Arena (1989) is a classic sci-fi B-movie which will take you back to the 80s, but it’s also one which will take you back to the 90s. While the movie itself harkens back to the days of 80s sci-fi movies, three of its main characters would later go on to be well-known characters in sci-fi TV series in the early 90s.
The villain Rogor will be familiar to Deep Space 9 fans as Gul Dukat, while his minion Weezil will likewise be familiar to Deep Space 9 fans as Quark:
…Meanwhile Quinn, the lead character’s manager, will be very familiar to any Babylon 5 fans as Susan Ivanova:
What’s interesting is that each of these actors played a very similar role in their respective TV series as they did in this movie, and Quark and Dukat even have similar looking makeup effects. One has to wonder if the creators of Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5 saw this movie before making their casting choices. It’s also interesting that both of those series took place on a space station, and so did this movie.
There is another person in this film which most viewers will think they recognize. Most viewers will be wrong.
While the lead character does bear a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeves, but he is actually a completely unrelated actor, Paul Satterfield.
Now for the movie itself… The film can best be thought of as “Rocky in space”, for it tells the tale of a talented but unknown young fighter, training to become the champion. Steve Armstrong is trying to get a ticket back to earth, in order to do so he becomes an arena fighter to earn some money. In the arena, fighters from all planets and species fight each other in something which falls somewhere between boxing and sumo wrestling (a fighter wins by getting his opponent out of the ring). While different species have varying sizes & strengths, this is all balanced out by the handicapping system which uses some sort of energy beam to weaken the stronger fighter down to match the weaker fighter (though this is only of limited use when one of the fighters is gigantic), a key plot-point is about the villains trying to manipulate the handicapper to their advantage.
While it’s inevitable that any futuristic sci-fi movie set in space will garner comparisons to Star Wars, there’s really nothing at all in this movie that resembles Star Wars, the only thing that comes close at all is a scene where a holographic girl sings in a bar, somewhat reminiscent of the cantina scene.
The special effects used to create the aliens are impressive for a B-movie, they’re even pretty good for a standard movie of this era. It’s certainly nice to see a scenario filled with alien-looking aliens (unlike every incarnation of Star Trek).
I originally saw this movie on Cinemax back before DS9 or Babylon 5 aired & was quite fond of it. When I did see DS9 and B5, I didn’t remember any of the characters from the movie. I rewatched Arena a few years ago however, and kept thinking “Oooo! That’s that guy from DS9! Oooo! That’s that other guy from DS9! Ooo! That’s that chick from Babylon 5!”.
Any sci-fi fans out there seriously need to see this movie at least once.