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Americathon (also known as Americathon 1998) is a 1979 American comedy film directed by Neal Israel and starring John Ritter, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Harvey Korman, and Nancy Morgan, with narration by George Carlin. It is based on a play by Firesign Theatre alumni Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman. The film also includes appearances by Jay Leno, Meat Loaf, Tommy Lasorda, and Chief Dan George, with a musical performance by Elvis Costello.

US VHS cover for the film
Directed byNeal Israel
Produced byJoe Roth
Written byPhil Proctor &
Peter Bergman (play and adaptation)
Neal Israel &
Michael Mislove &
Monica Johnson (screenplay)
StarringJohn Ritter
Harvey Korman
Peter Riegert
Fred Willard
Jay Leno
Chief Dan George
Narrated byGeorge Carlin
Music byTom Scott
CinematographyGerald Hirschfeld
Edited byJohn C. Howard
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
August 10, 1979 (US)
Running time
86 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$6,171,763


In the (then-near future) year 1998, the United States has run out of oil, and many Americans are living in their now-stationary cars and using nonpowered means of transportation such as jogging, riding bicycles and rollerskating. Many Americans wear sweatsuits. Paper money has become completely worthless, with all business transactions being conducted in gold; even a coin-operated elevator warns, "Gold Coins Only". In search of leadership, Americans elect Chet Roosevelt (Ritter) as President. Roosevelt, a "cosmically inspired" former governor of California, proves to have little in common with Teddy Roosevelt or FDR other than his name. Roosevelt, an overly-optimistic man who quotes positive affirmation slogans, stages a number of highly publicized fund raising events, all of which fail. He becomes interested in having a relationship with Vietnamese American pop superstar Mouling Jackson. Real money comes in the form of loans from a cartel of Native Americans, led by billionaire Sam Birdwater (George), in control of Nike (which has been renamed "National Indian Knitting Enterprise").

The federal government, now housed in "The Western White House" (a sub-leased condominium in Marina del Rey, California), finds itself facing national bankruptcy and in danger of being foreclosed and repossessed when Birdwater goes public on national television with the fact that he lent America billions of dollars and now wants the money back, the alternative being foreclosure and the country reverting to its original owners, stating, "Hey, I have to eat, too. Does that make me a bad guy?".

In desperation, Roosevelt hires a young television consultant Eric McMerkin (Riegert) to help produce a national raffle. Instead, they decide that the only way enough money can be raised to save America is instead to run a national telethon, and hire vapid TV celebrity Monty Rushmore (Korman) to host it. However, Presidential adviser Vincent Vanderhoff (Willard) is secretly plotting to have the telethon fail so that representatives of the United Hebrab Republic (formed by the merger of Israel and the Arab states) can purchase what is left of the country when Birdwater forecloses.


Production notesEdit


The soundtrack features "It's a Beautiful Day" by The Beach Boys, "Crawling to the USA" by Elvis Costello and "Get a Move On" by Eddie Money.[2][3]


Dorothy Stratten appears, uncredited and in a brief non-speaking role, in a Playboy bunny style outfit during a scene where Meat Loaf's character donates blood. The Del Rubio triplets can be seen performing "America the Beautiful" behind several posing bodybuilders. John Carradine was to have played "Uncle Sam" in this film, but his scenes did not make the final cut edit. Director Neal Israel has a cameo as a protesting Rabbi holding a picket sign reading "The President Is A Yutz" (Yiddish for "a stupid, clueless person").


In a scene where Eric McMerkin is reading a list of "Government Approved" performers, the names of "Proctor & Bergman" (the co-authors of the original play) can be seen fifth on the list, credited as "Comics." Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor were members of the satirical comedy performance group Firesign Theatre.[4]


To promote the movie, in 1979 Ted Coombs roller skated across the United States and back and gained a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. A photo novel of the film was also released in 1979, and the musical soundtrack was released on both vinyl and audiocassette by Lorimar Records.


Roger Ebert gave the film half of one star out of four and called it "a puerile exploitation of one very thin joke during 98 very long minutes."[5] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "The premise of 'Americathon' is strong enough to sustain a 15-minute skit, but the movie has the ill fortune to drag on for an hour and a half."[6] Dale Pollock of Variety stated, "With a slow 85 minutes of 'Americathon' to endure, film audience may go out and contribute to a fund to stop more pix like this from being made."[7] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "'Americathon' is amusing in its first 20 minutes or so as it sets the stage for what's going on in 1998 ... But then it's 60 minutes of telethon, and frankly, even if you don't like Jerry Lewis, Korman's sendup wears awfully thin."[8] Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times commented, "The film has a clever premise, some funny sight gags and a few good one-liners, but the gag is too drawn out and watching the movie becomes like watching a TV variety show that goes on and on."[9] Judith Martin of The Washington Post called the film "a gross comedy that depends for jokes on President Carter's teeth, Governor Brown's psychoculture and other nationally recognized targets that anyone can hit blindfolded. Mostly, that film just whacks crudely away, although now and then it hits its mark with an impressive smack."[10]

Home mediaEdit

The film was made available on VHS and laserdisc in the 1980s by Lorimar Home Video, both of which are now out of print. The home video rights passed to Warner Bros. in the late 1980s as part of their purchase of Lorimar. Warner Home Video made the film available in January 2011 on DVD in widescreen (1.85:1) format as part of their Warner Archive Manufacture-on-demand collection.[11]


In 1984, New York City public radio station WNYC sponsored a marathon of American music dubbed "Americathon '84."[12]


Referencing the movie's futuristic premise itself, there were many societal or political forecasts woven into the storyline, and a number of these have become reality, including:

The film's official coming attractions trailer includes the quote: "...see Americathon at your local theater before you see it happening in your own front yard!"


  1. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (13 November 1978). "'Americathon,' Film of 1998". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Willman, Chris; Willman, Chris (2017-12-12). "With a 'Film Stars' Song in Contention, Rock Star Elvis Costello Reflects on Moonlighting for the Movies". Variety. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  3. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (2007). The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 15. ISBN 9781557836939.
  4. ^ ""Americathon": The prescient 1979 absurd comedy that predicted America's unfunny future". Retrieved 2018-02-05.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Americathon". Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 10, 1979). "Screen: 'Americathon' Spoofs National Politics". The New York Times. C6.
  7. ^ Pollock, Dale (August 15, 1979). "Film Reviews: Americathon". Variety. 24.
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 15, 1979). "'Americathon': A live telethon might have funnier moments". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 9.
  9. ^ Gross, Linda (August 10, 1979). "Nightmare Vision of 'Americathon'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 16.
  10. ^ Martin, Judith (August 24, 1979). "'Tynan': The Seduction of A Quintessential Senator". The Washington Post. Weekend, p. 29.
  11. ^ "Americathon".
  12. ^ Rothstein, Edward (17 February 1984). "WNYC 'AMERICATHON,' FREE CONCERT AT PUBLIC". Retrieved 23 September 2016 – via
  13. ^ a b c Joe Mont (5 August 2011). "10 Movies That Predicted the Future". MainStreet.
  14. ^ a b c d "5 Mediocre Movies Made Awesome by Real Events".
  15. ^ ""Americathon" (1979) - Hidden Films". Hidden Films.

Further readingEdit

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