American Graffiti is a 1973 coming of age comedy-drama film co-written and directed by George Lucas, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Bo Hopkins, Kathleen Quinlan and Harrison Ford. Set in Modesto, California, American Graffiti is a study of the cruising and rock and roll cultures popular among the Post-World War II baby boom generation. The film is a nostalgic portrait of teenage life in the early 1960s told in a series of vignettes, featuring a group of teenagers and their adventures in a single night in late August 1962. The genesis of American Graffiti was in Lucas's own teenage years in early 1960s Modesto. He was unsuccessful in pitching the concept to financiers and distributors, but finally found favor at Universal Pictures after United Artists, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Paramount Pictures turned him down. Filming was initially set to take place in San Rafael, California, but the production crew was denied permission to shoot beyond a second day. As a result, most filming for American Graffiti was conducted in Petaluma. American Graffiti was released to universal critical acclaim and financial success, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Produced and marketed on a $775,000 budget, the film has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time. Since its initial release, American Graffiti has garnered an estimated return of well over $200 million in box office gross and home video sales, not including merchandising. In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film culturally significant and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The film opens in the early evening sometime in late August, 1962. Recent high school graduates and longtime friends Curt Henderson and Steve Bolander, meet up with friends Terry "The Toad" Fields and John Milner at the local Mel's Drive-In parking lot. Despite receiving a $2,000 scholarship, Curt is undecided if he wants to leave the next morning with Steve to go to the Northeastern United States to begin college. Steve lets Toad borrow his 1958 Chevy Impala for the evening and while he will be away at college. Steve's girlfriend Laurie, who is also Curt's younger sister, is unsure of Steve leaving, to which he suggests they see other people while he is away to "strengthen" their relationship. During the night at Mel's, Milner sees a black 1955 Chevy. Curt implies the Chevy's driver is someone wishing to challenge John to a race. Curt, Steve and Laurie go to the local sock hop, while Toad and Milner begin cruising. En route to the hop, Curt sees a beautiful blonde girl (Suzanne Somers) in a white 1956 Ford Thunderbird. She mouths "I love you" before disappearing down the street and Curt is aroused and spends the rest of the film searching for her. After leaving the hop, Curt is desperate to find the mysterious blonde, but is stopped by a group of greasers ("The Pharaohs") through an initiation rite that involves hooking a chain to a police car and successfully ripping out its rear axle. Curt is told rumors that "The Blonde" is either a trophy wife or prostitute, which he immediately refuses to accept. Steve and Laurie break up after a series of arguments, and Milner inadvertently picks up Carol, an annoying teenybopper. Toad, who is normally socially inept with girls, meets a flirtatious and rebellious girl named Debbie (Candy Clark) who convinces Toad to get her alcohol. Meanwhile, Curt learns that DJ Wolfman Jack broadcasts from just outside of Modesto, and inside the dark, eerie radio station, Curt encounters a bearded man who claims only to be the manager. Curt hands the man a message for the blonde to call him or meet him. As he walks away, Curt sees the "manager" performing into the on air mic and realizes he had been speaking with the DJ the whole time. The other story lines intertwine until Toad and Steve end up on "Paradise Road" to watch Milner race his deuce coupe against the arrogant Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) in his 55 Chevy, with Laurie as Falfa's passenger. Within seconds Falfa loses control of his car and plunges into a ditch. Steve and Milner run to the wreck, and a dazed Bob and Laurie stagger out of the car before it explodes. Distraught, Laurie grips Steve tightly and tells him not to leave her. He assures her that he has decided not to leave Modesto after all. The next morning, Curt is awakened by the sound of a phone ringing in a telephone booth, which turns out to be the blonde. She tells him she might see him cruising tonight, but Curt replies that is not possible, because he will be leaving. At the airfield, he says goodbye to his parents, his sister and friends. As the DC-7 airliner takes off, Curt gazes out of the window, seeing the white Ford Thunderbird, which belongs to the mysterious blonde, heading out of town in the same direction as his plane. Prior to the end credits, an on-screen epilogue reveals that John was killed by a drunk driver in December 1964, Terry was reported missing in action near An L?c in December 1965, Steve is an insurance agent in Modesto, California, and Curt is a writer living in Canada.