On the Right Track

On the Right Track

On the Right Track movie poster
Directed by Lee Philips
Produced by Jim Begg
Ronald Jacobs
Written by Avery Buddy
Richard Moses
Tina Pine
Starring Gary Coleman
Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cinematography Jack L. Richards
Edited by Bill Butler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
March 6, 1981 (and later in different cities)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $5.9 million (US/ Canada)[1]

On the Right Track is a 1981 American comedy film that was the first feature film starring Gary Coleman.[2] It was directed by Lee Philips, produced by Ronald Jacobs, and released to theaters by 20th Century Fox in the spring of 1981.


After the debut of the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes in November 1978, Gary Coleman quickly gained popularity. Zephyr Productions was created to promote Coleman's star potential, and 1981's On the Right Track was the first movie developed from that initiative.[3][4] It was filmed in 1980, primarily in Chicago.[5][6] New York Loves Lester was an early working title for the project, when the film was planned to be set in New York City.[7][8] The subsequent working title was A Guy Could Get Killed Out There.[5][9]


Gary Coleman stars as a homeless shoeshine boy named Lester who is living in a locker at Union Station, Chicago. Already a beloved figure among the staff at the station who look after him, and suffering attempts to move him to an orphanage, he finds great popularity after it is revealed that he has an amazing talent for picking winning horses at the racetrack.[10][11]

Primary Cast


Though it received a number of reviews concluding that it was overly sappy or simply capitalizing on Coleman's TV following,[12][13] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune,[14] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times,[15] and Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times[16] gave it somewhat more positive reviews. Gary Coleman earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor for his performance in the film, but lost to Klinton Spilsbury for The Legend of the Lone Ranger.

The film was released on VHS in the 1980s, but it has never seen an official release on DVD. The movie has not received much attention in latter years, though a short article in Entertainment Weekly in 2004 compared the film to the then newly released Tom Hanks film The Terminal, where Hanks' character lives for months in an airport terminal.[17]


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p234. Please note figures are rentals accruing to distributors and not total gross.
  2. Blowen, Michael (21 April 1981). Review - Movie - Right Track, Wrong Direction - On the Right Track, The Boston Globe ("On the Right Track marks Coleman's feature film debut He plays Lester, a 10-year-old orphan who lives in luggage lockers in Chicago's Union Station")
  3. Parish, James Robert. The Hollywood Book of Extravagance, (2007) (ISBN 978-0470052051)
  4. (27 November 1980)Blacks on TV, Jet (magazine), p.54
  5. 1 2 (31 July 1980). Making a Film, Jet (magazine), p.41 (retrieved December 9, 2010)
  6. Coleman Family & Davidson, Bill. Gary Coleman: Medical Miracle (1982) (ISBN 978-0425055953) ("It was Saturday, June 28, near the end of filming On the Right Track, Gary's first big theatrical movie for 20th Century-Fox distribution. It was about a young orphan, a horse-race-betting genius, who lives in a baggage locker in...")
  7. Ebony Interview: Gary Coleman, Ebony (magazine) (June 1980), p.33, Retrieved December 9, 2010
  8. (7 February 1980). Gary Coleman to do Two Feature Movies, Jet (magazine), p.61 (retrieved December 9, 2010)
  9. Film Bulletin (1980), p. 10, 18 ("A Guy Could Get Killed Out There (Gary Coleman): Formerly titled "New York Loves Lester." Zephyr Productions presentation")
  10. (11 July 1981). At the movies, Chicago Tribune ("Gary Coleman makes his movie debut as a high spirited orphan in "On the Right Track." 20th Century-Fox")
  11. Movie Review: On the Right Track, Cineman Syndicate (January 1984)
  12. Labonte, Richard (11 July 1981). Young TV Favorite Stars in Real Movie, Ottawa Citizen
  13. Maslin, Janet (18 July 1981). 'Track', Vehicle for Middle-Aged Child Star, The New York Times ("On the Right Track is a vehicle for Mr. Coleman that depends entirely on the premise that he is lovable. Only his most ardent television fans are likely to accept this.")
  14. Siskel, Gene (13 July 1981). 'On the Right Track' is just that--a truly charming Chicago movie, Chicago Tribune
  15. Ebert, Roger. On the Right Track, Chicago Sun-Times (1981 review)
  16. Thomas, Kevin (28 August 1981). "On the Right Track", is Generally, Los Angeles Times
  17. Katz, Paul (25 June 2004). Planes, Trains, And..., Entertainment Weekly
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