The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.jpg
Written byDouglas Day Stewart
Story byJoe Morgenstern
Douglas Day Stewart
Directed byRandal Kleiser
StarringJohn Travolta
Diana Hyland
Robert Reed
Ralph Bellamy
Glynnis O'Connor
Music byMark Snow
Paul Williams
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producersAaron Spelling
Leonard Goldberg
ProducersJoel Thurm
Cindy Dunne
Production locationsMalibu Lake, California
20th Century Fox Studios - 10201 Pico Blvd., Century City, Los Angeles, California
CinematographyArch Dalzell
EditorJohn F. McSweeney
Running time97 minutes
Production companySpelling-Goldberg Productions
DistributorSony Pictures Television
Original networkABC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatMono
Original release
  • November 12, 1976 (1976-11-12)

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is a 1976 American made for television drama film inspired by the lives of David Vetter and Ted DeVita, who lacked effective immune systems. It stars John Travolta, Glynnis O'Connor, Diana Hyland, Robert Reed, Ralph Bellamy and P.J. Soles. It was written by Douglas Day Stewart, produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg (who, at the time, produced Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels), and directed by Randal Kleiser, who would work with Travolta again in the 1978 hit musical film adaptation of Grease shortly after. The original music score was composed by Mark Snow. The theme song "What Would They Say" was written and sung by Paul Williams.[1] William Howard Taft High School was used for filming.

The TV movie first aired November 12, 1976 on ABC. In the United Kingdom, the TV movie was released on PAL DVD by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in 2003 before it finally made its debut on Channel 5 in 2006.


John and Mickey Lubitch conceive a child. After multiple previous miscarriages and the death of their first son (who was born without a functioning immune system), Mickey fears the likelihood that something gravely wrong could happen to their child. John assures her that the odds of their next child being born with the same condition are low.

The pregnancy results in the birth of a live baby boy, whom they name Tod. Tod's immune system also does not function properly, meaning that contact with unfiltered air may kill him. John and Mickey are told he may have to live out his entire life in incubator-like conditions. After a strenuous four years of Tod living in the hospital, Mickey convinces John to find a way to bring Tod home. He lives with his parents in Houston, Texas. He is restricted to staying in his room all his life where he eats, learns, reads, and exercises, while being protected from the outside world by various coverings.

As Tod grows, he wishes to see more of the outside world and meet regular people his age. He is enrolled at the local school after being equipped with suitable protective clothing, similar in style to a space suit. He falls in love with his next door neighbor, Gina Biggs, and he must decide between following his heart and facing near-certain death, or remaining in his protective bubble forever.

In the end, after having a discussion with his doctor who tells him he has built up some immunities which may possibly be enough to survive the real world, he steps outside his house, unprotected, and he and Gina ride off on her horse.

Main cast


David Vetter, the boy who inspired this film, questioned the film's depiction of how sterile Tod's use of the spacesuit was. Vetter scoffed at the idea that Travolta's character could simply wear the space suit back into the isolator without contaminating the bubble.[2]

The film was nominated for four Emmy Awards, winning one posthumously for Hyland.[3]

Impact and legacy

Days after Bill Clinton was inaugurated as U.S. President, William Safire reported on the phrase "in the bubble" as used in reference to living in the White House.[4] Safire traced that usage in U.S. presidential politics to a passage in the 1990 political memoir What I Saw at the Revolution by Peggy Noonan, where she used it to characterize Ronald Reagan's "wistfulness about connection"; Richard Ben Cramer used the phrase two years later in What It Takes: The Way to the White House with reference to George H. W. Bush and how he had been "cosseted and cocooned in comfort by 400 people devoted to his security" and "never s[aw] one person who was not a friend or someone whose sole purpose it was to serve or protect him."[4] Noonan's use was a reference to The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.[4]

The film inspired Paul Simon's 1986 song "The Boy in the Bubble".[5] In 1992, the film's premise was satirized in the seventh episode of the fourth season of Seinfeld. It was also the subject of the 2001 comedy film Bubble Boy and the 2007 musical In the Bubble produced by American Music Theatre Project and featuring a book by Rinne Groff, music by Michael Friedman and Joe Popp and lyrics by Friedman, Groff and Popp.[5]

The film was mentioned several times on the series That '70s Show, in the episodes of NCIS "SWAK" and "Thirst", on the Family Guy episode "The Father, The Son and The Holy Fonz" and in the film Superstar. In "Thirst" "Very Special Agent" Tony DiNozzo mentions it to partner Tim McGee, who asks if it was "pre or post Barbarino", to which Tony says that he thinks it was post, suggesting that Tim watch it on Netflix. It was actually during Welcome Back, Kotter, which began in 1975.

The film had a personal impact on Travolta and Hyland, who began a six-month romantic relationship until her death, after the film ended principal photography.[6]

In an episode of Dance Moms, Abby Lee Miller said the girls are doing a dance inspired by the movie.

The film is referenced in two episodes of The Simpsons. In the Season 10 episode "Viva Ned Flanders," as the townspeople of Springfield mock Ned Flanders for never doing anything exciting in his entire life, Carl Carlson remarks "Even the boy in the bubble had a deck of cards." During the Season 13 episode "Little Girl in the Big Ten," Bart contracts a rare illness and is confined to a giant plastic bubble (similar to a hamster ball) in order to prevent him from spreading it to others.

It was also spoofed by RiffTrax on June 28, 2010.[7]

See also


  1. ^ What Would They Say - Paul Williams - Topic on YouTube
  2. ^ McVicker, Steve. "Bursting the Bubble." Houston Press, April 10, 1997.
  3. ^ Television Academy
  4. ^ a b c William Safire (January 24, 1993). "The Man in the Big White Jail". On Language. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  5. ^ a b "World Premiere 'In the Bubble' Fourth New Musical for AMTP". Northwestern University. 2007-05-22. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2009-05-18. AMTP's newest musical was inspired by multiple "bubble boy" sources in pop culture, including the 1976 Emmy-nominated made-for-television movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," starring John Travolta; the 1987 Paul Simon song "The Boy in the Bubble"; a 1992 "Seinfeld" television episode; and Bandeira Entertainment's 2001 screen comedy "Bubble Boy," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, (and more potently, the protests surrounding the Gyllenhaal film).
  6. ^ "High Steppin' to stardom". Time. April 3, 1978. Retrieved 2020-11-07. At the cast party, Travolta remembers, 'we admitted not only a friendly attraction but a sexual one. The intensity of it was new to both of us.'...She [later] told him that their six months together were the happiest time of her life.... Says Travolta, 'I would have married her.'
  7. ^ RiffTrax