->''"The whole strip is shrinkin'. Ah, you know, I remember about five years ago, it'd take you a couple of hours and a tank full of gas just to make one circuit. It was really somethin'."''
-->-- '''John Milner''', being nostalgic in an already nostalgic movie

Think ''Film/DazedAndConfused'' set in TheFifties (or pre-hippie-era [[TheSixties Sixties]] if you want to be technical about it).

''American Graffiti'' is a 1973 {{Coming Of Age|Story}} film based on director Creator/GeorgeLucas's memories of growing up in the 1950s and early '60s, and he thus manages to cram in as much PopularHistory as possible. Of course, [[SeinfeldIsUnfunny he was one of the first to do this]]. The film was produced by Lucas's friend and fellow filmmaker Creator/FrancisFordCoppola, who was just coming off his success with directing ''Film/TheGodfather''.

Set in small-town California in 1962, it follows a bunch of teenagers as they spend the last night of summer vacation goofing around, getting into trouble and contemplating their futures while listening to NothingButHits. No, [[RandomEventsPlot there really is no plot]]. Get over it.

A huge (and unexpected) hit for Creator/{{Universal}}, ''American Graffiti'' established Lucas's box-office bona fides, kicked the already-existing '50s nostalgia boom of TheSeventies into high gear, and provided the template for countless teen comedies to follow. The film is also notable for its EnsembleCast of soon-to-be famous young actors including Creator/RichardDreyfuss, Creator/RonHoward, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers, Mackenzie Phillips and Creator/HarrisonFord. Also featured is famous radio disc jockey Creator/WolfmanJack playing a version of himself.

The movie has a lesser-known sequel, 1979's ''More American Graffiti'', which was set in TheSixties and supposedly "made all of ten cents".

!!This film provides examples of:

