We all know how much everyone loves Star Wars – at least the original three films from the days of yore.
However, looking back on the George Lucas oeuvre, it seems as if American Graffiti may actually be his best movie. It may also be his most personal film, as it’s certainly the most human, and has the most heart.
American Graffiti was a unique slice of Americana that helped kick off an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for the ’50’s. To be sure, Happy Days launched on ABC just a year later.
Interestingly enough, Lucas almost made the film as a dare. After his cold, boring and pessimistic sci-fi film THX-1138 came and went at the theaters, people told him not to make such, cold abstract movies anymore.
According to the ’70’s film history Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, George told his then-wife Marcia Lucas, “Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded, get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck. I’m gonna show you how easy it is. I’ll make a film that emotionally involves the audience.”
After the success of Easy Rider, Hollywood suddenly wanted to be in the hippie business, and American Grafitti was the last of the films that came out of Universal’s “youth division.”
Universal was only going to give Lucas $600,000 to make the movie, but the film was ultimately made for $775,000. The music rights cost nearly $90,000, and God knows how much it would cost to get all those classic songs in a movie today.
American Graffiti also had the same casting director as The Godfather – Fred Roos – and like The Godfather, it was one of those wonderful cast of the future movies with Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss, just to name a few.
Graffiti opened on August 1, 1973, and as former head of Universal Ned Tanen recalled in the Lucas biography Skywalking, “It didn’t actually explode, it was never that huge of a hit. It just stayed in theaters for, like, two years. They had birthday parties for it. It just ran and ran forever.”
Also, considering it ultimately cost $1.2 million ($775,000 plus $500,000 for ads and prints), and made back $55 million, Graffiti was the most successful movie in terms of ROI. The impressive record was maintained until The Blair Witch Project made its debut.