Grease (film)

Grease is a 1978 American musical romantic comedy film based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Written by Bronte Woodard[2] and directed by Randal Kleiser in his theatrical feature film debut, the film depicts the lives of greaser Danny Zuko and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson who develop an attraction for each other. The film stars John Travolta as Danny, Olivia Newton-John as Sandy, and Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byRandal Kleiser
Produced by
Screenplay byBronte Woodard
Based onGrease
by Jim Jacobs
Warren Casey
Music byMichael Gibson
CinematographyBill Butler
Edited by
  • John F. Burnett
  • Robert Pergament
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 16, 1978 (1978-06-16)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$396 million[1]

Released on June 16, 1978, Grease was successful both critically and commercially becoming the highest-grossing musical film ever at the time.[3] Its soundtrack album ended 1978 as the second-best selling album of the year in the United States, behind the soundtrack of the 1977 blockbuster Saturday Night Fever (which also starred Travolta)[4] and earned the film its lone Oscar nomination for "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (which lost the Academy Award for Best Original Song to Donna Summer's "Last Dance" from Thank God It's Friday at the 51st Academy Awards).

A sequel, Grease 2, was released in 1982, starring Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer as a newer class of greasers. Few of the original cast members reprised their roles.


In the summer of 1958, local boy Danny Zuko and vacationing Sandy Olsson meet at the beach and fall in love. When the summer comes to an end, Sandy—who is going back to Australia—frets that they may never meet again, but Danny tells her that their love is "only the beginning". The film moves to the start of the seniors' term at Rydell High School. Danny is a member of the T-Birds greaser gang, consisting of his best friend Kenickie, Doody, Sonny, and Putzie. The Pink Ladies, a clique of greaser girls, also arrive, consisting of Rizzo, Frenchy, Marty, and Jan.

After her parents decide not to return to Australia, Sandy enrolls at Rydell and is befriended by Frenchy, who considers dropping out of school to become a beautician. Unaware of each other's presence at Rydell, Danny and Sandy tell their respective groups the accounts of events during the pair's brief romance, without initially mentioning the other's name. Sandy's version emphasizes the romance of the affair, while Danny's version is more sexual.

When Sandy finally says Danny's name, Rizzo arranges a surprise reunion for the two, but Danny is forced to maintain his bad-boy attitude in front of his pals, upsetting Sandy, who storms off and begins dating Tom, a jock. Kenickie unveils the used car, Greased Lightnin', that he plans on restoring and racing. Frenchy invites the girls to a pajama party, but Sandy falls ill from the sight of blood after getting her ears pierced by Frenchy. Rizzo departs to have sex with Kenickie, during which his condom breaks. The two are disturbed by Leo, leader of the T-Birds' rival gang, the Scorpions, and his girlfriend Cha-Cha.

In an attempt to impress Sandy, Danny turns to Coach Calhoun to get into sports, eventually becoming a runner. He reunites with Sandy and they attempt to go on a date, but their friends crash it. Kenickie and a distressed Rizzo argue and split up. Left alone, Frenchy is visited by a guardian angel who advises her to return to school after a mishap in beauty class leaves her with candy-pink hair.

The school dance arrives, broadcast live on television and hosted by DJ Vince Fontaine, who flirts with Marty. Rizzo and Kenickie attempt to spite one another by bringing Leo and Cha-Cha as their dates. Danny and Sandy arrive together and dance well during the chaotic hand jive contest; just before the end of the contest Sonny pulls Sandy off the dance floor, and Cha-Cha cuts in to win the contest with Danny.

Danny tries to make it up to Sandy by taking her to a drive-in theater but makes a clumsy pass at her, causing Sandy to leave. Meanwhile, Rizzo fears she is pregnant after missing a period and confides in Marty, but Marty tells Sonny and he inadvertently spreads the rumor to Kenickie, the apparent father, though Rizzo denies this to him.

On race day, Kenickie suffers a concussion when hit by his own car door, so Danny takes the wheel. He and Leo race until Leo crashes and leaves humiliated, with Danny as the victor. Sandy watches from afar, concluding she still loves Danny, and decides to change her attitude and look to impress him; she then asks Frenchy for help to achieve this goal.

On the last day of school, while Principal McGee and her assistant Blanche sob about the departing class, the class celebrates their graduation at the fair on the school grounds. Rizzo discovers she is not pregnant and reunites with Kenickie. Danny has become a letterman but is shocked when Sandy arrives in black leather. In song, the two admit they love each other and reunite. They depart in the Greased Lightning car, which takes flight.


