Stone Cold Steve Austin has had quite an illustrious career, to say the least. He’s won numerous championship titles, become a WWE Hall of Famer, and is the only man on the planet to deliver a Stone Cold Stunner to the president of the United States. But few may recall that Steve Austin had a brief run as an action star for WWE films. Most of his movies went straight to DVD, but it was 2007’s The Condemned that drew the most attention — because it had some fans and critics feeling like it was a rip off of the 2000 cult classic flick Battle Royale.
The Condemned was Steve Austin’s first role as a leading actor. He plays Jack Conrad, an inmate awaiting the death penalty whose life is spared — temporarily, at least — when he is purchased by a wealthy TV producer to participate in an illegal game show streamed online. Conrad is then taken to a remote island where he and other criminals are forced to fight one another to the death, with the last man or woman standing winning the ultimate prize — their freedom.
As much as The Condemned tries to bill itself as a unique story, it’s undeniable that its concept “borrows” (some might say, steals) heavily from Battle Royale. Battle Royale takes place in a dystopian future in Japan, where 42 children are brought to a remote island and forced to battle to the death. The last remaining survivor is declared the winner and granted their freedom. Sound familiar?
Besides the central premise, The Condemned “borrows” (or rips off) a number of other elements from Battle Royale. Both have characters that die before the game can technically get under way. In Battle Royale, a student is found hanged in his room, while in The Condemned, a prisoner is impaled after being thrown from a moving helicopter.
They both also use the same plot device in the form of an explosive device the players must wear to ensure their obedience and force them to participate in the game. In Battle Royale, it’s an explosive collar worn around the neck, while in The Condemned, it’s turned into an ankle bracelet with a tag that other “players” can pull to blow someone up.
Both movies also contain a subplot involving a command center, where a group of technicians monitor the prisoners and report their progress to the movie’s main antagonist, who manipulates the players to his own ends.
Aside from the plot similarities, The Condemned even goes as far as “borrowing” some of the same action sequences from Battle Royale. In The Condemned, Steve Austin ends up rolling down a hill in a fight with another prisoner that culminates with the prisoner exploding. The same thing happens in Battle Royale, only the person is stabbed instead. This happens again at the finale, where Steve Austin kills some technicians seated on a couch in a scene similar to the end of Battle Royale, when the teacher Kitano is shot and falls back on a couch before dying.
As if The Condemned wasn’t enough of a Battle Royale rip off on its own, WWE films produced in 2015 a sequel starring Randy Orton. The premise was pretty much the same except Orton’s character was a bounty hunter instead of a death row inmate. It was released straight to video with terrible reviews from both fans and critics alike.
While Stone Cold Steve Austin’s career doesn’t seem to have been permanently harmed by his starring turn in The Condemned, it certainly didn’t launch his acting career onto the same level as The Rock or John Cena. As for WWE Films, it’s one thing to pay homage to a classic film, but if you blatantly try to copy it, people will take notice, and your theft may just live on in infamy in the annals of the internet.
Audiences weren't stunned by Stone Cold's first lead acting role, 2007's The Condemned.