Popeye (film)

Last updated
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Altman
Screenplay by Jules Feiffer
Based on Popeye
by E. C. Segar
Produced by Robert Evans
Starring Robin Williams
Shelley Duvall
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited by John W. Holmes
David A. Simmons
Music by Harry Nilsson
Distributed by
Release dates
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million [1]
Box office$60 million [2]

Popeye is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by Robert Altman and produced by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions. It is based on E. C. Segar's Popeye comics character. The script was written by Jules Feiffer, and stars Robin Williams [3] as Popeye the Sailor Man and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. Its story follows Popeye's adventures as he arrives in the town of Sweethaven.


The film premiered on December 6, 1980 in Los Angeles, California and opened in the rest of the United States the following week. [4] It grossed $6.3 million in its opening weekend, and $49.8 million worldwide, against a budget of $20 million. [5] It received negative reviews from critics when it was first released, [6] but has received improved reviews over time. [7] [8]


Popeye, a strong sailor, arrives at the small coastal town of Sweethaven while searching for his missing father. He rents a room at the Oyl family's boarding house where the Oyls plan to have their daughter Olive become engaged to Captain Bluto, a powerful, perpetually angry bully who manages the town in the name of the mysterious Commodore. However, on the night of the engagement party, Olive sneaks out after discovering that the only attribute she can report for her bullying fiancé is size. She encounters Popeye, who failed to fit in with the townsfolk at the party. The two eventually find an abandoned baby in a basket. Popeye and Olive adopt the child, naming him Swee'Pea after the town Sweethaven, and the two return to the Oyls' home. Bluto, whom Olive has stood up, finds out about this encounter and, out of rage, beats up Popeye and imposes heavy taxes on the Oyls' property and possessions. A greedy taxman follows up on Bluto's demand, but Popeye helps the Oyls' financial situation, winning a hefty prize by defeating a boxer named Oxblood Oxheart.

The next day, Popeye discovers that Swee'Pea can predict the future by whistling when he hears the correct answer to a question. J. Wellington Wimpy, the constantly hungry local mooch and a petty gambler, also notices this and asks Popeye and Olive to take Swee'Pea for a walk. He actually takes him to the "horse races" (a mechanical carnival horse game) and wins two games. Hearing of this, Olive and her family decide to get in on the action and use Swee'Pea to win, but an outraged Popeye takes Swee'Pea away.

Later, after Popeye throws the taxman into the sea (thereby earning the town's respect), Wimpy kidnaps the child at Bluto's orders. Later that evening, when Olive checks in on Popeye privately, she overhears him lamenting that Swee'Pea deserves to have two parents and he regrets leaving the way he did. The next morning, Wimpy informs Popeye about the kidnapping after being threatened by Olive. Popeye goes to the Commodore's ship, where he learns that the Commodore, who has been recently tied up by Bluto, is indeed Popeye's father, Poopdeck Pappy, who accepts that Popeye is his son after exposing Popeye's hatred of spinach. Meanwhile, Bluto kidnaps Olive and sets sail with her and Swee'Pea to find the buried treasure promised by Pappy. Popeye, Pappy, Wimpy, and the Oyl family board Pappy's ship to chase Bluto to a desolate island in the middle of the ocean, called Scab Island.

Popeye catches up to Bluto and fights him but is overpowered. During the fight, Pappy recovers his treasure and opens the chest to reveal a collection of personal sentimental items from Popeye's infancy, including a few cans of spinach. Salty Sam, a gigantic octopus, awakens and attacks Olive from underwater after Pappy saves Swee'Pea from a similar fate. With Popeye in a choke hold, Pappy throws him a can of spinach; recognizing Popeye's dislike for spinach, Bluto force-feeds him the can before throwing him into the water. The spinach revitalizes Popeye and boosts his strength, helping him to defeat both Bluto and Salty Sam. Popeye celebrates his victory and his newfound appreciation of spinach while Bluto swims off, having literally turned yellow.



Popeye Village in Malta Malta - Mellieha - Triq tal-Prajjet - Anchor Bay+Popeye Village 01 ies.jpg
Popeye Village in Malta

In his book Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops, James Robert Parish said the Popeye musical had its basis in the bidding war for the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie between the two major studios vying for the rights, Columbia and Paramount. When Robert Evans learned that Paramount had lost the bidding for Annie, he held an executive meeting with Charles Bluhdorn, head of Paramount’s parent company Gulf+Western, and executives Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg in which he asked about comic strip characters to which the studio held the rights, which could be used to create a movie musical, and one attendee said "Popeye". [10]

At that time, even though King Features Syndicate (now a unit of Hearst Communications) retained the television rights to Popeye and related characters, with Hanna-Barbera then producing the series The All-New Popeye Hour under license from King Features, Paramount had long held the theatrical rights to the Popeye character, due to the studio's having released Popeye cartoon shorts produced by Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios from 1932 to 1957.

