no substitution of players and no time limit, the teams hurl themselves against one another in a vicious, combative competition. As the players begin to fall with grave and mortal injuries, a medic is also attacked prompting Cletus to protest, but Rusty tells him that Rollerball was never meant to be just a “game.” Finally, with the game scoreless and only Jonathan left standing for Houston, the surviving New York biker and rollerskater plot their attack on him. Jonathan kills the skater but when he knocks the biker off his cycle and is about to pummel him with the heavy steel ball, he stops and instead rams the ball through the goal as the crowd watches in stunned silence. As Bartholomew looks on in outrage that the corporation has been bested, the crowd begins chanting Jonathan’s name, first in a whisper, then in a growing roar. 

Production Company: Algonquin Films Ltd.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp. (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Norman Jewison (Dir)
  Max Kleven (2d unit dir)
  Kip Gowans (1st asst dir)
  Chris Kenny (Asst dir)
  Dietmar Siegert (Asst dir)
Producer: Norman Jewison (Prod)
  Patrick Palmer (Assoc prod)
Writer: William Harrison (Scr)
Photography: Douglas Slocombe (Dir of photog)
  Chic Waterson (Cam op)
  Robin Vidgeon (Cam asst)
  Dennis Fraser (Key grip)
Art Direction: John Box (Prod des)
  Robert Laing (Art dir)
  Charles Bishop (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: Antony Gibbs (Film ed)
  Brian Mann (Asst ed)
  Terry Busby (Asst ed)
  Amanda Palmer (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Michael Redding (Const mgr)
  Jack Towns (Prop master)
Costumes: Julie Harris (Cost des)
  Ron Postal (Mr. Caan's ward des by)
  John Hilling (Ward supv)
Music: André Previn (Mus cond)
  London Symphony Orchestra (Mus played by)
Sound: Derek Ball (Sd mixer)
  Gordon K. McCallum (Sd re-rec)
  Les Wiggins (Dubbing ed)
  Archie Ludski (Dubbing ed)
Special Effects: Sass Bedig (Spec eff)
  John Richardson (Spec eff)
  Brian Smedley-Aston (Multivision seq)
Make Up: Leonard of London (Hair consultant)
  Wally Schneiderman (Makeup)
Production Misc: Larry De Waay (Supv prod mgr)
  Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Mary Selway (London casting)
  Renate Arbes-Neuchl (Munich casting)
  Tom Carlile (Pub)
  Ted Lloyd (Prod mgr)
  Dieter Meyer (Unit mgr)
  Charles Cannon (Prod accountant)
  Golda Offenheim (Prod asst)
  Peter Hicks (Skating supv)
  Yvonne Axworthy (Cont)
  Julia Pascal (Secy to prod)
  Herbert Schurmann (Track architect)
Stand In: Max Kleven (Stunt coord)
  Jim Nickerson (Stuntman)
  Craig Baxley (Stuntman)
  Tony Brubaker (Stuntman)
  Gary Epper (Stuntman)
  Bob Minor (Stuntman)
  Chuck Parkison Jr. (Stuntman)
  Dar Robinson (Stuntman)
  Roy Scammell (Stuntman)
  Walt Scott (Stuntman)
  Dick Warlock (Stuntman)
  Jerry Wills (Stuntman)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach; "Adagio" by Tomaso Albinoni-Giazotto. Ricordi & Company (London)Limited on its own behalf and behalf of G. Ricordi & C.s.p.s. of 2, Via Berchet, 20121 Milan, Italy.
Songs:
Composer: Tomaso Albinoni-Giazotto
  Johann Sebastian Bach
Source Text: Based on the story "The Rollerball Murders" by William Harrison in Esquire (TBA 1973).
Authors: William Harrison

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
United Artists Corporation 10/6/1975 dd/mm/yyyy LP44923

PCA NO: 24244
Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

 
Genre: Science fiction
  Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Athletes
  Businessmen
  Games
  Motorcycles
  Roller-skating
 
Subjects (Minor): Athletic coaches
  Brain damage
  Computers
  Death and dying
  Drugs
  Friendship
  Helicopters
  Horses
  Hospitals
  Houston (TX)
  Libraries and librarians
  Parties
  Sports fans
  Wives
  Wounds and injuries

Note: According to a 21 Aug 1974 Var article, Rollerball was adapted by college professor William Harrison from his own short story, “The Rollerball Murders,” set in 2018. In the article, Harrison stated that although he had never written a screenplay, he made the attempt upon the urging of director Norman Jewison with whom he shared an agent. Harrison credits Jewison for developing the specifics of the Rollerball game, which he had referred to in only vague terms in his story. The article stated that Jewison and his staff combined elements of roller derby, hockey, football, motorcycle racing and judo together into a game for teams of ten players consisting of three bikers, five skaters and two fielders who catch the ball fired by a cannon. Harrison also credited Jewison for devising the spiked leather gloves worn by the players. The author indicates that James Caan was his first choice for the role of “Jonathan E.” In a 14 Nov 1974 DV news item, Army Archerd reported that during filming of Rollerball in Munich, West Germany, several stuntmen suffered severe injuries.
       As noted in a 25 Jun 1975 DV article, on the eve of Rollerball ’s release, Jewison expressed concern the film’s depiction of violence would be misinterpreted by audiences. “I hope people don’t get caught up in the violence…and miss the comment the film is making.” A 30 Jun 1975 Box article notes that during promotional screenings of Rollerball , Jewison expressed dismay with the MPAA R-rating given the film, stating that “I think its important for youngsters to see it freely.” A 14 Jul 1975 HR item noted that the Code and Rating Appeals Board had sustained the R-rating which had been appealed by United Artists. A 17 Aug 1974 LAT article in response to the film revealed that, although it had done good box office business, the majority of critics for major industry publications had been negative. Although DV ’s critic said the film “packs an emotional and intellectual wallop,” and HR found it “the most original, and imaginative and technically proficient peek into our future since 2001: A Space Odyssey ,” the NYT ’s critic called it “elaborate and very silly.” The New Yorker critic wrote that Rollerball was “as purblind as any film dealing in augury that I have ever seen.” In New York magazine, the critic concluded that “the imagination, the passionate outrage at the future vision –- indeed, the vision itself –- are sadly lacking.” In addition, most of the critics responded negatively to the uniform beauty and soullessness of the few female characters in the film, which they found at variance with their depiction in the short story.
       According to Rollerball end credits, in addition to filming in West Germany, some scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London. In 2002, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a remake which bears the same title. The remake was directed by John McTiernan and starred Chris Klein as "Jonathan E."  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   30 Jun 1975.   
Box Office   1 Sep 1975.   
Daily Variety   13 Sep 1974.   
Daily Variety   14 Nov 1974.   
Daily Variety   20 Jun 1975   p. 3, 16.
Daily Variety   25 Jun 1975   p. 6.
Daily Variety   25 Aug 2000   p. 8, 28.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Aug 1974   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Nov 1974   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jun 1975   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jul 1975.   
Los Angeles Times   22 Jun 1975   Section IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times   17 Aug 1975   Calendar, p. 1, 32.
New York Times   26 Jun 1975   p. 34.
New York Times   13 Jul 1975.   
New Yorker   7 Jul 1975.   
Variety   21 Aug 1974.   
Variety   25 Jun 1975   p. 23.

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