The label was launched in the Netherlands in 1980 and was originally referred to as "Roadracer Records" in the United States. Roadrunner's initial business was importing North American metal-band recordings into Europe. In 1986 Roadrunner opened its US headquarters in New York City and later opened offices all over the world. Early successes included albums from King Diamond (the first Roadrunner artist to enter the Billboard Top 200 albums chart) and Annihilator. The label also handled early Metallica releases in the Scandinavian region. The end of the 1980s saw the release of two albums that are now considered classics of their respective genres: Obituary's Slowly We Rot and Sepultura's Beneath the Remains.
The 1990s saw the arrival of acts such as Life of Agony, Machine Head, Suffocation and Type O Negative. Sepultura's 1993 album, Chaos A.D., became the first Roadrunner band to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard album chart. Type O Negative became the first Roadrunner band to receive a certification from the RIAA; this was a Gold award (and later Platinum award) for the 1993 album Bloody Kisses, which was certified in 1995. The band also became the first Roadrunner band to receive radio play. In 2000, Slipknot became the first Roadrunner band to go Platinum.
Beginning in 2001, Roadrunner was distributed by the Universal Music Group through a share of the label owned by The Island Def Jam Music Group. This deal has now expired.
On December 18, 2006, Warner Strategic Marketing signed an agreement to purchase a majority in shares (73.5%) of Roadrunner Records' parent company, Roadrunner Music Group B.V. This deal became finalized on January 29, 2007 after receiving regulatory approval in Germany.
On June 11, 2008, Roadrunner Records was voted as the "Best Metal Label" by Metal Hammer at their Golden Gods Awards, an award that it has won the past four years in a row.
However, Roadrunner have also been accused as of being a label only interested in current or trendy alternative music, reflected by their current roster of mainly popular and metalcore acts. The most notable example of this is the treatment of the main death and thrash metal bands on Roadrunner's roster throughout the 90s including Obituary, Deicide, Death, Gorguts and Pestilence who were either dropped or left the label after ill treatment. Ex-Roadrunner Records artists, GlassjAw, also have nothing but horrible things to say of Roadrunner regarding their treatment from the label. More recently, in 2008 punk cabaret chanteuse Amanda Palmer was told by the label that they wanted to re-edit her video for "Leeds United" to make her look slimmer, causing a firestorm on the Internet from fans. Palmer has since asked to be dropped by the label.
Phantom Blue (1989)
Christy Moore (1986)
Machine Head (1994-present)
Killswitch Engage (2001-present)
Stone Sour (2002-present)
Black Stone Cherry (2006-present)
Collective Soul (2008-present)
Cradle of Filth (2004-present)
Dream Theater (2006-present)
Lynyrd Skynyrd (2009-present)
Billy Talent (2009-present)
Porcupine Tree (2007–present)
Taking Dawn (2009-present)
Berri Txarrak (2009-present)
Rob Zombie (2009-present)
"Mutiny Within" (2008-present)