Evans commissioned Jules Feiffer to write a script. In 1977, he said he wanted Dustin Hoffman to play Popeye opposite Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, with John Schlesinger directing. [11] Hoffman later dropped out due to creative differences with Feiffer. Gilda Radner, then popular as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live , was also considered for the Olive Oyl role. [12] [13] Radner's manager Bernie Brillstein discouraged her from taking the part due to his concerns about the quality of the script and worries about her working for months on an isolated set with Evans and Altman, both known for erratic behavior and unorthodox creative methods. [14]

In December 1979, Disney joined the film as part of a two-picture production deal (including Dragonslayer ) with Paramount. Disney acquired the foreign rights through its Buena Vista unit; the deal was motivated by the drawing power that the studio's films had in Europe.

Principal photography commenced on January 23, 1980. [15] [16] The film was shot in Malta. The elaborate Sweethaven set was constructed beyond what was needed for filming, adding to the cost and complexity of the production, along with a recording studio, editing facilities, and other buildings, including living quarters. Filming wrapped on June 19, 1980, three weeks over schedule due to bad weather. [16] The set is a popular tourist attraction known as Popeye Village. [17] Parish wrote that Robin Williams referred to this set as "Stalag Altman". [10]

Parish noted other production problems. Evans insisted the screenplay reflect the comic strip Popeye and not the "distorted" cartoon version. Feiffer's script went through several rewrites, and he expressed concern that too much screen time was being devoted to minor characters. Feiffer also disliked Nilsson's songs, saying they weren't right for the film. Popeye's original muscle arms formed of silicone rubber were difficult for Williams to manipulate and remove after filming, so two Italian artisans were brought to Malta to remake them and Altman had to juggle his shooting schedule. He also had the cast sing some musical numbers during filming, breaking with the traditional movie-musical practice of actors recording the songs in a studio first and then lip-synching. This reduced the sound quality due to difficulties in accurately capturing the voices. Williams re-recorded his dialogue due to trouble with his character's mumbling style as a by-product of talking with a pipe in his mouth. His penchant for ad-libs led to clashes with the director. The final battle involving the octopus was complicated by the mechanical beast's malfunction. After the production cost rose beyond $20 million, Paramount ordered Altman to wrap filming and return to California with what he had. [10]


Popeye premiered at the Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on December 6, 1980, two days before what would have been E.C. Segar's 86th birthday. [18] :123

Home media

Popeye has been released to several home media formats including VHS, Betamax, CED, Laserdisc, DVD, and through digital services in SD (Standard Definition) and HD (High Definition) video resolution. Paramount Home Entertainment released the first Blu-ray Disc edition of Popeye on December 1, 2020, in honor of the film's 40th anniversary. [19] [20]


The reception with the public and critics was "so toxic" that "Altman was left unemployable and exiled to Paris, directing micro-budgeted indie theater adaptations for the remainder of the decade." [21]

Box office

The film grossed $6 million on its opening weekend in the United States, and made $32,000,000 after 32 days. [18] :123–124 The film earned US$49,823,037 [1] at the United States box office — more than double the film's budget — and a worldwide total of $60 million. [2] :88

Film Comment wrote "Before the film's release, industry wags were mocking producer Robert Evans by calling it 'Evansgate'" but "Apparently the film has caught on solidly with young children." [22]

Although the film's gross was decent, it was not the blockbuster that Paramount and Disney had expected, and was thus written off as a disappointment. [23] [24]

It had "an astonishingly lucrative home video run that continues to this day [2015]". [21]

Critical response

Reviews at the time were negative but the film has been more positively reappraised over time. [12] [6] [25] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 58% based on reviews from 43 critics, with the critical consensus stating [that] "Altman's take on the iconic cartoon is messy and wildly uneven, but its robust humor and manic charm are hard to resist." [7] On Metacritic it has a score of 64 out of 100, based on reviews from 14 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [8]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing that Duvall was "born to play" Olive Oyl, and with Popeye Altman had proved "it is possible to take the broad strokes of a comic strip and turn them into sophisticated entertainment." [26] Gene Siskel also awarded 3.5 out of 4, writing that the first 30 minutes were "tedious and totally without a point of view", but once Swee'pea was introduced the film "then becomes quite entertaining and, in a few scenes, very special". [27] Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "In its own idiosyncratic fashion, it works." [28]