Principal cast

  • John Travolta as Danny Zuko, who lives a double life as leader of the greaser gang the T-Birds and as Sandy's boyfriend
  • Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson, Danny's girlfriend and an Australian expatriate and ingénue, who transforms from square to greaser
  • Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, Kenickie's girlfriend and the cynical leader of the Pink Ladies clique
  • Jeff Conaway as Kenickie Murdoch, Danny's best friend, Rizzo's boyfriend and the owner of Greased Lightnin'
  • Barry Pearl as Doody, a member of the T-Birds; he pairs with Frenchy at the school dance
  • Michael Tucci as Sonny LaTieri, a trouble-making wannabe womanizer and T-Bird who courts Marty with little success over the course of the film
  • Kelly Ward as Putzie, a member of the T-Birds whose relationship with Jan builds over the course of the film
  • Didi Conn as Frenchy, Sandy's closest friend in the Pink Ladies and an aspiring beautician
  • Jamie Donnelly as Jan, a quirky member of the Pink Ladies with a liking for Ipana toothpaste
  • Dinah Manoff as Marty Maraschino, a member of the Pink Ladies whose attractiveness regularly draws the attention of men, including Sonny and Vince Fontaine

Secondary cast

  • Eve Arden as Principal McGee, who shows discomfort at the goings-on at Rydell High.
  • Dody Goodman as Secretary Blanche Hodel, who enjoys even the wilder antics at the school.
  • Sid Caesar as Coach Vince Calhoun, the tough-talking gym teacher and coach of all the school's perennially losing sports teams
  • Eddie Deezen as Eugene Felsnick, the class nerd
  • Susan Buckner as Patty Simcox, the head cheerleader and a rival for Danny's affections
  • Lorenzo Lamas as Tom Chisum, a popular jock who competes for Sandy's affections
  • Dennis C. Stewart as Leo "Craterface" Balmudo, leader of the Scorpions, a rival greaser gang
  • Annette Charles as Charlene "Cha-Cha" Di Gregorio, Leo's girlfriend
  • Joan Blondell as Vi, a waitress at the Frosty Palace
  • Ellen Travolta as Waitress
  • Frankie Avalon as Teen Angel
  • Edd Byrnes as Vince Fontaine, on-air personality at KZAZ radio and television
  • Sha-Na-Na as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers, a rock and roll band
  • Alice Ghostley as Mrs. Murdock, a rogue auto shop teacher who helps build Greased Lightnin' for the T-Birds
  • Darrell Zwerling as Mr. Lynch
  • Dick Patterson as Mr. Rudie
  • Fannie Flagg as Nurse Wilkins



John Travolta had previously worked with producer Robert Stigwood on Saturday Night Fever, had a nascent singing career at the time (including the top-10 hit "Let Her In" in 1976), and had previously appeared as Doody in a touring production of the stage version of Grease. He made a number of casting recommendations that Stigwood ultimately accepted, including suggesting Randal Kleiser (who had never directed a theatrical feature before this but had directed Travolta in the 1976 telefilm The Boy in the Plastic Bubble) as director, and Olivia Newton-John, then known almost exclusively as a multiple Grammy winning pop and country singer, as Sandy.[5] Newton-John had done little acting before this film, with only one film credit (the unreleased 1970 film Toomorrow, which predated her singing breakthrough) to her name up to that time. Before accepting the role, Newton-John requested a screen test for Grease to avoid another career setback.[6] The screen test was done with the drive-in movie scene. Newton-John, who is native to England and lived most of her life in Australia, was unable to perform with a convincing American accent, and thus her character was rewritten to be Australian. Before Newton-John was hired, Allan Carr was considering numerous names such as Ann-Margret, Susan Dey and Marie Osmond for the lead role; Newton-John agreed to a reduced asking price in exchange for star billing.[6] In a case of life imitating art, Newton-John's own musical career would undergo a transformation similar to that of the Sandy Olsson character; her next album after Grease, the provocatively titled Totally Hot, featured a much more sexual and pop-oriented approach, with Newton-John appearing on the album cover in similar all-leather attire and teased hair.[7]

Jeff Conaway, like Travolta, had previously appeared in the stage version of Grease; he had played Danny Zuko during the show's run on Broadway.[8] Jamie Donnelly reprised her role as Jan from the Broadway show, the only cast member to do so; as her hair had begun to gray by this point, she had to dye her hair to resemble her stage character.[9] Kelly Ward had previously appeared as a similar sarcastic supporting character in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with Travolta under Kleiser; he was cast as Putzie, a mostly new character.