* AmericanTitle: Graffiti, of the American variety.
* AnachronicOrder: Extreme aversion, as Lucas actually filmed all of the scenes in chronological order. Ron Howard took this as a slur on their professionalism until Lucas explained that he wanted the characters to look increasingly tired as the night went on.
* AsHimself: Wolfman Jack.
* AuthorAppeal: Creator/GeorgeLucas was really into cars as a young man.
* AuthorAvatar: Curt Henderson basically stands in for the teenaged Creator/GeorgeLucas.
%%* AutoErotica
* BasedOnATrueStory: Creator/GeorgeLucas' life as a teenage gearhead in Modesto.
* BerserkButton: When Laurie rebuffs Steve's advances in the car, he irritably tells her, "Don't be so damn self-righteous with me, after all that stuff you told me about [[BigBrotherAttraction watching your brother]]." She doesn't react well.
* BetweenMyLegs: At one point we get a shot of this with Toad and Debbie.
* BittersweetEnding: Possibly leans to DownerEnding when the WhereAreTheyNowEpilogue tells us what happened to the four main characters.
* CantHoldHisLiquor: Toad, who at one point gets violently sick in an alley behind a bar.
-->'''Man:''' He mustn't have been used to drinking.
-->'''Debbie:''' No, likes to drink. He told me.
-->'''Old Woman:''' On his hands and knees like thatů He looks like a dog, doesn't he? Looks like old Ginger.
-->'''Old Man:''' Sicker'n a dog, that's for sure.
* CoolBigSis: Horribly averted (or at least subverted) with Carol's big sister Judy. Seriously, even granting that it was a more "innocent" era, who lets their younger pre-teen sister ride off with some strange older guy?
* CoolCar:
** Pretty much all of them. Even Curt's Citroën, which is sort of presented as TheAllegedCar in the context of the film, looks impossibly boss at this late date.
** Toad's Vespa might be seen as a CoolBike.
* CoolOldGuy: The omnipresent DJ Wolfman Jack, who gives Curt some advice towards the end.
* CreatorCameo: When Wolfman Jack makes an on-air prank call to Pinky's Pizza, the voice on the other end belongs to Creator/GeorgeLucas.
* CultSoundtrack: This film helped to spark a big interest in "oldies" music, and the accompanying soundtrack album reached the Top 10 on the ''Billboard'' chart and eventually went triple-platinum.
* DateRapeAverted: Variation. John Milner wasn't interested in Carol. But in order to get her address so he could bring her home, he faked coming on to her.
* DontDoAnythingIWouldntDo: Terry jokingly tells Curt this when seeing him off at the airport at the end.
* DraftDodging: Possibly hinted at with [[spoiler:Curt]] in the epilogue.
* EmbarrassingNickname: Terry "Toad" Fields.
* EndOfAnEra:
** The film is happening just as TheSixties are rolling into view and TheFifties, with their cruising early rock-'n'-roll culture, are fading in the rearview mirror. On a larger scale, the assassination of John F. Kennedy the following year is widely seen as the clear point after which humanity as a whole grew far more cynical and passionate about social issues.
** John's tour of the junkyard with Carol pointing out the wrecks of previous fast cars that dominated the nightlife.
* ExtremelyShortTimespan: The whole film takes place over the course of a single night.
* FakingTheDead: Toad, in ''More American Graffiti''.
* TheFifties: Set in 1962, but the fashions, music, etc. reflect the 1950s, since real-life aesthetics and attitudes of course don't follow actual decades.
* FlippingTheBird: Done by Debbie to a guy who tries to pick her up in one scene, and by Bobbie to Curt in another.
* FreudianSlipperySlope:
-->'''Debbie:''' That's bitchin' tuck-and-roll! You know, I really love the feel of tuck-and-roll upholstery.
-->'''Terry:''' Yeah? Well, get in and I'll let you feel it...I mean, you know, you can touch it...uh...I'll let you feel the upholstery.
* GetOut: Steve, Curt, and Toad are all ejected from various cars in this manner.
* GloryDays: Milner, at age 20 or so, is already beginning to verge on this. Lampshaded by Steve when Curt expresses second thoughts about going to college: "Do you want to end up like John? You just can't stay seventeen forever."
* HassleFreeHotwire: Toad attempts one of these to retrieve Steve's stolen car, but it backfires when the thieves catch him in the act. He eventually gets the keys back after after John beats the thieves up.
* TheHerosJourney: Seriously, if you follow Curt's storyline -- spending the entire night trying to find a beautiful mystery woman -- you'd be amazed at how closely it hews to Campbellian tropes. Up to and including the meeting with Wolfman Jack as a [[TheObiWan magus figure]] presiding over the teenage nightlife and who grants Curt the chance to meet that mystery woman.
* HighSchoolDance: Choreographed by Toni Basil, of later "Mickey" fame.
* IfWeGetThroughThis: In ''More American Graffiti'', Joe tells Toad he's going to make him a Pharaoh when they get back home from Vietnam. [[spoiler:Then Joe is killed by a sniper's bullet.]]
* IronicEchoCut: Curt distracts an arcade owner with small talk while the Pharaohs take the money from his pinball machines. After they leave:
-->'''Joe:''' You just might make it as a Pharaoh yet, boy!
-->'''Owner:''' Someday he'll make a fine [[BrotherhoodOfFunnyHats Moose]].
* {{Irony}}:
** At the beginning of the film Steve is eager leave town and go away to college, while Curt is dragging his feet. But when the plane takes off the next morning, guess who's on it and who ends up staying behind?
** The oldest of the four guys -- John -- ends up with the youngest girl during the night.
** On a meta level, the film's tagline "Where were you in '62?" is pretty funny if you know where George Lucas himself was during that year: laid up in his bed for months after a near-fatal car accident.
* ITakeOffenseToThatLastOne: When John calls Carol a "grungy little twerp," she objects to being called "grungy". When the police pull him over, she threatens to [[DisproportionateRetribution tell them John tried to rape her]] unless he apologizes for calling her grungy.
* LeaveTheCameraRunning: Legend has it Lucas fell asleep during some of the night shoots and the cameraman kept filming not knowing when to stop.
* LifeWillKillYou: [[spoiler:John Milner and Joe Young]], in ''More American Graffiti''.
* LoveAtFirstSight: What happens to Curt when he sees that Blonde in the T-Bird... and she wordlessly mouths "I love you" to him. He then spends the rest of the night trying to find out why she said that, and if she ''meant'' it.
* MakeOutPoint: The spot by the canal where the kids go to, as Wolfman Jack puts it, "[[UnusualEuphemism watch the submarine races]]".
* MaltShop: Mel's Drive-In.
