Death Race 2000 is a cult action film directed by Paul Bartel, and starring David Carradine, Simone Griffeth and Sylvester Stallone. The movie takes place in a dystopian American society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. The screenplay is based on the short story "The Racer" by Ib Melchior.
The race is held in three segments from east coast to west, and scored both by traditional methods of timed checkpoints, and also by the fatalities ("scores") achieved by the drivers, including spectators, drivers and race crew. Scoring is 10 points for women of child-bearing age, 40 for teenagers, 70 for children under twelve and 100 for folks over 75. The winner of the race is the one who runs over the most pedestrians rather than the first to cross the finish line. The cars are equipped to kill, bearing anti-personnel weaponry ranging from blades to rockets, and the drivers and their cars are themed in a manner reminiscent of the Hanna-Barbera animated series Wacky Races of the late 1960s.
Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the most celebrated racer and is the government's champion. He is reputed to be part machine, rebuilt after many crashes. He regularly battles with the other teams, particularly "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), who hates playing second fiddle.
During the race, a Resistance group led Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), a lineal descendant of Thomas Paine, one of the original American revolutionaries of the 1770s, is attempting to assassinate Frankenstein and replace him with one of their agents. The Resistance is assisted by Paine's granddaughter Annie (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein's co-driver, who is intending to lure him into a planned ambush where he is to be replaced by a double. Disruption of the race by the resistance is blamed on the French by the state, who are also blamed for ruining the country's economy and telephone system.
It emerges that Frankenstein is not a willing government stooge, nor is there a single Frankenstein. The current Frankenstein is simply one of many people specially trained to race in the role. "When one is used up, they bring in another", he tells Annie. The current Frankenstein also has his own plan to end the tyranny: win the race and shake hands with Mr President, detonating a grenade which has been implanted in his prosthetic right hand.
Frankenstein successfully outmaneuvers both the rival drivers and the Resistance, and is declared the winner and sole survivor. Wounded and unable to carry out his original grenade attack plan, Annie dons Frankenstein's disguise as she plans to stab the President on the victory podium. As she greets the president as he congratulates Frankenstein while declaring war on the French, Annie is mistakenly shot and wounded by her mother. Frankenstein finally succeeds in killing the President by ramming the podium with his car.
In an epilogue, Annie and Frankenstein are wedded, and Frankenstein, now President, abolishes the race and the perverse laws of the Provinces, though he does make a point of running over an objecting (and objectionable) reporter.
Many of the cars were re-bodied VW's and a few were sold after the film to museums for more than it cost to make them according to Roger Corman.
The movie has long been regarded as a cult hit, and was often viewed as superior to Rollerball, made in the same year — another dystopian science fiction sports film, similarly focusing on the use of sports as an "opiate".
The Carmageddon video game series (Carmageddon, Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now and Carmageddon 3: TDR 2000) all borrow heavily from the plot, characters and car designs in this movie.