Rollerball (1975)

Movie released: 1975 | Set in: mid 21st century?

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Corporations replace nations low 2050+
Televised death sports low 2030+

Approach to the future

dystopic scenario


Futurism: 5

Entertainment: 6
Rollerball just isn’t that interesting a sport.

Plausibility: 6

Interesting depictions

Corporations rule the world. Countries united in blocs until only three remained, but massive corporations commanding whole sectors—energy, transportation, luxury, etc.—replaced them.

The corporations warred against each other, but have come to a modus vivendi, substituting corporate teams for armies. Rollerball matches begin with the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, our corporate anthem.”

The champion team, Houston, is sponsored by Energy Corporation.

Companies are more than sponsors. They stage rollerball to “demonstrate the futility of individual effort”—the sport is both circus and opiate, a means to bolster corporate control.

This scenario of corporate rule grew out of clear trend: the power and size of multinational corporations was growing, and many had annual revenues larger than the economies of nation-states.

Combining that trend with the Japanese model of absolute loyalty to the company produces a scenario like that in Rollerball.

It is not ultimately very likely. Companies do not engender true loyalty. They simply embody less of what people value than do nations.

While the centrality of nation-states has declined in the last few decades, corporate loyalty has declined faster. Even Japanese companies have begun to abandon their lifetime employment model.

People also recognize that unrestrained corporate power is a threat, and forces are rising to counter it, including non-governmental organizations and international bodies.

If the nation-state is superceded, it will be replaced by entities that express values more central to people’s lives than commerce.

Other technologies/topics depicted

The world’s leading sport is rollerball, a violent roller derby with motorcycles.

The most popular entertainment in futurist movies are often death sports. The programs serve assorted purposes: punishment of criminals and elimination of dissidents (The Running Man), suppression of the individual (Rollerball), and general entertainment (Series 7).

Rollerball seems to have become a full-scale death sport only gradually: before this championship, the record for people killed in a game was nine.

Rising demands for safety and the spread of human rights will make death sports less likely in the future, even in the places where life is now pretty cheap. (See Series 7.)

So current danger-and-destruction sports like auto racing probably will not evolve toward greater mayhem. Robotics and remote control could provide technical outlets for this kind of bloodlust, as “Robot Wars” already suggests.

Expanding freedom could provide a counter trend. People might be allowed to place themselves in as much danger as they like. But humane impulses are likely to keep this in check.

Information technology:
Rollerball champion Jonathan E. goes to Geneva to consult the master computer Zero, which contains “all knowledge.”

This vision of centralization is the most common misconception about the future of information before the age of the Internet. Many failed to see that information would originate everywhere and be available everywhere, and that infotech would thus tend to serve freedom more than threaten it.

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The futures depicted in the movies