Other critics were unfavorable, such as Leonard Maltin, who described the picture as a bomb: "E.C. Segar's beloved sailorman boards a sinking ship in this astonishingly boring movie. A game cast does its best with an unfunny script, cluttered staging, and some alleged songs. Tune in a couple hours' worth of Max Fleischer cartoons instead; you'll be much better off." [29] [30] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a thoroughly charming, immensely appealing mess of a movie, often high-spirited and witty, occasionally pretentious and flat, sometimes robustly funny and frequently unintelligible. It is, in short, a very mixed bag." [31] Variety wrote that all involved "fail to bring the characters to life at the sacrifice of a large initial chunk of the film. It's only when they allow the characters to fall back on their cartoon craziness that the picture works at all." [32] [33] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "While there are things to like in this elaborately stylized, exasperating musical slapstick fantasy ... they emerge haphazardly and flit in and out of a precarious setting." [34] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "rarely uninteresting but seldom entirely satisfying", and thought that the adult tone of the dialogue left it "uncertain what the film's target audience is intended to be." [35] TV Guide says, "This film from director Robert Altman and scenarist Jules Feiffer adapts 'Popeye' to feature length – a good idea gone down the drain under Altman's spotty direction. Only in the last 50 minutes does Popeye create some excitement." [36]


Several authors have contrasted Popeye with later comic book movies. One article calls it a "road not taken" in comic book adaptations. The author praised Popeye, Dick Tracy , and Hulk for using comic techniques such as "masking, paneling, and page layout" in ways the DC Extended Universe and Marvel Cinematic Universe do not. [37] Another article agreed that Popeye and Hulk were more "artistic" than modern comic movies, and said that Popeye has been "mistakenly" overlooked. [21]

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is a noted fan of the film, listing it as a favorite, and even using Duvalls song “He needs me” in his own film, Punch Drunk Love.


The film won the Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Picture in its original ballot, and again in the expanded ballot in 2006. [38] [39] The film also received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Fantasy Film. [40]

July 1981 Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film PopeyeNominated [40]
1981 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst PicturePopeyeWon [38]
(Expanded ballot)
Won [39]
Worst Director Robert Altman Nominated
Worst Actor Robin Williams Nominated
Worst ScreenplayPopeyeNominated
Worst Song or Song Performance in a Film or Its End Credits"He Needs Me" by Shelley Duvall Won
Worst RemakePopeyeWon


Original release

Soundtrack album by
Released1980 (reissued in 2000, 2016, 2017)
Genre Pop, show tune
Label Boardwalk (1980)
Walt Disney/Geffen (2000)
Varèse Sarabande/Universal (2016, 2017)
Walt Disney (2017)
Producer Harry Nilsson
Harry Nilsson chronology
Flash Harry
With A Bullet (single)
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [41]

The soundtrack was composed by Harry Nilsson, who took a break from producing his album Flash Harry to score the film. He wrote all the original songs and co-produced the music with producer Bruce Robb at Cherokee Studios. The soundtrack in the film was unusual in that the actors sang some of the songs "live". For that reason, the studio album did not quite match the tracks heard in the film. Van Dyke Parks is credited as music arranger.

The U.S. trailer contains the song "I Yam What I Yam" from the soundtrack album, not the film's live performance.

"I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" was composed by Sammy Lerner for the original Max Fleischer cartoon Popeye the Sailore .

1."I Yam What I Yam"2:16
2."He Needs Me"3:33
3."Swee' Pea's Lullaby"2:06
4."Din' We"3:06
5."Sweethaven—An Anthem"2:56
6."Blow Me Down"4:07
8."It's Not Easy Being Me"2:20
9."He's Large"4:19
10."I'm Mean"2:33
12."I'm Popeye the Sailor Man"1:19

The song "Everything Is Food" was not included on the album, and the song "Din' We" (which was cut from the film) was included. In 2016, a vinyl-only limited-edition version of the album was released with two bonus tracks by Varèse Sarabande for Record Store Day Black Friday.

