The legacy of the fantastic Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000) is that of a number of action-oriented films with high drama and high body counts. Enough movies were made in the style of Battle Royale after the film’s release that a specific subgenre began to emerge. It is a subgenre often identified by violent action, dramatic personal conflicts, and lots of blood.
Collected and ranked here are fourteen of the best movies in the battle royale style. Every effort was made to pare down the larger survival-game genre to get down to only those movies which fit precisely within (or very close to) what makes a battle royale movie unique. For that reason, some readers may think a few obvious choices are missing. Read on past the ranking for an explanation of what the exact requirements are for inclusion on this list.
The Best Battle Royale Movies, Ranked
Breathing Room (2009) begins when a woman named Tonya finds herself locked inside a large white room. Also in the room are thirteen strangers, all of who are assigned a number and fitted with a deadly metal collar. Over the next few hours, the captive people are forced into trying to decipher a series of clues with the promise/threat that only one person will be set free. Breathing Room mashes together ideas from escape room and survival game movies, and it is similar in a lot of ways to a very low-budget version of Saw II (2005). However, the stipulation that only one person can live for the game to end edges Breathing Room into being a type of battle royale. Suspicions begin to arise as people end up dead under mysterious circumstances, and by the end of the movie everyone is fighting for their own life.
In House of 9 (2004), nine people wake up in a mansion with all of its doors locked and its windows sealed with bricks. When they gather together, a voice can be heard announcing that they are to play a game where the last person left alive will be released and rewarded with a $5 million cash prize. Unlike many other battle royale films, there isn’t much of an active incentive (such as a time limit) for the players to start killing each other. In that way, House of 9 feels more like a riff on reality television than some of the other films in this list. Greed and distrust drive the action which builds up throughout the movie.
The Human Race (2013) is a movie that feels like someone came up with the title first and then built a movie around it. That’s not a necessarily a bad thing though, and The Human Race is a fun and unique entry in the battle royale subgenre. A large group of people are transported to an unknown location and are forced to run a race against each other on a rather short loop. The rules of the race state that death will come if they don’t follow the path or if they are lapped twice, and the last person alive is the winner. Teamwork is attempted, but it quickly breaks down as some people race to win, and some people turn to murder to thin their competition. The ending of The Human Race takes a somewhat odd turn, but overall it is an entertaining low-budget flick with a sci-fi twist.
11. Circle (2015)
Circle (2013) is a battle royale style movie that replaces the subgenre’s overt violence with a more psychological approach. Fifty people wake up in a room, and each of them is standing on a red circle. A device in the center of the room shoots a deadly electric shock at anyone who doesn’t stay on their circle. The device is also timed to kill someone every two minutes, and the people quickly learn that they can influence who will be killed. Essentially, the group can vote for who will be the next victim. Though the players must figure out the rules of the game on their own, it seems inevitable that the votes will come down to leaving just one person left alive.
10. Triggered (2020)
In Triggered (2020), nine former high school friends are forced to fight to the death while reuniting in the woods for a camping trip. The mastermind behind the death match is their former science teacher, and he has each person fitted with a vest that will explode when a built-in countdown timer reaches zero. The friends realize that a person’s remaining time will be added to the time of the person who kills them, thus creating a very strong incentive for murderous violence. Past indiscretions bubble up to the surface as former friends turn on each other, but the real emphasis here is on action and death.
Kill Theory (2009) is about a group of friends who travel to an isolated house for a party, only to find that a mysterious man has other plans for them. One of the friends is killed, and the rest of the group is informed that if there is more than one person left alive at 6 a.m., then everyone will die. Attempts to escape are made, but each failed attempt further solidifies the fact that they will eventually be forced to attack each other. Bonds are broken and morals are tested as friendships fall apart and past issues add fuel to the fatal proceedings. Kill Theory takes a more horror-oriented approach to a scenario inspired by battle royales.
Mean Guns (1997) is one of the few battle-royale-style movies that predates Battle Royale (2000). Ice-T plays a gangster named Vincent Moon. Moon gathers a group of 100 people in an empty prison, all of who have gotten on the bad side of Moon’s criminal organization. Guns and ammunition are dumped into the middle of the group, and they are all given six hours to kill each other. If there are three or fewer survivors after six hours, then they’ll get to split $10 million. Otherwise, everyone dies. Though the game allows up to three people the chance to survive instead of just one, its overall tone still qualifies it as a fun precursor to Battle Royale.
Of any actor to ever appear in a battle royale movie, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin easily had the most prior knowledge of battle royales thanks to his many years as a pro wrestler. In The Condemned (2007), Austin stars as Jack, a prisoner who is put on an island with nine other convicts. Each prisoner has a bomb strapped to their ankle with a 30-hour countdown timer, and they are told that they can earn their freedom by being the last person alive before the bombs detonate. The Condemned is an action movie through and through, and it is a great showcase for the talents of Steve Austin outside of a wrestling ring.
The game of murder in The 10th Victim (1965) is formatted slightly differently than the other movies in this list, but it has enough ties to the battle royale subgenre to warrant its inclusion here. In the near future, a form of deadly entertainment, “The Big Hunt,” is created to keep people’s warlike tendencies in check. “The Big Hunt” is a competition where people are put into a series of one-on-one battles to the death. Competitors alternate between being a hunter and a victim, with hunters receiving complete knowledge of the victim, and victims knowing nothing about who the hunter is. Anyone who survives ten hunts receives millions of dollars and can retire with fame and fortune. Though the action in The 10th Victim isn’t as wild as it is in many other films of its kind, the setup and execution still feels a lot like future movies in the genre including Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012).
