American Graffiti

Movie review by
Randy White, Common Sense Media
American Graffiti Movie Poster Image
Coming-of-age classic still a must-see for teens.
  • PG
  • 1973
  • 110 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Friends express their loyalty to one another, and Steven and Laurie thoughtfully try to figure out what the uncertain future will do to their relationship. But also lots of edgy, rebellious teen behavior: drag racing, drunk driving, disrespecting authority (cops are mocked, for example). Non-white kids don't exist in this slice of early '60s America. One girl says she's not allowed to listen to Wolfman Jack because her parents (mistakenly) assume he's black.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the teens in American Graffiti are struggling with their identity and the transition to life after high school. Steven is thoughtful and loyal to his girlfriend.

Violence

Fisticuffs but no blood. Gunshots during a robbery. A car crash and a car explosion.

Sex

Flirting and backseat necking and petting. Flashing of bare bum (mooning).

Language

Sevearl uses of "s--t" and a handful of "damn," "ass," "hell," "bitchin'."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One boy gets a stranger to buy alcohol at a liquor store and then gets so drunk that he throws up. He also drives after drinking. Teens smoke cigarettes, too.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American Graffiti holds up beautifully for teens. Because it's set in the '60s, there is smoking and loads of drinking. There's a fistfight, some off-screen gunshots, drag racing, a car explotion, and a small amount of profanity ("s--t," "damn," hell"). Teens challenge authority, drink and drive, talk about sex, make out, and there's one shot of a boy's naked backside (in a drive-by mooning).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMatt B. April 16, 2018

This is more deserving of PG-13

This movie has iffy content. In today's standards it's PG-13.
Teen, 14 years old Written bySpielberg00 August 23, 2011

Pretty strong for even a 70s PG.

My rating: PG-13 for language, teen drinking/smoking, some sensuality and an image of rear nudity.
Teen, 16 years old Written bymoviemogul April 9, 2008

Excellent classic

If you like classic movies, American movies, or consider yourself a Lucas film, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It sometimes comes on TCM if for some r... Continue reading

What's the story?

AMERICAN GRAFFITI is a coming-of-age dramedy set in Modesto, Calif. Steven (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfus) are leaving for college. Over the course of a long last night, Steven and Laurie (Cindy Williams) resolve to date others, while Curt chases a mysterious blond woman (Suzanne Sommers) in a T-bird. Meanwhile, Steven's friend Toad takes Steven's car and romances the somewhat dim Debbie. Another friend, John Milner, wants to drag race hot-shot Bob (Harrison Ford). Unfortunately, Milner gets saddled with a whiny 13-year-old for the evening (Mackenzie Phillips). Teens tangle with a gang, destroy a cop car, get into another car crash, and consult with DJ Wolfman Jack. With varying degrees of anticipation and fear, the teens leave high school behind.

Is it any good?

An unknown George Lucas, four years before he would make Star Wars, set a standard for teen movies with this exceptional film. The cast is uniformly strong. Most of the young actors are famous now -- Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Suzanne Sommers, Mackenzie Phillips. And the soundtrack, virtually a greatest hits collection from the era, includes recordings from such early rock legends as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino. The songs are beautifully woven into the restless teenage world.

Like the characters themselves, America in 1962 was on the brink of enormous changes, and Lucas captures that momentous feeling tinged with uneasiness in the exceptional American Graffiti. Children may ask, "Was it really like that?"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how older teens feel about leaving home, and moving away from everything they know.

  • How does American Graffiti compare with contemporary movies about high school kids? How is it different? The same?

  • Which characters do you most identify with?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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