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Five Marathon Lessons From a Forgotten Michael Douglas Flop

1979’s ‘Running’ is pretty awful. But it’s got a few important tips for this weekend’s Olympic marathoners.

Universal Studios

In 1979, Michael Douglas made a mistake. He was young; it was dumb; and, listen — it’s not the end of the world. But he made it, and it happened.

What am I talking about? Is there a Michael Douglas sex tape floating around? Did he fly coach once? Did Michael Douglas cut an obscure dance-pop record?

Nope. He made a movie. A movie called Running, about a disgraced marathon runner trying to pick up the pieces of his life, and giving Olympic glory one last shot. The climax of the film is someone tripping. It’s probably the worst Olympics movie ever made. It’s the black mark on the Douglas canon.

And you’re thiiiis close to never being able to watch it. The first three Amazon results for “Running + Michael Douglas”? A DVD with a “will not play on most DVD players sold in the U.S.” warning; a “Michael Douglas Film Collection” (does not include the film Running); and an 8-by-10 black-and-white photo of Michael Douglas shushing a child.

But the internet never forgets.

And just in time for Sunday’s marathon — one of the grand-finale events of these Rio Olympics — the kind randos at YouTube have conjured a (grade-D, highly VHS-core, in-nine-parts) copy of Running from thin air.

And while the movie isn’t — is, let’s be clear, the opposite of — worth watching for its own sake, we wonder: What lessons might Running have for this year’s crop of marathon runners? Might the secret to winning a gold medal have been hidden, all of this time, in the just-not-repressed-enough embarrassment of early-period Michael Douglas?

I mean: obviously yes.

Lesson no. 1: Believe in yourself.

You can tell, straightaway, from Running’s opening scene: Michael Andropolis is going to lose. How can you tell? Because he doesn’t believe in himself. Why doesn’t he believe in himself? Because the actor who’s playing him doesn’t believe in himself, either.

Let’s cut right to the chase: Running is all Michael Douglas’s fault. This was right there, on a silver platter, for the taking, to be an Iconically Terrible Sports Movie. And Michael Douglas blew it. And he blew it because he didn’t want it enough. Just look at him.

It’s in his eyes … it’s in his voice … and it’s especially in his stride: He’s not all in. He knows this is an Olympics cash-grab piece of shit; and he’s embarrassed about that; and he’s decided to hedge his bets. It’s a completely relatable instinct: You’re doing something bad; you feel shame.

You know who wouldn’t have felt shame? Tom Cruise. I bring that up because this, more than anything else, is the most obvious takeaway from Running: They should have just waited eight years and made this thing with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise would have sold the face off of this movie. Tom Cruise would have shed blood (don’t worry about whose) to make this a hit — an American classic that we gather around to watch every Olympics. Tom Cruise would have run so hard that you would have left the theater asking yourself, “Wait, does Tom Cruise have a rare and crippling disease where he can’t walk and instead can only run literally as hard as possible literally all the time?” Tom Cruise would have made this work.

Quick tangent: The five movies that would be most improved with Tom Cruise swapped in:

5. Clear and Present Danger

4. Eyes Wide Shut (plays every role)

3. Aloha

2(t). Footloose (2011)

2(t). The Master

1. Jason Bourne

Anyway, most of all: There is no way — no way — that Tom Cruise would have made a running movie where he loses the race. Like, are you kidding me? Tom Cruise would have won — and then he would have had them write in a plot where they have to do an emergency re-Olympics, and redo the race, and he would have won that too. Tom Cruise would have had them write in a plot where he has to carry two babies in peril across the finish line, and he still would have won, and then when someone asked him, “Well, since they crossed the finish line first, didn’t the babies technically win?” he would have had them edit out those babies in post — just to make sure he won. Tom Cruise would have won, and won, and won, and won.

And then Michael Andropolis would have won. And then America would have won. And then Running would have won. And then we all would have won. But instead we cast Michael Douglas.

And we lost.

Lesson no. 2: Run YOUR race.

OK, maybe we’re being too hard on Michael Douglas. Because the truth is, even if he had committed to this role all the way: Running was probably going to flop. And it was probably going to flop because this — a running movie, an Olympics movie, an underdog story — was just never going to be Michael Douglas’s game. Michael Douglas seems like the kind of person who would hate the Olympics. He seems like the kind of person who would pay to rig an Olympics. Michael Douglas is not trying to run outside for 26 miles for love of country.

And as soon as he realized that … he was golden. Five years after flopping with Running, Michael Douglas rips off one of the most impressive 16-year runs in movie history: Romancing the Stone, A Chorus Line, Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, Falling Down, Disclosure, The American President, The Game, Wonder Boys, Traffic. And all he had to do was stay true to himself. Michael Douglas is not the underdog — that’s the race they wanted him to run. Michael Douglas is the overdog. That’s his race. And he ran it.

Lesson no. 3: Don’t choke.

[SPOILER ALERT FOR 1979’S MAJOR MOTION PICTURE RUNNING.] Nearing the end of the race, and in first place, Michael Andropolis trips and falls, badly injuring himself — Douglas plays the scene like he got shot — and ending his chance at Olympic glory.

Don’t do that.

Lesson no. 4: Break up with your significant other tonight.

In Running, Michael Andropolis makes a crippling mistake: He falls back in love with his wife. There’s a courting period; a date night (hot dogs and Simon & Garfunkel, I’m in); an ill-advised “I have to know: Did you fuck that other guy” conversation; passionate goodbye sex; passionate use of the term “make love”; a re-break-up; a re–get back together; and even — SMH — on-site, pre-race, through-the-fence kissing.

A quick refresher on how that worked out:

Avoid this. There’s still time. Just break up now.

Lesson no. 5: Finish in first place.

Michael Andropolis refuses to quit. He picks himself up off the ground, and overcomes his “serious” tripping-and-falling injury, and — hours later, at night — finishes the race.

It’s an inspiring journey.

Just kidding, it’s a stupid journey. Moral victories are annoying and played out. In my opinion, avoid them and win. And if you memorize these five lessons — believe in yourself, run YOUR race, don’t choke, break up with your significant other tonight, and finish in first place — you will.