2017 deluxe edition

In 2017, Varèse Sarabande released a deluxe edition that places the songs into the original order of the film, reinstates "Everything Is Food", and includes a second disc of demo versions of the songs sung by Nilsson and the cast. [42] [43]

Disc 1
2."Blow Me Down"4:09
3."Everything Is Food"3:08
4."Rough House Fight"0:43
5."He's Large"4:20
6."I'm Mean"2:35
8."March Through Town"0:48
9."I Yam What I Yam"2:16
10."The Grand Finale"1:34
11."He Needs Me"3:33
12."Swee'Pea's Lullaby"2:04
13."Din' We"3:05
14."It's Not Easy Being Me"2:18
16."Skeleton Cave"2:04
17."Now Listen Kid / To the Rescue / Mr. Eye Is Trapped / Back into Action"5:04
18."Saved / Still at It / The Treasure / What? More Fighting / Pap's Boy / Olive & the Octopus / What's Up Pop / Popeye Triumphant"3:09
19."I'm Popeye the Sailor Man"1:22
20."End Title Medley"3:34
Disc 2
2."I'm Mean"3:21
3."Swee'Pea's Lullaby"2:50
4."Blow Me Down"3:02
5."Everything Is Food"3:43
6."He Needs Me"3:09
7."Everybody's Got to Eat"3:24
8."Sail with Me"2:53
9."I Yam What I Yam"3:08
10."It's Not Easy Being Me"2:24
12."I'm Popeye the Sailor Man"2:58
13."I'm Mean"2:59
14."He Needs Me"9:29
15."Everybody's Got to Eat"2:05
16."Din' We"3:02
18."I'd Rather Be Me"6:30

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olive Oyl</span> Character from Popeye

Olive Oyl is a cartoon character created by E. C. Segar in 1919 for his comic strip Thimble Theatre. The strip was later renamed Popeye after the sailor character that became the most popular member of the cast; however, Olive Oyl was a main character for a decade before Popeye's 1929 appearance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bluto</span> Fictional character from Popeye franchise

Bluto, at times known as Brutus, is a cartoon and comics character created in 1932 by Elzie Crisler Segar as a one-time character, named "Bluto the Terrible", in his Thimble Theatre comic strip. Bluto made his first appearance on September 12 of that year. Fleischer Studios adapted him the next year (1933) to be the main antagonist of their theatrical Popeye animated cartoon series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. Wellington Wimpy</span> Fictional character from Popeye franchise

J. Wellington Wimpy, generally referred to as Wimpy, is one of the characters in the comic strip Popeye, created by E. C. Segar and originally called Thimble Theatre, and in the Popeye cartoons based upon the strip. Wimpy debuted in the strip in 1931 and was one of the dominant characters in the newspaper strip, but when Popeye was adapted as an animated cartoon series by Fleischer Studios, Wimpy became a minor character; Dave Fleischer said that the character in the original Segar strip was "too smart" to be used in the film cartoon adaptations. Wimpy appears in Robert Altman's 1980 live-action musical film Popeye, played by Paul Dooley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">E. C. Segar</span> American cartoonist, 1894-1938

Elzie Crisler Segar, known by the pen name E. C. Segar, was an American cartoonist best known as the creator of Popeye, a pop culture character who first appeared in 1929 in Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre.

<i>Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor</i> 1936 animated short film directed by Dave Fleischer

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is a 1936 two-reel animated cartoon short subject film in the Popeye Color Feature series, produced in Technicolor and released to theatres on November 27, 1936 by Paramount Pictures. It was produced by Max Fleischer for Fleischer Studios, Inc. and directed by Dave Fleischer, with the title song by Sammy Timberg. The voice cast includes Jack Mercer as Popeye and J. Wellington Wimpy, Mae Questel as Olive Oyl and Gus Wickie as Sindbad the Sailor.

<i>Popeye and Son</i> American TV series or program

Popeye and Son is an American animated comedy series based on the Popeye comic strip created by E.C. Segar and published by King Features Syndicate. Jointly produced by Hanna-Barbera and King Features subsidiary King Features Entertainment, the series aired for one season of thirteen episodes on CBS. It is a follow-up to The All New Popeye Hour. Maurice LaMarche performed the voice of Popeye in this series, while much of the cast of The All New Popeye Hour reprised their respective roles, with the exception of Daws Butler. However, Nancy Cartwright, who was trained by Butler, voiced Woody in the series. It is also the first set of Popeye cartoons that were produced since Mercer's death in 1984. Following its original run on CBS, this series reran on the USA Network in the 1989–90 season and on The Family Channel from September 1994 to December 1995.