* {{Mooning}}: A young woman flashes her bare ass at Toad while out on the strip.
* MayDecemberRomance: It starts off creepy and wrong, but the relationship that builds between John and Carol ends up being genuine. Unfortunately, [[BittersweetEnding both of them know their age difference]] means it would never work out.
* MyGirlIsNotASlut: Curt refuses to believe it when Joe tells him the Blonde in the T-Bird is a prostitute.
* NerdGlasses: Worn by Toad.
* NewYearHasCome: ''More American Graffiti'' intersperses events from New Year's Eve 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967.
* NiceHat: Bob Falfa's white cowboy hat.
* NoCommunitiesWereHarmed: While the name of the town is never given, it's meant to be a stand-in for George Lucas' own hometown of Modesto, California. (The film's WorkingTitle was ''Another Slow Night in Modesto''.) However, most of the shooting was done in Petaluma and other Bay Area locations.
* NoNameGiven: The official, credited name of Suzanne Somers' character is "Blonde in T-Bird".
* NothingButHits: The whole movie is scored from end to end with late-'50s and early-'60s pop hits. Notably absent is [[ElvisPresley Elvis]], whose licensing proved too expensive. (As it was, a large chunk of Lucas' budget for the film went toward acquiring music rights for the soundtrack.) Later Lucas would finally afford the rights to use an Elvis song, "Hound Dog" in the [[Film/IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheCrystalSkull fourth]] ''Franchise/IndianaJones'' movie, set in 1957.
** One notable featured act is Music/TheBeachBoys, whose "Surfin' Safari" is heard on the radio and even discussed by John and Carol. Showing the changing culture of the era, the jaded and older John hates their surf music and bemoans what has happened to rock and roll since the 1959 death of Music/BuddyHolly, while the younger Carol thinks they are "boss". Ironically enough, many people nowadays tend to think of surf music (and by extension, all rock music from before UsefulNotes/TheBritishInvasion) as just another type of "'50s music" (when in reality there were only three surf songs released prior to 1960, and they were more like doo-wop anyway).
** {{Justified}}, as these songs were still only a few years old in 1962 and received occasional airplay on the radio (the "golden oldies" phenomenon) and ''Series/AmericanBandstand''.
%%* PopularHistory
* RandomEventsPlot: After introducing the main characters, the movie follows them through their various individual experiences during the night, none of which have much to do with one another.
** Curt, despondent about leaving town for college and a future he can't grasp, becomes enamored with a mysterious Blonde Girl in a T-Bird and spends the night tracking her down.
** Steve gets into a fight with his girlfriend Laurie (who is also Curt's sister) about their impending separation as he's due to leave for college in the northeast US and she's stuck for another year of high school in California.
** Steve loans out his stylish car (an Impala) to Toad for the night, with the promise of letting the Toad "borrow" it while Steve is away at college. Toad promptly loses the car while trying to impress a local girl Debbie, and the two spend the night in various misadventures trying to steal the car back.
** John heads out for another night of cruising "the strip" to find guys daring to drag race his hot rod. Trying to get a girl to ride with him, he inadvertally gets stuck with a dorky 12-year-old girl Carol who quickly gets on his nerves. He then runs into out-of-towner Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford!) who's eager to challenge John to a race, but wary cops and having Carol in the car puts a hold on that plan...
%%* SeeminglyWholesomeFiftiesGirl
* ShoutOut:
** Milner's license plate number: "[[Film/THX1138 THX 138]]".
** At one point a movie theater can be seen with the marquee advertising Coppola's ''Dementia 13''. (Technically an anachronism, since that film didn't come out until 1963.)
** Curt watches ''The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet'' on a TV in a store window.
** During his radio show, Wolfman Jack crank-calls a guy named Floyd and recites a few lines from George Herbert's 17th-century poem "Love (III)" to him.
* ShroudedInMyth: The Blonde in the T-Bird. Everyone Curt runs into seems to have seen or heard of her, but none of them can give an honest answer of who she really is.
* TheSixties: When the movie really takes place. It's just the style of the New Frontier has yet to replace the cruising culture in that part of the country and it's too early for [[Music/TheBeatles Beatlemania]].
* SmallTownBoredom: Why Steve is so keen for he and Curt to leave for college.
* SourceMusic: All of the music in the film is presented diagetically, save for Music/TheBeachBoys' "All Summer Long", which plays over the closing credits. (Just as well, since that song actually wasn't released until ''1964''.)
* SuspiciouslySimilarSubstitute: With Dreyfuss opting out of ''More American Graffiti'', we're introduced in that film to Curt and Laurie's previously-unmentioned younger brother Andy.
* TeacherStudentRomance: It is implied at the school's dance that one of these is occurring between a male teacher and a female student, but since the characters aren't really important, it's never delved into.
%%* NostalgiaFilter
* ThatCameOutWrong: When Milner and Falfa are engaging in SnarkToSnarkCombat about their respective cars, Carol yells out to Falfa, "Your car is uglier than I am!", before realizing, "That didn't come out right."
* ThatNostalgiaShow: To the late '50s and early '60s, when George Lucas was a teenager.
* TheUnintelligible: The intercom speaker at Mel's, when Toad tries to make an order.
* TheUnreveal: We [[spoiler:never find out who the blonde in the T-Bird is, and we never learn why she said "I love you" to Curt at that stoplight.]]
* WhatADrag: The greaser gang known as the Pharoahs talk about tying Curt to the bumper of their car and dragging him around for the crime of sitting on the hood.
* WhereAreTheyNowEpilogue: Given some of the characters' fates, it's a DownerEnding as well. All these events are shown, in detail, in the sequel:
** John Milner [[spoiler:ends up having a car crash on New Year's Eve ([[RetCon originally June]]) 1964.]]
** Terry "Toad" Fields [[spoiler:joins the Army and is reported missing-in-action in December 1965.]]
** Steve Bolander [[spoiler:is still living in Modesto, and is an insurance agent.]]
** Curt Henderson [[spoiler:is now a writer living in Canada.]]
* WhiteGangbangers: The Pharaohs appear to be a mixture of white and Latino kids.