The Spirit of '76 (1990 film)

Infobox Film
name = The Spirit of '76

image_size = 150px
caption = DVD cover
director = Lucas Reiner
producer = Roman Coppola
Fred Fuchs
writer = Roman Coppola
Lucas Reiner
narrator =
starring = David Cassidy
Carl Reiner
Rob Reiner
Olivia d'Abo
Geoff Hoyle
music =
cinematography = Stephen Lighthill
editing = Glen Scantlebury
distributor = Columbia Pictures
Castle Rock Entertainment
Warner Home Video (DVD)
released = October 12, 1990
runtime = 82 minutes
country = USA
language = English
budget =
gross =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id = 1:46100
imdb_id = 0100670

"The Spirit of '76" is a 1990 comedy film that spoofs American culture of the mid-1970s. It stars David Cassidy, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Olivia d'Abo, and the rock groups Redd Kross and Devo. The movie was initially released October 12, 1990. Columbia Pictures released a VHS edition on January 22, 1992, and Warner Home Video released a DVD edition on June 3, 2003.


By the year 2176, a magnetic storm has degaussed all recorded history, causing such valuable documents as the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to be lost. Three time-travelers (Adam-11, Chanel-6, and Heinz-57) are sent back to July 4, 1776, to retrieve America's heritage, but due to an unnoticed time machine malfunction, end up in 1976 instead, during the United States Bicentennial. While pursuing their mission, the time travelers dress in period costume (e.g., tight bell bottom pants), and experience est, Pop Rocks, disco, long gas lines, the AMC Pacer and even drug paraphernalia shops.

They are in turn pursued by Rodney Snodgrass (Liam O'Brien), a science whiz and UFO buff, who thinks they are aliens, and plans to use them to win the Bicentennial Science Fair prize at his high school. His self-absorbed, disco-dancing brother, Eddie Trojan (Leif Garrett), pursues Chanel-6 for his own pleasure. Both are foiled by two dimwitted but good-hearted teenage friends (Tommy Sears and Chris Johnson), who help the time travelers repair their craft and return to 2176, with their 1970s artifacts and a copy of the Constitution, printed on a shirt which was bought from an est seminar attendee (Barbara Bain).


Several family members worked together on the production of the film. Roman Coppola co-wrote the script with Lucas Reiner and produced the film, and sister Sofia Coppola designed the era-costumes used for the piece. Lucas Reiner's wrote and directed the film, and his father Carl Reiner and brother Rob Reiner both had appearances as actors in bit parts. Lucas Reiner's girlfriend at the time played a waitress in the film, and she and Reiner later married. Barbara Bain, an actress who portrayed one of the "Be Inc, Seminars" attendees, is the mother of Susie Landau, one of the producers and casting director for the film. In the DVD commentary for the 2003 edition of the film, director Lucas Reiner noted that directing the death scene with his father in the beginning of the film was difficult.Reiner, Lucas. (2003). Commentary for "The Spirit of '76", [DVD] . Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video.] Carl Reiner also appeared on the DVD commentary, and praised Lucas' job as director, as well as the script to the film.Reiner, Carl. (2003). Commentary for "The Spirit of '76", [DVD] . Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video.]

Lucas Reiner discussed the casting of the film by producer Susie Landau, and noted that once actor David Cassidy of "The Partridge Family" was successfully signed to the project, other stars from the '70s signed on as well. Several musicians also played bit roles in the film. Members of the New Wave rock band Devo appeared as the "Ministry of Knowledge," and members of the band Redd Kross played Chris Johnson and Tommy Sears. Martin von Haselberg and Brian Routh of The Kipper Kids portrayed the CIA agents, Tommy Chong appeared in a scene in a Head shop, and Moon Zappa had a cameo as "an archetypal zodiac aficionado." Reiner complimented Sofia Coppola on her costuming work for the film, noting that she was only seventeen years-old during initial production. Coppola had to research for the '70s as she had not lived through the period, and also developed costumes for two other periods - the future in the year 2171, and the future after the time-travelers returned home and changed the culture. The production budget for the film was tight, and crew members brought in '70s period items of their own to supplement props in the film. Production designer Danny Talpers designed the prop for the time machine out of two hot tubs - which was a reference to their popularity during the period. Instead of the more expensive cutaway technique, Reiner simply moved the camera back and forth during dialogue to save money.

