Is Grease The Most Culturally Influential Summer Blockbuster Ever?


Picture it. You’re in the big city. A night on the tiles. You reach the nightclub and it’s a fancy dress theme. I guarantee there’s at least one group of T Birds or Pink Ladies.

You’re at your uncle’s 40th. It’s getting late and everyone is a little tipsy. The DJ announces over the muffled sound system that the next track on his play list is the Grease Mega mix. I guarantee the dance floor is filled within seconds. All the lads want to be Travolta and all the women want their guys to be Travolta. Everyone knows the words and more importantly, all the moves.

Even if you’re not a fan, and I challenge you to find someone who isn’t, everyone has seen Grease, or has at least heard of it. It is part of our lives, and its influence has been passed down through generations, making it arguably the most influential film of all time.

Set in the summer of 1959, it tells the story of holiday sweethearts Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) who end their teenage fling thinking that they would never meet again. But when Sandy’s parents decide not to return to native Australia, she is enrolled into Rydell High where she meets Danny again and they rekindle the romance. The ‘American teen movie’ will forever be in debt to Grease, as it established the stereotypes that form the genre that it still going strong today:

The greaser – Danny

The shy girl – Sandy

The cool dude – Kenickie

The mouthy one – Rizzo

The quirky one – Frenchy

The ditzy one – Marty

The geek – Eugene

Coming of age high school films have made good use of these roles through generations of cinema such as Porky’s, The Breakfast Club, American Pie and Mean Girls, and is now so heavily familiar that it is parodied, most notably in 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie. For a more modern interpretation of Sandy’s transformation from quiet ‘nice girl’ to saucy minx with attitude simply from a bag of make-up and a few inspirational words from a friend, see 1999’s She’s All That. Even this year, the genre is being rejuvenated with satirical youth culture attack flicks Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring. OK, they’re both a million miles away from the innocence of Grease, but would they have been able to exist if the foundations hadn’t been laid before them?

Directed by Randal Kleiser, it launched the careers of Travolta and Newton-John cementing them in cinema history forever. The iconic tunes and bubble gum gloss give this masterpiece a timeless effect, and the simple ‘boy meets girl’ plot remains fresh and relevant to this day. It even has an exhilarating car chase sequence which every good summer film needs. It is uncomplicated fun at its very best, and its cultural significance is hard to beat, meaning that Grease and the term ‘summer blockbuster’ will always go together ‘like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong. A wop ba-ba lu-mop a wop bam boom!’


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