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Running on Empty (1988)

PG-13  |   |  Crime, Drama, Music  |  9 September 1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 9,595 users  
Reviews: 85 user | 38 critic

The eldest son of a fugitive family comes of age and wants to live a life of his own.



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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jonas Abry ...
Harry Pope
Ed Crowley ...
Mr. Phillips
Gus Winant
Donald Patterson
Augusta Dabney ...
Abigail Patterson
Dr. Jonah Reiff
Contact at Eldridge St.
School Clerk
Sloane Shelton ...
Mrs. Phillips
Justine Johnston ...
Hospital Clerk


The Popes are a family who haven't been able to use their real identity for years. In the late sixties, the parents set a weapons lab afire in an effort to hinder the government's Vietnam war campaign. Ever since then, the Popes have been on the run with the authorities never far behind. Today, their eldest son wants a life of his own although he is aware that would mean that his parents would either get caught or he will never see them again. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


In 1971, Arthur and Annie Pope blew up a napalm lab to protest the war... Ever since then they have been on the run from the FBI. They chose their lives. Now their son must choose his.


Crime | Drama | Music | Romance


PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

9 September 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die Flucht ins Ungewisse  »

Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)


$2,835,116 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Although River Phoenix learned all the hand motions to the piano pieces his character performs in the movie, the audio was dubbed by a professional pianist. See more »


As they stop at a gas station on the run from authorities, one of the characters is shown removing a Delaware license plate from the front of the gray van. Delaware has never issued nor required front-mounted plates. See more »


Michael: So, what are you doing over the summer?
Lorna: I have a job pumping gas.
Michael: You finally got the Supreme Court to hear your case, huh?
Lorna: Yeah.
See more »


Referenced in Autopsy: The Last Hours Of: River Phoenix (2015) See more »


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Written by Roy Orbison & Bill Dees
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User Reviews

River Phoenix at his best.
4 January 2000 | by (Newport Beach, California) – See all my reviews

The best reason to watch this film is of course the performance by River Phoenix, which now that he's dead, we will never know if he could have topped this. He was one of the youngest actors ever nominated for an Oscar. Another reason to watch the film is Christine Lahti from Chicago Hope who gives her best screen performance here. She won the Los Angeles Film Critic's award for Best Actress of 1988 and received a Golden Globe nomination but unfortunately she must have just missed when they announced who the five finalists were for the Oscar. She has two scenes in this film where she just tore my heart out, including one with Steven Hill from Law And Order who plays her father. The movie did get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and made many top ten lists, including Roger Ebert's. Although it wasn't a box office hit, I believe it will be remembered as one of Director Sidney Lumet's best films and certainly the best one to watch if you want to remember why the talented actor River Phoenix's death was so tragic.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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