Cultural references

As the film was intended to be a spoof of the '70s, it contains many references to popular culture of the period. Lucas Reiner noted in the DVD commentary that at the time of the 2003 DVD release the television show "That '70s Show" was popular, but at the time the film was the first to spoof the '70s. David Cassidy initially found it confusing to parody himself in the film, but later came to enjoy it, and even brought in a pair of his own period boots to wear. Leif Garett enjoyed portraying "Eddie Trojan," and slipped into the character easily once he put on the '70s period costume. All of the characters from the year 2171 were named after products. "Adam 11" was a reference to Adam-12, "Chanel-6" a reference to Chanel, and "Heinz-57" a reference to H. J. Heinz Company. All of the "Ministry of Knowledge" characters were named after oil companies. "Chevron" was a reference to Chevron Corporation, and "Dr. Von Mobil" a reference to Mobil. The filmmakers had initially wanted to use "Adam-12," but used "Adam-11" instead due to copyright concerns. The music for the police chase in the film was modeled after "Starsky and Hutch". At one point in the film, a car "almost" crashes into another vehicle, and the rear-end suddenly explodes. This is a reference to a problem with the Ford Pinto during the 1970s. The filmmakers did not wish to refer directly to Ford Pinto due to liability concerns, and instead the characters say: "Is that the kind of car you think it is?"

Reiner stated that the "Absentee, oblivious, self-involved parents who don't notice their kids have a spaceship" was a reference to the self-involved nature of adults during the period and their propensity for self-improvement. A sub-plot of the film was devoted to a parody of Werner Erhard and his Erhard Seminars Training or "est" training. Rob Reiner played "Dr. Hedley Cash" (only referred to as "Dr. Cash" in the film), and Lucas Reiner stated that these scenes were meant to symbolize the "'70s hunger for self-improvement," and the extreme ends that people would go to in order to improve themselves. Lucas Reiner had never personally attended one of Werner Erhard's seminars, but had heard that attendants were not allowed to leave, often peed in their pants, and were called "assholes" and insulted publicly. Reiner noted that once his brother Rob put on the "Dr. Cash" costume, he played his character perfectly.


"The Spirit of '76" received mostly positive reviews, though some were mixed. The "Denver Post" described it as both "idiotic" and "aggressively bright",cite news | last =Staff | first = | coauthors = | title =`Spirit of '76' idiotic, aggressively bright | work =Denver Post | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =November 11, 1991 | url = | accessdate = ] and a review in the "Chicago Sun-Times" did not think it was very funny. [cite news | last =Staff | first = | coauthors = | title =Stupid `Spirit' The '70s still aren't funny | work =Chicago Sun-Times | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =March 11, 1991 | url = | accessdate = ] The "Sacramento Bee" called it a "cool comedy of the '70s," noting that it was a bit high-paced, but also "extremely likable." [cite news | last =Staff | first = | coauthors = | title ="Spirit" Is Cool Comedy of the '70s | work =Sacramento Bee | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =November 15, 1991 | url = | accessdate = ] An "Entertainment Weekly" review wrote that: "References to est and disco, along with someone's mint collection of Kiss posters and other memorabilia, get tossed out willy-nilly; the movie's only unifying force is that smirky irony," and gave the film a rating of "C-".cite news | last =Staff | first = | coauthors = | title = Poly Wannabes: It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Fashions. 'The Brady Bunch Movie,' Like Other Recent Comedies, Plays a Decade's Plastic Pop Culture For Laughs | work =Entertainment Weekly | pages =Video Review | language = | publisher =Entertainment Weekly and Time Inc. | date =July 21, 1995 | url =,,298065,00.html | accessdate = 2007-11-02 ] "Allmovie" wrote positively of the film, calling it a: "lively sci-fi comedy" that makes "great fun of the '70s."cite news | last =Brennan | first =Sandra | coauthors = | title =Overview: The Spirit of '76 | work =Allmovie | pages = | language = | publisher =All Media Guide, LLC. | date = | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-02 ] The film received two stars from the "TLA Video and DVD Guide 2004", which described it as: "lightweight with the occasional laugh." [cite book | last =Bleiler | first = David | authorlink = | coauthors = | title =TLA Video and DVD Guide 2004: The Discerning Film Lover's Guide | publisher =St. Martin's Press | date =2003 | location = | pages =Page 569 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn =0312316860 ] Brett Fetzer of "" wrote that the film was a homage to the '70s, noting: "It would be charitable to assume that the filmmakers put all this together lovingly and didn't want to distract from the warm glow of nostalgia by making anything actually funny." [cite news | last =Fetzer | first =Brett | coauthors = | title =Editorial Reviews: The Spirit of '76: DVD | work | pages = | language = | publisher, Inc. | date =2003 | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-02 ]


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