American Graffiti Ending Explained: Did John Survive?

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American Graffiti
American Graffiti Ending Explained [Credits- Universal Pictures]

Are you a fan of Richard Dreyfuss? Did you give his coming-of-age comedy film, released on August 2, 1973, titled American Graffiti, a go? Were you confused by the ending of the film? Directed by George Lucas, the film focuses on a group of four friends and the fun they have before beginning an adult life.

Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the film was considered one of the most influential films based on teen life and the difference in lifestyle between a teen and an adult. America Graffiti gives a sneak peek to the viewers into the bittersweet nostalgia of the last days of innocence in high school students and friends before they go on their separate ways. Viewers felt the film had a controlled storyline and narrative with a hint of humor in it.

The film portrays the feeling of sadness perfectly that a student feels before they leave their teenage days behind to take on the responsibility and challenges that life offers. America Graffiti portrays the dilemma behind the decision a student makes to either pursue further education or drop out to take on a job. America Grafitti did exceptionally well at the box office, with an earning of $140 M while having an initial investment of $777,000.

American Graffiti
John Picks Up Carol [Credits- Universal Pictures]
Lucasfilm Ltd. and The Coppola Company undertook the film’s production, and it stars Richard Dreyfuss in the role of Curt Henderson, Ron Howard in the character of Steve Bolander, Paul Le Mat plays John Milner, Charles Martin Smith plays the role of Terry Fields, Candy Clark in the role of Debbie, Mackenzie Phillips in the character of Carol, Cindy Williams in the role of Laurie, Wolfman Jack in the role of Disc Jockey, Bo Hopkins plays Joe, Harrison Ford in the character of Bob Falfa, and Manuel Padilla in the role of Carlos as the lead cast.

American Graffti’s filming started in June of 1972 and had a run time of 112 minutes. Universal Pictures distributed American Graffiti while Ron Eveslage did the cinematography.

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American Graffiti Ending Explained

American Graffiti’s story centers on a group of students and their life before entering adulthood. American Graffiti begins on the last evening of summer vacation in 1962 when two high school graduates, Curt and Steve, meet their friends John, a drag racing queen, and Terry, in Mel’s Drive-In’s parking lot located in Modesto, California. Steve and Curt are set to leave in the morning to travel to Black East to join their respective college.

Curt begins to have second thoughts about joining college a day before the two friends have to move to their respective college dorms. Steve’s girlfriend Laurie comes to visit him, and he decides to talk to Laurie about opening their relationship while they are in college. This leaves Laurie upset as she feels she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. As the film moves forward, Laurie, Steve, Curt, and Laurie go to attend the sock hop conducted by their high school.

Curt is infatuated with an attractive blonde woman en route, and then he spends the night searching for him. Curt is attracted to the women’s bold move of saying I Love You to him before she goes right. Once Curt leaves the sock hop, he gets pressured to join The Pharaohs, a group of greasers. The Pharaohs force Curt into doing several tasks, including stealing coins from the arcade and hooking chains to a cop car. The Pharaoh’s leader informed Curt that the blonde woman he gets infatuated with is a prostitute.

Meanwhile, Steve allows Terry to look after his car while he is away studying at college. Terry cruises around the strip and picks up Debbie as he attempts to impress her throughout the night by telling her a series of lies, including the one where he tells her the car is his. Terry also buys alcohol while he possesses no Id, and as the pair go to a motel to have sex, a group of thieves steals Steve’s car. Alcohol makes Terry sick, and he makes an attempt to steal the car back, resulting in him getting beat up by the thieves until John intervenes. Debbie agrees to meet Terry meet once again.

American Graffiti
Still From American Grafitti [Credits- Universal Pictures]
As John cruises for the company at night, he picks up Carol, and after a series of arguments, she decides to walk home alone, which leads to her getting harassed. Bob Falfa searches for John to challenge him to win John’s drag-racing crown. Curt drives to a radio station to ask Wolfman Jack to read a message for the blonde after he leaves the Pharaohs. Wolfman reads the message by Curt while Bob finds John after he has dropped Carol home.

Bob traps John into a race for his title, with spectators watching their race. Their race ends in an accident, and Steve rushes to the spot to help his friends to safety. Laurie begs Steve not to leave her back in Modesto to pursue further education. Finally, Curt gets to talk to the blonde, who hints to him about meeting that night. Curt bids goodbye to his parents as he leaves for his college.

What Did the Future Look Like For The Three Friends?

American Graffiti has a sad ending, with John killed by a drunk driver after experiencing a fulfilling life with a beautiful wife as he continues to drag race till the day he dies. Terry ends up being declared missing in action near An Loc in 1965 after he is deployed in Vietnam, where it is revealed he faked his own death to escape from his deployment.

Terry’s desperation increases as time goes on, and his deployment doesn’t come to an end. Thus Terry was declared missing in action and not dead in the epilogue of American Grafitti. Steve has married Lauri, and the couple has two beautiful kids as he continues to work as an insurance agent. Steve begins to resent Laurie as she plans to start working.

Laurie becomes involved in the protests of the Vietnam War alongside Andy, her brother. Curt lives his life as a successful writer residing in Canada, and Debbie has now turned into a hippie and she enjoys her new lifestyle. American Graffiti ends with the notion that everyone has to make choices in life and have to live with them. American Graffiti had an underlying emotion of depression in the humor he had.

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About The Author

  • Tejashwini

    Tejashwini is an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor's in journalism and mass communication who's working towards finding her creative side. Currently, she resides in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. You'll find her writing all about the latest TV shows and controversies. You can get in touch with her at

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