Return of the Secaucus 7
Theatrical release poster by Monte Dolack
Directed byJohn Sayles
Screenplay byJohn Sayles
Produced by
  • Jeffrey Nelson
  • William Aydelott
CinematographyAustin De Besche
Edited byJohn Sayles
Music byMason Daring
Salsipuedes Productions
Distributed byLibra Films
Release date
  • September 5, 1980 (1980-09-05) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$60,000 (estimated)[1]
Box office$2 million[1]

Return of the Secaucus 7 is a 1980 drama film written and directed by John Sayles and starring Bruce MacDonald, Maggie Renzi, Adam LeFevre, Maggie Cousineau, Gordon Clapp, Jean Passanante, and others.[2][3] The film tells the story of seven friends who spend a weekend together in New Hampshire. The weekend is marred by the break-up of a relationship between two of the friends. This causes a ripple effect among the group and brings up old desires and problems.

The picture was thought to have inspired The Big Chill (1983), which is a more widely known film with a similar storyline.[4] However, writer-director Lawrence Kasdan has denied having seen Return of the Secaucus 7 before working on The Big Chill.[5] In 1997, the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its historic merits.


Teachers Mike Donnelly (MacDonald) and Katie Sipriano (Renzi) prepare to host a gathering of their old college activist friends at their rural New Hampshire home. Frances (Cousineau), now in medical school, drives in with her old boyfriend, wannabe folk singer J.T. (LeFevre), who she found hitchhiking to the gathering. Irene (Passanante), a speechwriter for a Democratic U.S. senator, arrives with her conservative boyfriend, Chip (Clapp), who did not attend college with the others. Maura (Trott) says that she and Jeff (Arnott) are no longer a couple, which shocks the others and causes a somewhat uneasy first evening. Maura and J.T. are mutually attracted and have sex that night while Frances is nearby. The group attends a play that their old friend, Lacey, is acting in. Katie heckles Lacey, annoying Mike.

Jeff arrives and is apparently unaware that Maura has ended their relationship. This further strains the group's cohesion, especially when J.T. tells Jeff he had sex with Maura, believing she was single. Jeff acknowledges being angry at J.T., but it does not end their friendship. After playing basketball and skinny-dipping with Mike's high school friends, Ron (Strathairn) and Howie (Sayles), the group goes to a bar. Jeff and Maura get into a loud argument and Ron make a pass at Frances, who is upset that J.T. and Maura were intimate. Ron and Frances leave for a local hotel, while Maura leaves by herself, and the rest of the group drives separately. Out on the road, the group come upon a deer carcass. An undercover cop arrests them on suspicion of illegal game hunting. While sitting in lock-up, the group recounts their various arrests during their college years and the formation of their nickname, the "Secaucus 7". A local drunk confesses to hitting the deer, and everyone is released. The following day, the group leaves one-by-one, and J.T. insists on hitchhiking to Boston, refusing money from Maura for a bus ticket. Jeff is left alone, and angrily chops wood on Mike's property. The film ends with Mike and Katie finding a farewell note from Jeff reading, "I'm sorry. --Jeff".



Critical response

Film critic Emanuel Levy liked the film and wrote, "The movie became influential, launching a cycle of "reunion" films, which included The Big Chill and the TV series Thirtysomething. As a portrait of disenchantment, Return was more authentic and honest than Lawrence Kasdan's star-studded Big Chill...A rueful movie about unexceptional lives that have prematurely grown stale, Secaucus is a bit commonplace, lacking genuine drama. But Sayles uses effectively a discursive, episodic format; he constructs strong scenes with resonant dialogue. The characters are complex and individually distinguished by speech, gesture, and manner."[6]

Critic Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote, "Here's a nice little movie about the baby boom generation...Novelist John Sayles wrote, directed, and edited this movie. It is a labor of love. We watch these laidback individuals share their stories and reminisce about the past...But these baby boomers can't handle tension; the rift between Jeff and Maura sends tremors through the weekend. And although they put up a front of having a good time, one senses that things haven't turned out well for them — either in terms of meaningful relationships or in terms of personal fulfillment. Return of the Secaucus Seven leaves one with a rueful feeling about this generation."[7]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on eleven reviews.[8]

Film critic Aljean Harmetz of The New York Times wrote in her review: "For a movie that cost $60,000, The Return of the Secaucus Seven is traveling in heady company. Most $60,000 movies play at two film festivals, then end up on a 16-millimeter projector in their director's living room. The Return of the Secaucus Seven, about seven antiwar activists who spend a weekend together 10 years later, was the surprise hit of last spring's Los Angeles Filmex festival. The movie was also selected as one of the 10 best films of 1980 by The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times and Time magazine, and last week it was nominated by the Writers Guild as best comedy written directly for the screen. When it opened an unsuccessful commercial run in New York last September, Vincent Canby, although expressing some reservations, praised the film as sweet and engaging and an honest, fully realized movie. Today it will try again, opening at the Quad in Greenwich Village this time."[9][10]


Return of the Secaucus 7 was released in United States theatres on September 5, 1980.[8]

The film was first released for home entertainment by RCA/Columbia (VHS) and Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment (Betamax) in 1982.

It was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on September 16, 2003.[11]




Other distinctions


  1. ^ a b Gerry Molyneaux, "John Sayles, Renaissance Books, 2000 p 37
  2. ^ Return of the Secaucus 7 at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. ^ "Return of the Secaucus 7". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  4. ^ Lingan, John] (August 30, 2010). "Take Two-3: Return of the Secaucus 7". Slant Magazine. Brooklyn: Slant Magazine, LLC. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
  5. ^ Big Chill screening, the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 20, 2006.
  6. ^ Levy, Emanuel. Emanuel Levy Film Reviews, 2004–2008. Accessed: February 25, 2008.
  7. ^ Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. Spirituality & Practice, film review, 1970–2007. Accessed: February 25, 2008.
  8. ^ a b "Return of the Secaucus 7". Rotten Tomatoes. United States: Fandango Media. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (April 11, 1980). "Film: 'Return of the Secaucus Seven; In the Byways of History". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  10. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (March 6, 1981). "HEADY JOURNEY OF A DIRECTOR AND HIS 'SECAUCUS SEVEN'". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  11. ^ Return of the Secaucus 7. MGM Home Entertainment (DVD). Beverly Hills, California: MGM Holdings, Inc. September 16, 2003. ASIN B00009Y3N3. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Librarian of Congress Names 25 New Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 5 April 2014.