Series 7: The Contenders (2001) provides a darkly comedic satire of reality television from the early 2000s. The film is presented as a reality show in which six people are chosen at random to take part in a contest in which they are provided a gun and are forced to kill each other. Explosives are planted within the contenders to keep them from escaping, and the show is set within the boundaries of a city. Contenders who win three seasons of the show are to be set free. Much of the fun in Series 7: The Contenders comes from the absurd actions and reactions of the contenders as they treat murder as just another part of the everyday life of a reality TV star.
The Tournament (2009) stars Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames, and Robert Carlyle in a gathering of the world’s most dangerous killers. Every few years, a group of mega-wealthy individuals put on “The Tournament” where combatants volunteer for a free-for-all battle to the death contained within a city. Each competitor has an explosive tracker implanted in their body, and if more than one person is alive after 24 hours, all the trackers explode. Story lines in this particular tournament involve a previous winner who has returned to find his wife’s killer, and a local priest who mistakenly ingests the tracker of one of the competitors. The Tournament has some great action sequences, and overall it’s a super-fun low-budget flick.
The Hunger Games series, based on the trilogy of novels written by Suzanne Collins, takes place in a dystopian future where each of 12 districts in the nation of Panem sends two “tributes” to compete in a yearly battle where only one person can survive. The battle, called The Hunger Games, is broadcast to the people as a reminder of the central government’s power. The first two Hunger Games movies feature the 74th and 75th Hunger Games respectively. The second film, subtitled Catching Fire, is arguably the better of those two movies. Catching Fire builds off of the lore of the series, with the winners of previous games being called back to compete for a second time.
The Belko Experiment (2016) is an incredibly fun and violent battle royale set within a locked-down office building. The story takes place in Colombia where an American company, Belko Industries, has a multi-story office staffed by mostly American employees. Part of the employees’ initiation into the company includes, unknown to them, the implantation of an explosive tracking device. One day, a voice comes over the building’s intercom instructing everyone to begin killing their coworkers. The work day gets progressively worse, building up to a crazy barrage of violence and gore as the voice’s instructions eventually let everyone know that only one person will be set free. Fans of James Gunn’s films will find plenty to love here, including a few familiar faces from some of Gunn’s other films.
Battle Royale (2000) is the film that set the standard in the battle royale subgenre, but that’s not the only reason it tops this list. It’s the best battle royale movie because of its perfect balance of wild action, humor, and heart. The film focuses on 42 junior-high students who unwillingly become part of the “BR Act,” an act meant to curb the increasing problem of violence in the country’s youth. The students of a single class (plus two transfer students) are kidnapped, strapped with explosive collars, handed weapons of varying quality, and sent out on a remote island to kill each other. If more than one person is alive after three days, then everyone dies. Blending violent action with the already emotionally-charged environment of high school is brilliantly effective.
What Exactly is a Battle Royale Movie?
The term “battle royale” gets thrown around a lot when describing various movies featuring large groups of people forced into deadly competition against each other. Movies like The Hunt (2020), Ready or Not (2019), and The Purge franchise have all been associated with the niche battle royale subgenre. However, none of those movies fit the definition of what a battle royale really is. To pin down the exact parameters of the subgenre, we have to look at the source of the name.
In the year 2000, the film Battle Royale was released in Japan. Battle Royale established the blueprint for future movies that adopted its basic premise, but the story doesn’t begin there. The movie Battle Royale is adapted from the novel of the same name, and in the preface of the book, the writer talks about where the title comes from. He describes the professional wrestling match of the same name (spelled either “battle royale” or “battle royal”) where multiple wrestlers are all put into a ring and eliminate each other until only one competitor is left standing.
So, basing the definition on the Battle Royale movie as well its pro-wrestling influence, the battle royale subgenre focuses on deadly competitions with a set of rules dictating that only one person can survive the game. In rare instances more than one survivor is allowed in a variation of the subgenre, but the rules must, at the very least, encourage self-preservation over group survival. The last-man-standing requirement is what sets battle royale movies apart from other, similar types of movies involving games of survival, humans hunting other humans, and even films featuring deadly puzzles and escape rooms.
Battle royale movies are often conflated with movies featuring survival games, but they aren’t necessarily the same. A battle royale is a type of survival game, but not all survival games are battle royales. Survival games may encourage teamwork through its rules which allow for multiple survivors, but it is everyone for themselves in a battle royale. Teamwork may arise naturally in a battle royale movie, but in the end it must always break down since there is only the promise of one person walking away.
More Great Movies Similar to the Battle Royale Style
- Azumi (2003) – Isn’t really a battle royale movie, but a training assignment for the film’s assassins is to pair up with their best friend… then fight to the death in a way reminiscent of the drama battle royales often bring up.
- Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003) – A new class is kidnapped and forced to hunt the survivors of the first film. This sequel is pretty fun, but it can’t live up to the quality of the original.
- Gamer (2009) – Gerard Butler stars as a convict who participates in a game where people control other humans via nanite technology in a multiplayer shooter. It’s very campy, but it’s also kind of fun.
- Freerunner (2011) – A group of freerunners are forced to race across a city with collars that will explode if they break the rules. Only the winner, if there is a winner, will be set free.
- As the Gods Will (2014) – Is a survival-game movie that encourages cooperation over deception, but its high-school setting and stylized, ultra-violent games make it a good fit for fans of battle royale films. Many people see this as a precursor to Squid Game (2021).
- The Hunt (2020) – People are kidnapped based on their political values and hunted for sport. There are similarities to The Hunger Games films in some of the scenarios, but The Hunt is more of a “humans hunting humans” movie.
- Guns Akimbo (2019) – Daniel Radcliffe stars as a man who has guns bolted to his hands and is forced to participate in an illegal game of death against the game’s best killer (played by Samara Weaving).
- Funhouse (2019) – A group of people take part in a reality competition where losing a popularity vote means death, and only one person will survive.