In the summer of 1959, Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and vacationing Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) met at the beach and fell 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 ("Grease"). Danny, a greaser, is a member of the T-Birds, consisting of his best friend Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), Doody (Barry Pearl), Sonny (Michael Tucci), and Putzie (Kelly Ward). The Pink Ladies, a popular clique of girls, also arrive, consisting of Rizzo (Stockard Channing), Frenchy (Didi Conn), Marty (Dinah Manoff), and Jan (Jamie Donnelly).
After her parents decide to move from 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 (and therefore presumably less honest) ("Summer Nights").
When Sandy finally tells everyone it was Danny Zuko, 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. Afterward, Frenchy invites Sandy to her house for a sleepover. Sandy throws up from trying a cigarette, drinking a dessert wine, and getting her ears pierced by Frenchy. While she recovers in the bathroom, Rizzo makes fun of her innocence and virtuous nature ("Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee"). The T-Birds almost crash the party in Kenickie's Greased Lightning car, but a guilty Danny leaves, followed by Rizzo, who departs to make out with Kenickie. Sandy laments over her feelings towards Danny, despite his earlier behavior ("Hopelessly Devoted to You").
Later the same evening, Kenickie and Rizzo are having a tryst in Kenickie's car when they are interrupted by Leo Balmudo (Dennis C. Stewart), leader of the T-Birds' rival gang, the Scorpions, and his girlfriend Cha-Cha (Annette Charles), setting the stage for a car race between Leo and Kenickie. The next day, Danny and the T-Birds begin to make plans to overhaul Kenickie's car, and give it a paint job ("Greased Lightnin'") to prepare it for the race at Thunder Road. In an attempt to impress Sandy, Danny approaches Coach Calhoun (Sid Caesar) in an effort to become a high school athlete. After several mishaps on the basketball court, wrestling mat, and baseball diamond, Danny eventually finds success running for the track team. He reunites with Sandy and they attempt to go on a date, but their friends crash it. Danny does not yet feel at ease being around his friends and Sandy at the same time, and they leave. Kenickie and Rizzo get into an argument and break up. Left alone, Frenchy -- who dropped out of Rydell to enroll in beauty school, only to quit when she proves to be inept -- is visited by a guardian angel (Frankie Avalon) who advises her to return to Rydell ("Beauty School Dropout").
The school dance arrives, broadcast live on television and hosted by DJ Vince Fontaine (Edd Byrnes), who flirts with Marty. Rizzo and Kenickie attempt to spite one another by bringing Leo and Cha-Cha as their dates, while Danny and Sandy arrive together. Danny and Sandy dance well and appear to be on their way to winning the competition, but just before the winners are announced they are separated by a drunken Sonny. Danny and Cha-Cha (who were once a couple) end up finishing the competition together and winning ("Born to Hand Jive").
Danny apologizes to Sandy and tries to make it up to her by taking her to a drive-in theater. She's unmoved by his pleas for forgiveness until he gives Sandy his ring, which she gleefully accepts. Moments later, Danny tries to aggressively make out with her, causing Sandy to angrily throw his ring at him and depart, leaving Danny distraught ("Sandy"). Meanwhile, Rizzo fears she is pregnant after missing a period and confides in Marty. Marty tells Sonny and the rumor spreads like wildfire through the drive-in, reaching Kenickie just as Rizzo is walking past. He attempts to talk to Rizzo about it, telling her he doesn't run away from his mistakes. Rizzo tells him it was someone else's mistake. It is likely that Rizzo is lying to shield Kenickie from responsibility and maintain her tough outward facade, though this is never made clear.
Sometime later, Kenickie is making final preparations ahead of the race at Thunder Road. Rizzo watches him from afar and laments on her reputation and how it has affected her life, finally admitting to herself that she loves Kenickie ("There Are Worse Things I Could Do").
The race arrives, and Kenickie expresses doubts to Danny, asking him to be his "second" in the race. Moments before the race is set to begin, Kenickie is knocked cold when Putzie accidentally hits him in the head with the car door. When Kenickie comes to, he asks Danny to race instead, and Danny takes up the challenge. Leo and Danny run a tight race, with Leo attempting to shred Danny's tires with bladed hubcaps (in a sequence paying homage to Ben-Hur). Danny gains the advantage as they near the finish line and Leo skids out into a deep puddle, making Danny the winner. Sandy watches from afar and concludes that she still loves Danny. She decides to change her attitude and image to impress him and asks Frenchy for help ("Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise)").
On the last day of school, while Principal McGee (Eve Arden) and her assistant Blanche (Dody Goodman) sob about the departing class, the seniors celebrate their graduation at the fair on the school grounds.
Kenickie approaches Rizzo and demands to talk to her, only to have her reveal she is not pregnant after all. Overjoyed, they reunite. He proposes to her again, and this time she accepts. Danny shows up wearing a Letterman's sweater and reveals he lettered in track while the rest of the T-Birds were preoccupied with tuning up Kenickie's car. The T-Birds lament that Danny has forsaken being a greaser in favor of becoming a jock which Danny confesses is a decision he has made in an effort to clean up his image so that he can be together with Sandy. The group is subsequently stunned when Sandy appears seconds later sporting a new hairstyle, dressed in black leather, and smoking a cigarette. In song, the two admit they love each other and reunite ("You're the One That I Want") and Sandy also tells Danny that if she was willing to change for him then it is only fair that he do the same for her by being faithful and more mature.
