“Grease” at 40: Ten Things We Love About the Film

On June 16, 1978, Grease — a big budget movie adaptation of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s hit musical — was released to hundreds of theaters across the country. It was an immediate hit that further skyrocketed John Travolta (who was already riding high from the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever) and Olivia Newton-John (a well-established singer, but not yet entirely a household name) into the stratosphere. Four decades later and Grease hasn’t even remotely left the hearts of fans everywhere. Following the release of the film, the original musical has been mounted in countless productions across the globe, and re-releases of the film, including a sing-along version, and a well-received live television production on Fox in 2016 just further cemented Grease as a pop art masterpiece that is truly one of the greatest musicals ever.

Obviously, we love Grease here at MovieFanFare. So much so that we’ve celebrated the film for the past seven days in our special Grease Week posts. And while we aren’t quite done paying tribute to the gang from Rydell High just yet, we did want to share ten things from the movie that we love the most. It was hard narrowing it down to just ten things, so be sure to tell us what we left out in the comments!

10 – The Animated Opening Sequence

Hollywood legend has it that Grease was originally envisioned as an animated film. While this makes for a great story, the truth behind it is dubious at best. Nevertheless, we get to glimpse what could have been in the opening credits, a clever cartoon sequence that subtly establishes the characters and thrusts us into the musical world of Rydell High and its students.

9 – The Pool Dream Sequence in “Hopelessly Devoted to You”

Unable to think of anything to write to Danny, Sandy instead bursts into the heartbreak ballad/foreverjam “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” The scene culminates in Sandy’s imagination conjuring up a smiling Danny wearing a casual windbreaker instead of his usual T-Birds gear looking up from a disused kiddie pool in the yard. This is easily the emotional apex of Grease, and the sequence has struck a chord with romantics and/or the lovelorn ever since.

8 – The Film’s Casual Profanity

Many people who grew up in the 1980s, this writer included, got their first taste of cinematic profanity thanks to Grease — in particular the film’s “Greased Lightnin'” number, which includes some racy content that would make Sandy blush.

7 – A Willingness to Tackle Adult Issues

Primarily thought of as a family-friendly musical romp, Grease has its darker moments as well. And that’s not even getting into how awful it’s message of how one should change their personality completely in order to be with the one they love). This is a movie that touches upon issues like peer pressure, predatory behavior from men in power (the film’s portrayal of TV host Vic Fontaine is more relevant than ever these days), and teen pregnancy. The latter involves Grease‘s most complex character, Betty Rizzo. Stockard Channing gives her a toughness that masks an inner vulnerability that is raw and all too real. When Rizzo sings the power ballad “There Are Worst Things I Could Do,” she reveals the secret turmoil that engulfs her, and what was initially just a one-note character suddenly becomes a standout…and the movie’s secret weapon.

6 – The “Born to Hand Jive” Dance Scene

Electrifiying dance moves from John Travolta and company. Tony Manero would be proud.

5 – The Frosty Palace

Every group of pop culture teens needs a place to hang out, be it Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe for the Riverdale crew or Saved by the Bell‘s The Max. The gang from Grease made the Frosty Palace their home away from home, giving viewers who actually grew up in the 1950s themselves a twinge of nostalgia for the malt shops of their youth.

4 – Craterface

Portrayed by the late, great Dennis Stewart, Craterface is Grease‘s primary antagonist. With bad boy greaser looks ripped right from the pages of a juvenile delinquent pulp novel, the character gives some edge to the film, showing what tough gang members are actually like. (For all their swagger, Danny, Kenickie, Doody, Sonny, and Putzie are hardly threatening). Also, and this may seem like blasphemy to some, his hot rod with its James Bond-esque instruments of destruction is way cooler than Greased Lightning, any day of the week. Stewart was also one of the few actors who reprised his role in the lesser-yet-still-worthwhile Grease 2.

3 – The Rydell High Carnival

Wop ba-ba lu-mop and wop bam boom! Man, we wish our high school graduation ceremonies were this cool! The carnival sequence that ends the film gives all the characters a chance to resolve their problems and live happily ever after, especially Sandy and Danny who literally fly towards a better future together. (Yes, we are huge suckers for the ridiculous flying car scene that closes the film).

2 – 1950s Hollywood Players in Supporting Roles

Like American Graffiti and Happy Days, Grease was an idealized view of 1950s life viewed through the unrealistic prism of pop culture. To give the movie an added layer of legitimacy, the film’s producers cast several 1950s legends in supporting roles. By featuring Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, Edd Byrnes, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Frankie Avalon, and Alice Ghostley, Grease illustrated how it was a flick that had cross-generational appeal.

1 – “But, ahh, Those Summ-mmmerrrr Ni-iiiights”

There are few things in life better than the way John Travolta sings the final line of “Summer Nights.” This is just a universal truth, okay?

What’s your favorite thing about Grease? Let us know in the comments!