Lorenzo Lamas was a last-minute replacement for Steven Ford, who developed stage fright shortly before filming and backed out. His role contained no spoken dialogue and required Lamas to dye his hair blond to avoid looking like one of the T-Birds.[9]

Adult film star Harry Reems was originally signed to play Coach Calhoun; however, executives at Paramount nixed the idea, concerned that his reputation as a porn star would hinder box office returns in the Southern United States,[10] and producers cast Sid Caesar instead.[11] Caesar was one of several veterans of 1950s television (Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell, Edd Byrnes, Alice Ghostley, Dody Goodman) to be cast in supporting roles. Coincidentally, Frankie Avalon and Randal Kleiser had both appeared in 1966's Fireball 500, the latter as an extra.

Filming locations

The opening beach scene was shot at Malibu's Leo Carrillo State Beach, making explicit reference to From Here to Eternity. The exterior Rydell scenes, including the basketball, baseball and track segments, were shot at Venice High School in Venice, California, while the Rydell interiors, including the high school dance, were filmed at Huntington Park High School. The sleepover was shot at a private house in East Hollywood. The Paramount Pictures studio lot was the location of the scenes that involve Frosty Palace and the musical numbers "Greased Lightning" and "Beauty School Dropout". The drive-in movie scenes were shot at the Burbank Pickwick Drive-In (it was closed and torn down in 1989 and a shopping center took its place). The race was filmed at the Los Angeles River, between the First and Seventh Street Bridges, where many other films have been shot.[12] The final scene where the carnival took place used John Marshall High School.[13] Furthermore, owing to budget cuts, a short scene was filmed at Hazard Park in Los Angeles.


Scenes inside the Frosty Palace contain obvious blurring of various Coca-Cola signs.[14] Prior to the film's release, producer Allan Carr had made a product-placement deal with Coca-Cola's main competitor Pepsi (for example, a Pepsi logo can be seen in the animated opening sequence). When Carr saw the footage of the scene with Coca-Cola products and signage, he ordered director Randal Kleiser to either reshoot the scene with Pepsi products or remove the Coca-Cola logos from the scene. As reshoots were deemed too expensive and time-consuming, optical mattes were used to cover up or blur out the Coca-Cola references. The 'blurring' covered up trademarked menu signage and a large wall poster, but a red cooler with the logo could not be sufficiently altered so was left unchanged. According to Kleiser, "We just had to hope that Pepsi wouldn't complain. They didn't."[15][16]

Due to an editing error, a closing scene in which Danny and Sandy kiss was removed from the finished print and lost before its theatrical release. The scene was preserved only in black-and-white; Kleiser attempted to have the existing footage colorized and restored to the film for the film's re-release in 1998 but was dissatisfied with the results. The scene is included as an extra on the 40th anniversary home video release, and Kleiser hopes to make another attempt at colorizing the footage that is effective enough for the footage to be inserted into the film as he originally intended by the time the film's 50th anniversary comes in 2028.[17]

Release and reception

Box office

Grease was originally released to North American theaters on June 16, 1978 and was an immediate box office success. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $8,941,717 in 862 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking at No. 2 (behind Jaws 2) at the box office for the weekend[18] and with the all-time opening weekend records.[19] Despite losing the weekend, it set a record gross in its first 19 days with $40,272,000.[20]

In the United States and globally, it became the highest-grossing musical ever at the time, eclipsing the 13-year-old record held by The Sound of Music with a worldwide gross of $341 million.[3]

It was re-released in March 1998 for its 20th anniversary where it grossed a further $28 million in the United States and Canada.[1]

It remained the highest-grossing live-action musical until 2012 when it was overtaken by Les Misérables[21] and the US champion until 2017 when it was surpassed by Beauty and the Beast.[22] Grease is now the seventh highest-grossing live-action musical worldwide.[21]

A further re-issue for its 40th anniversary in 2018 grossed $1 million.[1]

To date, Grease has grossed $189,969,103 domestically and $206.2 million internationally, totaling $396 million worldwide.[1]