Despite the reunion of the two couples (Kenickie & Rizzo / Danny & Sandy) the gang realizes that high school is now over, and worries that they'll never see each other again. Danny insists, "Nah, that'll never happen," and everyone celebrates their friendship ("We Go Together").
As the song nears its conclusion, Danny and Sandy depart in the fantasy version of Greased Lightning, which takes flight, and the pair wave goodbye to their friends.John Travolta as Danny Zuko
Olivia Newton-John as Sandra Dee "Sandy" Olsson
Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo
Jeff Conaway as Kenickie
Barry Pearl as Doody
Michael Tucci as Sonny LaTierri
Kelly Ward as Roger "Putzie"
Didi Conn as Frenchy
Jamie Donnelly as Jan
Dinah Manoff as Marty Maraschino
Eve Arden as Principal Greta McGee
Dody Goodman as Vice Principal Blanche Hodel
Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun
Eddie Deezen as Eugene Felsnick
Susan Buckner as Patty Simcox
Lorenzo Lamas as Tom Chisum
Dennis C. Stewart as Leo Balmudo
Annette Charles as Charlene "Cha-Cha" DiGregorio
Joan Blondell as Vi
Ellen Travolta as Waitress
Frankie Avalon as Teen Angel
Edd Byrnes as Vince Fontaine
Sha-Na-Na as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
Alice Ghostley as Mrs. Murdock
Darrell Zwerling as Mr. Lynch
Dick Patterson as Mr. Rudie
Fannie Flagg as Nurse Wilkins
Michael Biehn as Mike
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 country music singer, as Sandy. 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. The screen test was done with the drive-in movie scene. Newton-John, who is native to Australia, was unable to perform with a convincing American accent, and thus her character was rewritten to be Australian. 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.
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. Kelly Ward had previously appeared as a similar sarcastic supporting character in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with Travolta under Kleiser; again to accommodate Ward's lack of singing experience, the role was substantially rewritten from the musical. Whereas "Rump" in the musical sang lead on two songs and was particularly known for his mooning, the renamed "Putzie" did not sing and shares the mooning scene with two of the other T-Birds, Sonny and Doody.
Henry Winkler was once considered for a lead in the film. Winkler, who was playing Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days, was originally chosen to play Danny. His lack of singing experience and fear of being typecast after Happy Days and the film The Lords of Flatbush led him to decline the role. Adult film star Harry Reems was originally signed to play Coach Calhoun; however, executives at Paramount nixed the idea due to Reems' previous work in adult films, and producers cast Sid Caesar instead. 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.
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. The final scene where the carnival took place used John Marshall High School. And due 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. 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."
In the 2010 sing-along version (see below), the blurred Coke poster has been digitally removed. In its place is more of the wavy wall design that surrounded it.
John Wilson did the animated title sequence for the start of the film.
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. Grease has grossed $188,755,690 domestically and $206,200,000 internationally, totaling $394,955,690 worldwide. Globally, it was the highest-grossing musical ever, eclipsing the 13-year-old record held by The Sound of Music, but has since been overtaken by Les Misérables, Mamma Mia! and the 2017 release of Beauty and the Beast. Grease is now the fourth highest-grossing live action musical.
Grease received mostly positive reviews from movie critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1978.
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 musical—a 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)."
Grease was voted the best musical ever on Channel 4's 100 greatest musicals in 2004. The film currently holds a 75% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 critic reviews with an average rating of 6.6/10 and with a consensus that reads, "Grease is a pleasing, energetic musical with infectiously catchy songs and an ode to young love that never gets old." It holds a score of 70/100 on similar website Metacritic.
Grease premiered for the first time on American television in 1981 on ABC-TV. It was re-released to theaters in 1998 to mark the 20th anniversary. The film was also ranked number 21 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
Grease was first released in the US on VHS by Paramount Home Video in 1982, with reissues in 1989 and 1994; the last VHS release was on June 23, 1998 and titled the 20th Anniversary Edition following a theatrical re-release that March. On September 17, 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.American Film Institute Lists
AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions: No. 97
AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs: No. 70 for "Summer Nights"
AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals: No. 20
Sequels and spin-offs
The sequel, Grease 2 (1982), stars Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer. While only a few cast members from the original movie such as Dody Goodman, Sid Caesar, Eddie Deezen, Didi Conn, Dennis Stewart and Eve Arden reprise their respective roles. Dick Patterson returned, playing a different character. It was not as successful, grossing just $15 million on its $13 million budget. Patricia Birch, the original movie's choreographer, directed the ill-fated sequel. It would be the only movie that she would direct.
On July 8, 2010, a sing-along version of Grease was released to select theaters around the U.S. 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, 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." The movie 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.
On March 12, 2013, Grease and Grease 2 were packaged together in a Double Feature DVD set from Warner Home Video.
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. 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. 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. 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). The movie's title song was also a number-one hit single for Frankie Valli.
The song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" references 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 Troy Donahue reference is in 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.
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 or Johnny Casino 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.")
The songs appear in the film in the following order:
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 will explore and expand on the characters and story from the film.