Bubble Boy (film)

Bubble Boy is a 2001 American black comedy film directed by Blair Hayes, starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role, and written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.[2] It was inspired by the 1976 movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.[3] A musical by the same name was written by the same authors and first performed in 2008.[3]

Bubble Boy
Theatre poster
Directed byBlair Hayes
Produced byBeau Flynn
Written byCinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Music byJohn Ottman
CinematographyJerzy Zielinski
Edited byPamela Martin
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • August 24, 2001 (2001-08-24)
Running time
83 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million
Box office$5 million


Born without an immune system, Jimmy Livingston is forced to live in a sterilized dome in his bedroom, earning him the nickname "Bubble Boy" by his neighbors. Jimmy's overbearing and devout Christian mother only exposes him to Highlights magazine and the Land of the Lost for entertainment. When he is a teenager, a girl named Chloe moves in next door. Jimmy is immediately taken with her, and eventually befriends her despite his mother's discouragement.

Chloe visits Jimmy and tells him that she is leaving for Niagara Falls to marry her boyfriend, Mark, in three days. Jimmy realizes that Chloe cares for him. Realizing how much he cares for her, Jimmy builds a mobile bubble suit and runs away from home, determined to stop the wedding.

On the first day of his journey, he's unable to afford a bus ride to Niagara Falls, but is picked up by an overly enthusiastic cult on a pilgrimage towards enlightenment. By this time, Jimmy's mother has discovered her son missing, so she and her husband set off to find Jimmy.

While traveling through the desert, Jimmy meets Slim, a biker with a flat tire. Jimmy offers to fix the flat with some patches and the two become friends. Elsewhere, Gil, the leader of the cult Jimmy met, has revealed that their messiah is "the round one," and that whoever rejects him will suffer. The group who abandoned Jimmy set off to find him. Jimmy and Slim have traveled to Las Vegas for traveling money. However, Slim gets caught up in the Vegas life so Jimmy goes on without him. The cult runs into Slim in Vegas while asking for directions. Slim recognizes them from Jimmy's story and threatens them, only to have his bike destroyed by the cult bus.

Soon Jimmy accidentally boards a train belonging to Dr. Phreak, a small man who collects freaks and shows them off to the public for money. When Dr. Phreak tries to recruit Jimmy to his show, Jimmy knocks him unconscious; allowing for Jimmy and the freaks to go their own way.

Jimmy then wanders into a restaurant where an Indian man named Pushpop is being antagonized by the ignorant townspeople. When Jimmy tries to defend him, the townspeople begin to probe him about his suit, but panic and evacuate the restaurant when they misunderstand his illness. Pushpop thanks Jimmy for his earlier kindness and agrees to take him to Niagara Falls. Meanwhile, Jimmy's parents have met up with Dr. Phreak, whom Jimmy's mother mistakes for a child and brings along with them. Elsewhere in Niagara Falls, Chloe is apprehensive about marrying Mark and can't stop thinking of Jimmy.

To earn money for a taxi driver named Pappy to take him to New York, Jimmy goes into a Chinese casino nearby and enters a mud wrestling competition for a prize of $500. Having won the prize, Jimmy is spotted and picked up by the cult bus as he heads back to the taxi. Luckily, the freaks have followed Jimmy and realizing he's in danger, disguise themselves as members of the cult and trick them into believing they're mutating for their earlier crimes against Jimmy. As Jimmy and the freaks try to escape, Slim and his gang arrive in Pushpop's ice cream truck (which they took after the cult bus destroyed all their bikes) and take Jimmy from the freaks thinking they belonged to the cult. A fight breaks out between the cult, Slim's gang and the freaks which Jimmy uses as a distraction to escape with Pappy.

On the last day of his journey, Pappy and Jimmy have now arrived in New York, but Pappy is unresponsive, having apparently died behind the wheel overnight, forcing Jimmy to abandon the moving taxi before it crashes. Jimmy tries to call Chloe to tell her of his success, only to reach her fiance Mark, who rudely convinces him that Chloe doesn't really love him. Jimmy becomes depressed at this assumed rejection and calls Dr. Phreak, ready to assume his role as a freak like the others. Learning Jimmy contacted Dr. Phreak about his location, Jimmy's parents throw Dr. Phreak out of their car realizing he was a rude man.

When his parents pick him up, Jimmy and his father are sitting alone in the car. His father regrets that Jimmy is giving up when he is so close. Jimmy's father then looks the other way while Jimmy escapes to finish his mission. With the help of Pappy's twin brother Pippy, Jimmy flies to the wedding. His mother tries to stop him from taking off, but the cult, the freaks and Slim's gang collide in helping Jimmy and stop her. It's revealed that Slim and Jimmy's mother knew each other in the past as she's the "Wildfire" he kept mentioning. Like Pappy, Pippy apparently dies at the wheel, and Jimmy ends up falling out of the plane and over Niagara Falls, but he survives.

Jimmy manages to escape the water and arrives just in time to stop the wedding. He then removes his bubble suit, allowing him to touch the girl he loves for the first time. Jimmy then collapses and seemingly dies. Jimmy's mother then confesses that Jimmy had developed an immune system when he was four, revealing that he is not actually dead at all and is perfectly fine.

Finally, Jimmy and Chloe are married with all of Jimmy's new friends in attendance. Pushpop has become the new leader of the former cult who are apparently now followers of Hinduism. Dr. Phreak has befriended his band of freaks, and Jimmy's mother has reunited with Slim and embraces a more rebellious lifestyle with both Slim and Mr. Livingston. Pippy and Pappy, both of whom merely fell asleep instead of dying, drive off with Jimmy and Chloe to their honeymoon.



The film opened #13 at the U.S. Box office, taking in $2,038,349 USD in its opening weekend. It has a 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 83 reviews, with an average score of 3.76/10. The site's consensus states that "Bubble Boy bounces along with lame, offensive jokes that are more tasteless than funny."[4] The film has been considered a "cult comedy."[5]


Filming began November 24, 2000 and wrapped on March 7th 2001. The entire film was shot primarily in LA and Las Vegas.[6] In the DVD commentary, director Blair Hayes and Jake Gyllenhaal have an argument around the time when Jimmy gets the scooter in Las Vegas, and the sound of (probably fake) fighting can be heard. Later in the commentary, Gyllenhaal leaves briefly and receives high praise from Hayes, relating him to Buster Keaton.[7] He has briefly talked about the emotional toll this role took on him, as he embodied the character fully for the duration of production. He is quoted saying, "As an actor, it’s easy to become disconnected from reality, but I can also spend five months in an environment that most people would never get access to. So, it’s actually a great way of engaging with the world." The actor has spoken little about this role since, and he is clearly embarrassed by the film. It is widely known this was his last attempt at comedy, as he has since remained a dramatic character actor. [8]

Musical adaptation

Main article: Bubble Boy (musical)

In 2013, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio adapted Bubble Boy into a stage musical featuring original songs, for which an original cast recording was released on Ghostlight Records in 2017 featuring A.J. Holmes, Alice Ripley and Richard Kind, produced by Paul, Justin Goldner & Kurt Deutsch.[9][10][11]


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