<i>Popeyes Voyage: The Quest for Pappy</i> American TV series or program

Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy is a 2004 computer-animated Christmas television special produced by Mainframe Entertainment for Lions Gate Entertainment and King Features Entertainment, in association with Nuance Productions. The special, created to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Popeye the Sailor comic strip character from E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, first aired on Fox on December 17, 2004, and was rebroadcast on the same network on December 30, 2005.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poopdeck Pappy</span> Fictional character in Popeye franchise

Poopdeck Pappy is a fictional character featured in the Popeye comic strip and animated cartoon spinoffs. Created by E. C. Segar in 1936, the character is Popeye's father, who is between the ages of 85 and 99.

Swee'Pea is a character in E. C. Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre/Popeye and in the cartoon series derived from it. His name refers to the flower known as the sweet pea. Before his addition to the animated shorts, the name "Sweet Pea" was a term of affection used by main character Popeye. In the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed girlfriend Olive Oyl that way.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popeye Village</span> Amusement park in Malta

Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village, is a purpose-built film set village that has been converted into a small attraction fun park, consisting of a collection of rustic and ramshackle wooden buildings. It is located at Prajjet Bay/Anchor Bay, 3 km (2 mi) from the village core of Mellieħa, Malta.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (film) 1933 American film

Popeye the Sailor is a 1933 animated short produced by Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Publix Corporation. While billed as a Betty Boop cartoon, it was produced as a vehicle for Popeye in his debut animated appearance.

"You Gotta Be a Football Hero" is a song written by Al Sherman, Buddy Fields and Al Lewis in 1933. It is one of the most widely recorded and performed American football anthems of all time.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (TV series) American TV series or program

Popeye the Sailor is an American animated television series produced for King Features Syndicate TV starring Popeye that was released between 1960 and 1963 with 220 episodes produced. The episodes were produced by a variety of production studios and aired in broadcast syndication until the 1990s.

<i>The All New Popeye Hour</i> American animated television series

The All New Popeye Hour is an American animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and King Features Entertainment. Starring the comic strip character Popeye, the series aired from 1978 to 1983 Saturday mornings on CBS. Despite the series' mixed reception,, it was a hit for King Features Entertainment.

<i>Popeye the Sailor</i> (film series) 1933 American film

Popeye the Sailor is an American animated series of short films based on the Popeye comic strip character created by E. C. Segar. In 1933, Max and Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios adapted Segar's characters into a series of theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. The plotlines in the animated cartoons tended to be simpler than those presented in the comic strips, and the characters slightly different. A villain, usually Bluto, makes a move on Popeye's "sweetie", Olive Oyl. The villain clobbers Popeye until he eats spinach, giving him superhuman strength. Thus empowered, Popeye the sailor makes short work of the villain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sea Hag</span> Fictional character in Popeye franchise

The Sea Hag is a fictional character owned by King Features Syndicate. She is a tall, masculine-looking witch featured in comics/cartoons as a nemesis to the character Popeye. The Sea Hag was created by Elzie Crisler Segar in 1929 as part of the Thimble Theatre comic strip.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popeye</span> Fictional character

Popeye the Sailor Man is a fictional cartoon character created by Elzie Crisler Segar. The character first appeared on January 17, 1929, in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre. The strip was in its tenth year when Popeye made his debut, but the one-eyed sailor quickly became the lead character, and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular properties during the 1930s. After Segar died in 1938, Thimble Theatre was continued by several writers and artists, most notably Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf. It was formally renamed Popeye. The strip continues to appear in first-run instalments on Sundays, written and drawn by R.K. Milholland. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories.

<i>Lets You and Him Fight</i> 1934 American film

Let's You and Him Fight is a Popeye theatrical cartoon short released in 1934, starring William "Billy" Costello as Popeye, Bonnie Poe as Olive Oyl, William Pennell as Bluto and Charles Lawrence as the announcer.

<i>Popeye</i> (1990 video game) 1990 video game

Popeye is a Japan-exclusive Game Boy video game based on the comic strip of same name licensed from King Features Syndicate.

<i>Popeye: Rush for Spinach</i> 2005 video game

Popeye: Rush for Spinach is a Game Boy Advance video game based on the comic strip of same name created by E. C. Segar, licensed from King Features Entertainment. It was developed by French studio Magic Pockets and published by Namco in 2005, and Atari Europe in 2006.


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  43. "Popeye: Deluxe Edition (CD)". Varèse Sarabande.

Further reading