Critical reception

Grease received mostly positive reviews from film critics[23] and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1978.[24][25][26][27]

Vincent Canby on its initial release in June 1978 called the film "terrific fun", describing it as a "contemporary fantasy about a 1950s teen-age musicala larger, funnier, wittier and more imaginative-than-Hollywood movie with a life that is all its own"; Canby pointed out that the film was "somewhat in the manner of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which recalls the science-fiction films of the '50s in a manner more elegant and more benign than anything that was ever made then, Grease is a multimillion-dollar evocation of the B-picture quickies that Sam Katzman used to turn out in the '50s (Don't Knock the Rock, 1956) and that American International carried to the sea in the 1960s (Beach Party, 1963)."[28] Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "exciting only when John Travolta is on the screen" but still recommending it to viewers, adding, "Four of its musical numbers are genuine showstoppers that should bring applause."[29] Variety praised the "zesty choreography and very excellent new plus revived music", and thought Travolta and Newton-John "play together quite well."[30] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was negative, writing, "I didn't see 'Grease' onstage, but on the testimony of this strident, cluttered, uninvolving and unattractive movie, it is the '50s—maybe the last innocent decade allowed to us—played back through a grotesquely distorting '70s consciousness."[31] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also panned the film, writing, "Despite the obvious attempts to recall bits from Stanley Donen musicals or Elvis Presley musicals or Frankie-and-Annette musicals, the spirit is closer to the New Tastelessness exemplified by Ken Russell, minus Russell's slick visual style ... I've never seen an uglier large-scale musical."[32] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "Too often, 'Grease' is simply mediocre, full of broad high-school humor, flat dramatic scenes and lethargic pacing. Fortunately, there's nothing flat about John Travolta ... Travolta can't dominate this movie as he did 'Fever,' but when he's on screen you can't watch anyone else."[33]

Grease was voted the best musical ever on Channel 4's 100 greatest musicals in 2004.[34] The film holds a 75% approval rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 71 reviews with an average rating of 6.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Grease is a pleasing, energetic musical with infectiously catchy songs and an ode to young love that never gets old."[35] It holds a score of 70/100 on the review aggregator Metacritic based on 15 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[23]

The film was also ranked number 21 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[36][37]


Grease premiered for the first time on American television in 1981 on ABC-TV.

Home Entertainment

Grease was first released in the US on VHS by Paramount Home Video in 1979, 1982, 1989, 1992 and 1994; the last VHS release was on June 23, 1998 and titled the 20th Anniversary Edition following a theatrical re-release that March. Paramount Movies - Grease

On September 24, 2002, it was released on DVD for the first time. On September 19, 2006, it was re-released on DVD as the Rockin' Rydell Edition, which came with a black Rydell High T-Bird jacket cover, a white Rydell "R" letterman's sweater cover or the Target-exclusive Pink Ladies cover. It was released on Blu-ray Disc on May 5, 2009.

On March 12, 2013, Grease and Grease 2 were packaged together in a Double Feature DVD set from Warner Home Video.

In connection with the film's 40th anniversary, Paramount released Grease on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-Ray and DVD on April 24, 2018.[38]


Year Nominee / work Award Result
1978 Grease Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
John Travolta Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Nominated
Olivia Newton-John Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Nominated
"Grease" Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song Nominated
"You're the One That I Want" Nominated
1979 CIC Golden Screen Award Won
Stockard Channing People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress Won
Grease People's Choice Award for Favorite Musical Motion Picture Won
Grease People's Choice Award for Favorite Overall Motion Picture Won
"Hopelessly Devoted to You" Academy Award for Best Original Song Nominated
2006 Grease Satellite Award for Best Classic DVD Nominated
2008 "You're the One That I Want" TV Land Award for Movie Dance Sequence You Reenacted in Your Living Room Nominated

American Film Institute Recognition

American Film Institute Lists



The sequel, Grease 2 (1982), stars Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer. Most of the adult characters reprised their roles, though the sequel focused on a younger class of greasers and thus most of the main characters from Grease did not appear. It was disowned by Jim Jacobs, who co-created the characters. Patricia Birch, the original film's choreographer, directed the sequel. It would be the only film that she would direct.

