The movie first aired on November 12, 1976, on the ABC television network.
John and Mickey Lubitch conceive a child. After multiple previous miscarriages, Mickey fears the likelihood that something gravely wrong could happen to their child.
The pregnancy results in the birth of a live baby boy, whom they name Tod. Tod's immune system does not function properly, meaning that contact with unfiltered air may kill him, so he must live out his life in incubator-like conditions. 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.John Travolta as Tod Lubitch
Glynnis O'Connor as Gina Biggs
Robert Reed as Johnny Lubitch
Diana Hyland as Mickey Lubitch
Vernee Watson-Johnson (as Vernee Watson)
The "Bubble Boy" who inspired this film, David Vetter, 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.
The film was nominated for four Emmy Awards, winning one posthumously for Hyland.
Travolta's positive experiences on the film led him to request Kleiser as director when he was cast as the lead in the 1978 film Grease; Kelly Ward also appeared in that film.
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. 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." Noonan's use was a reference to The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
The film inspired the first song on the 1986 Paul Simon album Graceland. 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 comedic remake 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.
The film was mentioned several times on the series That '70s Show, in the episodes of NCIS "SWAK" and "Thirst" 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 in 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.
In 2010, Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett recorded a synchronized mocking commentary of the film for a RiffTrax VOD release.
On Dance Moms Series 6 Abby Lee Miller said the girls are doing a dance which is inspired from the movie.
A copyright was registered for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble in 1976, and under current copyright law, it is not scheduled to lapse into the public domain until 2072. This copyright has not often been enforced; bootleg recordings of the film, with the last few seconds cut off, have been widely distributed under the assumption that the film was not properly copyrighted and is thus in the public domain. (The bootlegs do not have any copyright notice as required under U.S. copyright law, but it is plausible that the original copy had its copyright notice in the last few seconds of the film that are cut off from the bootleg copies.)