Ben Crandall is a young teen living in the suburbs of Washington DC who experiences vivid dreams about flying through clouds and over a vast, city-like circuit board...usually after falling asleep watching old sci-fi films (The War of the Worlds is a favorite). Every night, upon waking from the dream, he draws the circuit board. Ben shows the sketches to his friend, child prodigy Wolfgang Muller. At school, Ben develops a crush on Lori Swenson - but he isn't sure whether it's mutual. Both boys meet punkish-but-likable Darren Woods, with whom they share their circuit board-concepts. Wolfgang builds an actual microchip based on Ben's drawings. The chip enables the generation of an electromagnetic bubble which surrounds a pre-determined area. As the boys discover, the bubble is capable of moving at near-limitless distances and speeds without the usual ill-effects from inertia. They construct a rudimentary spacecraft out of an abandoned tilt-a-whirl car; they name their ship the Thunder Road, after Bruce Springsteen's song of the same title. Their experiments with the Thunder Road draw attention from the US Government, which sends agents to scout the area for unidentified flying objects.
Among the stars were a young Ethan Hawke as the lead, River Phoenix playing the group geek, and Robert Picardo, known as the Doctor in Star Trek Voyager, as one of the main alien voices.