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Heartbeeps is a 1981 romantic science fiction comedy film about two robots who fall in love and decide to strike out on their own. It was directed by Allan Arkush, and starred Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters as the robots. This was Kaufman's final performance in a theatrical film.

Heartbeeps (1981).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAllan Arkush
Produced byMichael Phillips
Screenplay byJohn Hill
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyCharles Rosher Jr.
Edited byTina Hirsch
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1981 (1981-12-18)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million
Box office$2,154,696

Stan Winston's make-up work for Heartbeeps made him one of the nominees for the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup in 1982, losing to An American Werewolf in London.[1]


Val Com 17485 (Andy Kaufman), a robot designed to be a valet with a specialty in lumber commodities, meets Aqua Com 89045 (Bernadette Peters), a hostess companion robot whose primary function is to assist at poolside parties. At a factory awaiting repairs, they fall in love and decide to escape, stealing a van from the company to do so.

They embark on a quest to find a place to live, as well as satisfy their more immediate need for a fresh electrical supply. They assemble a small robot, Phil, built out of spare parts, whom they treat as their child, and are joined by Catskill, a mechanical standup comic (which is seen sitting the entire film).

A malfunctioning law-enforcement robot, the Crimebuster, overhears the orders of the repair workers to get the robots back and goes after the fugitives. With the help of humans who run a junkyard, and using Catskill's battery pack, the robots are able to save Phil before running out of power and being returned to the factory. Brought back to the factory the robots are repeatedly repaired and their memories cleared. Because they continue to malfunction they are junked. They are found by the humans who run the junk yard and reassembled. In the junkyard they live happily and build a robot daughter. The film ends with Crimebuster, after only pretending to have his mind erased, continuing to malfunction, going on another mission to recover the fugitive robots.




Sigourney Weaver was offered a role and was interested in the film, as she wanted to work with Andy Kaufman, but Weaver's agent persuaded her to turn down the film.[2]

Because of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild, filming was shut down in July 1980 (along with numerous other motion picture and television series). The strike ended at the beginning of October 1980 (filming had started in June).[3] The film was aimed at children and was a failed experiment: Universal Pictures gave Andy Kaufman a blank check to make this film after focus group testing indicated that children liked robots, apparently in the wake of R2-D2 and C-3PO.[citation needed]

In his book Andy Kaufman: Revealed, Bob Zmuda wrote that Kaufman and Zmuda had "pitched" the screenplay of Kaufman's The Tony Clifton Story, a movie about the life and times of his alter-ego Tony Clifton, to Universal Studios. The Universal executives were concerned that Kaufman had not acted in films, except for a small role, and arranged for him to star in Heartbeeps to test whether he could carry a movie. Because the movie was "a box office disaster", plans for making the Clifton movie were cancelled.[4][5]

John Hill adapted the screenplay into a novel, Heartbeeps, published in December 1981.


Critical responseEdit

Reviews of the film were negative. On Rotten Tomatoes the film a score of 0% based on reviews from 5 critics, with an average rating of 1.6/10.[6]

Vincent Canby wrote, in a negative review in The New York Times, that it was "unbearable" and a "dreadfully coy story."[7] Gary Arnold from the Washington Post noted how the film's stars Kaufman and Peters were "unlikely to face serious career setbacks from a minor fiasco only a handful of people will ever see," adding that he faulted the film for having "so little inherent momentum that it seems to need rewinding every few minutes."[8]

Kaufman felt that the movie was so bad that he personally apologized for it on Late Night with David Letterman, and, as a joke, promised to refund the money of everyone who paid to see it. Letterman's response was that if Kaufman wanted to issue such a refund, he'd "better have change for a 20 (dollar bill)."[9]


Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
Saturn Award
Best Science Fiction Film Douglas Green Nominated
Best Make-Up Stan Winston Nominated
54th Academy Awards Best Make-Up Stan Winston[10] Nominated


  1. ^ Gholson, John (April 16, 2010). "Sci-Fi Movie Poster of the Day: Heartbeeps". Aol. Archived from the original on June 29, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  2. ^ "I'd been offered an Andy Kaufman project about two robots that fall in love, and I was so excited to work with him. But my agent convinced me that the script just wasn't good enough, so I had sort of tearfully let that go."
  3. ^ "Behind the Camera on "Heartbeeps"", American Cinematographer (February 1982) Vol. 63, No. 2)
  4. ^ "Heartbeeps Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  5. ^ Drees, Rich (20 February 2007). "Script Review: THE TONY CLIFTON STORY". Archived from the original on 2016-01-02. Retrieved 2013-03-30. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ "Heartbeeps". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1981). "Robots In Love In 'Heartbeeps'". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  8. ^ Arnold, Gary (23 December 1981). "Faint 'Heartbeeps'". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Letterman, David (host) (November 17, 1982). "Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Andy Kaufman, Alec Baldwin". Late Night with David Letterman. Season 1. Episode 147. New York, NY: Carson Productions / NBC Productions. Kaufman, 2nd Guest, Interview occurs @ 18 minute mark. NBC.
  10. ^ "The 54th Academy Awards 1982". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

External linksEdit