Based upon a novel by Shelley Smith, The Running Man opens at the memorial service for Rex Black (Laurence Harvey), the owner of a small air transport company who is believed to have drowned in a recent glider accident. It soon turns out, however, that Black is very much alive; he faked his death as a means of getting back at the insurance company who denied an earlier claim because he was one day late in making his payment. He has enlisted the cooperation of his wife Stella (Lee Remick) in this scheme. While she waits for the insurance company to approve the claim, he disguises himself, assumes a new identity (that of Charles Erskine, a shoe salesman) and goes to wait for Stella in Spain. Once there, he meets drunken Australian millionaire Jim Jerome in a bar; when Jerome inadvertently leaves his passport at the bar, Rex confiscates it and hatches a new plan to collect on Jerome's insurance as well. In the meantime, Stella has met with insurance representative Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates), who eventually approves her claim. She journeys to Spain, but finds Rex a changed man, and isn't comfortable with either his new personality or his latest scheme. To make matters worse, Maddox shows up. Is it a coincidence or is he suspicious? The rest of the film hinges on the answer to this question, as well as what Maddox's plans are in either case.