Running on Empty (1988)

PG-13  |   |  Crime, Drama, Music  |  9 September 1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 9,718 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?


Director Sidney Lumet writes in his book "Making Movies" about an argument between River Phoenix and writer Naomi Foner. A scene in the movie concerns the character played by Phoenix being interrupted while practicing a classical piano solo. In the script, when he is caught, he breaks into a jazz riff to cover his "embarrassment" at being caught doing something serious. Phoenix fought hard against this, feeling that his character would never be embarrassed about working at the piano. Lumet was so impressed by the point Phoenix made, he shot the scene the way Phoenix wanted it. 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 »


Lorna: You are certifiable! What is this? Some sort of smart-ass joke? You're taking cooking?
Michael: I want to learn how to cook.
Lorna: Yeah, right. You have some burning desire to learn how to make apple brown betty...
Michael: What are you doing here if you think so highly of it?
Lorna: Well, they wouldn't let me take auto mechanics, and I didn't have time to take the issue to the Supreme Court.
See more »


References The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1952) See more »


Fire And Rain
Written by James Taylor
Performed by James Taylor
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User Reviews

A joy to watch, every time.
7 September 2002 | by (Oregon) – See all my reviews

I have dozens of movies on videotape, but if I could only keep one, Running on Empty would be it. I've lost count how many times I've watched it. It works on every level. Emotionally, you cannot help caring about the characters, all of them. The premise, living "underground" in ordinary American suburbia, is brilliant and instantly engaging. The story, coming of age on the lam, flows effortlessly, with hardly a slow spot, and keeps me engaged, even after umpteen viewings. The romance, of love and loss and dedication, brings a tear every time, even just thinking about the birthday party as I write this.

Plus -- I was a 'red diaper baby' who became a conservative republican 35 years ago, and this film touches every button of my past. A lot of those reds were, in person, truly decent people, just a bit deranged and extremely delusional and dogmatic, all of which Judd Hirsch conveys with perfect pitch. No special FX, pretty tame action (mostly involving music and dancing), only six main characters, but a great entertaining and inspirational film.

Rated 9.9 out of 10, in case something better ever comes along.

P.S. I just got the DVD. Even better than the tape. Elsewhere I have read complaints about its technical quality, but I can see nothing wrong with it.

50 of 57 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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