American Graffiti movie poster

If ever there was a watershed movie George Lucas’s would top the list:  American Graffiti went from un-releasable to becoming one of the benchmark movies of the decade,  establishing George Lucas as a visionary to be reckoned with, and becaming a launching pad for more future movie stars than any film in history: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, MacKenzie Phillips, Bo Hopkins, Harrison Ford, Kathleen Quinlan, Kay Lenz, Suzanne Sommers, all of whom went on to notable careers. 

Lucas - who would, of course, follow it up with Star Wars- had a hard time interesting any studio in the project. Five major studios passed on it until Universal took the plunge. Lucas’ only previous experience was TH 1138, a science fiction thriller, which he had developed from a student film he had made while at USC. That film ended up a commercial failure and not the calling card Lucas had hoped it would be.

American Graffiti became the darling of the critical fraternity, but it was upstaged at the last minute by the release of Truffaut’s Day for Night, which won both the New York Critics and the National Society of Film Critics best film award. The film was based on Lucas’ teenage experiences growing up in Modesto, Calif. The three main characters were based on Lucas himself at different stages in his then young life.  It was one of the first movies to use rock and roll hits instead of a conventional score.

Francis Coppola (still adding Ford to his name at the time), Lucas’s college friend and business partner, produced the film. Thanks to his Godfather success, he was able to get the film made and prevented Universal from later demanding drastic cuts, by threatening to buy back the negative himself if they didn’t comply.

Irony 1: Only the Hollywood Foreign Press gave it a Best Picture award that year.

Irony 2. Graffiti cost less than $1 million and has grossed over $200 million.

Irony 3: Universal had a chance to make Star Wars but turned it down.

Also nominated for the Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy that year were Jesus Christ Superstar, Paper Moon, Tom Sawyer and A Touch of ClassA Touch of Class won both Golden Globes in the Musical/Comedy category for its stars. Glenda Jackson went on to win her second Oscar for that role, and George Segal was content with his Golden Globe.

The only other Golden Globe win that year for American Graffiti was for Most Promising Newcomer, won not by Harrison Ford or Richard Dreyfuss, but Paul Le Mat.