US VHS cover for the film
Directed by Neal Israel
Produced by Joe Roth
Written by Phil Proctor &
Peter Bergman (play and adaptation)
Neal Israel &
Michael Mislove &
Monica Johnson (screenplay)
Starring John Ritter
Harvey Korman
Peter Riegert
Fred Willard
Jay Leno
Chief Dan George
Narrated by George Carlin
Music by Tom Scott
Cinematography Gerald Hirschfeld
Edited by John C. Howard
Distributed by United Artists (1979, original)
Warner Bros. (2011, DVD)
Release dates
August 10, 1979 (USA)
Running time
86 min.
Country U.S.A.
Language English
Budget Unknown
Box office $6,171,763

Americathon (also known as Americathon 1998) is a 1979 American comedy film starring John Ritter, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Harvey Korman, and Nancy Morgan, with narration by George Carlin, 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.

Being cast 20 years into the future, the film contains many prophetic elements, such as: predicting the demise of the Soviet Union, the prevalence of reality television, and the sale of public assets to the private sector (a trend starting shortly after the film's release.) Also, The Beach Boys are shown still together and recording in 1998.


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 other non-gas-powered means of transportation such as jogging, riding bicycles and rollerskating. Many Americans wear sweatsuits. In search of leadership, Americans elect Chet Roosevelt (Ritter) as President. Roosevelt, a "cosmically inspired" former governor of California, proves to have little else 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. 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, 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 with the fact that he lent America billions of dollars and now wants the money back.

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 to run a telethon, and hire 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 notes


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.


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.


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.

Home media

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.[1]


In 1984, New York City public radio station WNYC sponsored a marathon of American music dubbed "Americathon '84."[2]


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

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!"


External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Americathon

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