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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 9,604 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?


Jomo, the name of the family's dog, is a reference to Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister and president of Kenya. This may also be a reference to the movie Sunday Bloody Sunday, in which a similarly liberal family's pet dog is named "Kenyatta." See more »


In the sequence when Danny discovers the Fed's cars following him and he sends the dog with his shoe to get his brother Harry, a person's left arm can be seen in the open door of the porch and it quickly moves back behind the door. Possibly the dog's handler; it doesn't seem to be Harry waiting to come out since he would have had his props in hand and the arm's height and size gives the impression of a person larger than Harry. See more »


Michael: Aren't we supposed to question authority? You taught me that! Who do you think you are, General Patton?
See more »


References Rebel Without a Cause (1955) See more »


Happy Birthday To You
Mildred J. Hill & Patty S. Hill
See more »

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User Reviews

the first film that made me cry
15 November 2004 | by (Arlington, MA) – See all my reviews

I saw this movie when it was first released on video and was astounded that it was not nominated for Best Picture over lesser fare like Working Girl. I was 14 at the time and the conclusion of the movie was the first time I ever cried while watching a film. It's been 16 years and only four other movies have had that affect on me (Shadowlands, Philadelphia, In America, Return of the King). Watching it with my wife tonight (her first time seeing it) and I still cried at the conclusion.

This movie, more than any other, even Stand By Me, makes me miss the adult actor that River Phoenix might have become. We have been lucky enough to see the fine actors that Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise have become, but River might have

surpassed them all. He most assuredly had the potential.

I have seen thousands of movies now, have devoted myself to watching every film by 100 great directors (even the horrible ones) and Sidney Lumet has rewarded me as I have re-watched such classics as Network, 12 Angry Men and Serpico, but this might be his best film. Christine Lahti's performance is letter on perfect and she should have won the Oscar (wasn't nominated). I am glad the Academy got the two most important nominations correct: River and the screenplay.

This is a perfect movie for teens as they can understand the growing pains that River's character is going through and a perfect movie for adults as well, as they can understand what is threatening to tear the family apart.

47 of 54 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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When they abandoned the little dog, I lost all sympathy... farmerne
No Respect for Mom and Dad jukebox_lucky
Anybody here a fan River Phoenix? glimlacheneeuwig
I hate the little brother. balehead55
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worth buying? parker_1412
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