Sing-A-Long version

On July 8, 2010, a sing-along version of Grease was released to select theaters around the U.S.[39] A trailer was released in May 2010, with cigarettes digitally removed from certain scenes, implying heavy editing; however, Paramount confirmed these changes were done only for the film's advertising,[40] and the rating for the film itself changed from its original PG to that of PG-13 for "sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language."[41] The film was shown for two weekends only; additional cities lobbied by fans from the Paramount official website started a week later and screened for one weekend.[42]


In March 2019, it was announced that a prequel, titled Summer Loving, is currently in development from Paramount Players film studio. The project will be a joint-production collaboration with Temple Hill Productions and Picturestart Productions. John August signed on to serve as screenwriter.[43]


The soundtrack album ended 1978 as the second-best selling album of the year in the United States, exceeded only by another soundtrack album, from the film Saturday Night Fever, which also starred Travolta.[4] The song "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music—Original Song. The song "You're the One That I Want" was released as a single prior to the film's release and became an immediate chart-topper, despite not being in the stage show or having been seen in the film at that time.[44] Additionally, the dance number to "You're the One That I Want" was nominated for TV Land's award for "Movie Dance Sequence You Reenacted in Your Living Room" in 2008.[45] In the United Kingdom, the two Travolta/Newton-John duets, "You're the One That I Want" and "Summer Nights", were both number one hits and as of 2011 are still among the 20 best-selling singles of all time (at Nos. 6 and 19 respectively).[46] The film's title song was also a number-one hit single for Frankie Valli.[47]

The song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" refers to Sal Mineo in the original stage version. Mineo was stabbed to death a year before filming, so the line was changed to refer to Elvis Presley instead. The references to Troy Donohue, Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Annette Funicello are from the original stage version. Coincidentally, this scene as well as the scene before and the scene after it were filmed on August 16, 1977, the date of Elvis Presley's death.[48]

Some of the songs were not present in the film; songs that appear in the film but not in the soundtrack are "La Bamba" by Ritchie Valens, "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On" by Jerry Lee Lewis, "Alma Mater", "Alma Mater Parody", and "Rydell Fight Song". "Alone at a Drive-in Movie (instrumental)", "Mooning", and "Freddy My Love" are not present in the film, although all three are listed in the end credits in-addition to being on the soundtrack. (Both "Mooning" and "Rock'n'Roll Party Queen", the latter of which was played in the film as background music, were written in the musical for a character named Roger that was written out of the film, replaced by the non-singing Putzie. In general, all of the songs in the musical that were performed by characters other than Danny, Rizzo, Sandy, Johnny Casino, or the Teen Angel were either taken out of the film or given to other characters, including Marty Maraschino's number "Freddy My Love", Kenickie's "Greased Lightnin'", and Doody's "Those Magic Changes".) Two songs from the musical, "Shakin' at the High School Hop" and "All Choked Up", were left off both the film and the soundtrack.

The songs appear in the film in the following order:

  1. "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing"
  2. "Grease"
  3. "Alma Mater"
  4. "Summer Nights" – Danny, Sandy, Pink Ladies and T-Birds
  5. "Rydell Fight Song" – Rydell Marching Band
  6. "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" – Rizzo and Pink Ladies
  7. "Hopelessly Devoted to You" – Sandy
  8. "Greased Lightnin'" – Danny and T-Birds
  9. "La Bamba"
  10. "It's Raining on Prom Night"
  11. "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On"
  12. "Beauty School Dropout" – Teen Angel and Female Angels
  13. "Rock n' Roll Party Queen"
  14. "Rock n' Roll is Here to Stay" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
  15. "Those Magic Changes" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers; Danny sings along onscreen
  16. "Tears on My Pillow" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
  17. "Hound Dog" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
  18. "Born to Hand Jive" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
  19. "Blue Moon" – Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
  20. "Sandy" – Danny
  21. "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" – Rizzo
  22. "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise)" – Sandy
  23. "Alma Mater Parody" (instrumental)
  24. "You're the One That I Want" – Danny, Sandy, Pink Ladies, and T-Birds
  25. "We Go Together" – Cast
  26. "Grease (Reprise)"


On August 17, 2009, a television series inspired by the film premiered in Venezuela. The series was produced and directed by Vladimir Perez. The show explores and expands on the characters and story from the film.[49][50]

On January 31, 2016, a live television-adapted special of the musical aired, using components from both the 1978 film and the original Broadway show. Starring Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, and Vanessa Hudgens, the adaptation received positive reviews and ten Emmy nominations.[51]


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