Actors: Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey
Milius was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and they all agreed to share a percentage point from ‘Big Wednesday', ‘Star Wars' and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind' before all three films were released.
When you think of classic surf films, what comes to mind? Few surf movies have become more popular or more reminiscent of a bygone surfing era than ‘Big Wednesday'. Although first released in 1978, John Milius' film is set between the 60s
, and charts the coming of age of three surfers Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent), Jack Barlow (William Katt), and Leroy ‘The Masochist' Smith (Gary Busey). There is a bittersweet theme to the film as the innocence of the surfers is diminished and replaced by a gritty realism formed by the backdrop of America's war in Vietnam.
Although not originally deemed a success at the box office, only taking $4.5 million on the film's first weekend, Big Wednesday has been a sleeper hit over the decades… slowly gaining in recognition and credence as it was shown on TV and video. The surfing community took the film on board, and a steading following and appreciation for the films themes has grown ever since.
Big Wednesday is a tale of what it means to try and balance your love for the ocean, for surfing, for simply hanging out with your friends… just because you're free to do so, with the ties and pulls of society. It's a hard situation when your country decides to go war, let alone when a national conscription is enforced. Milius' film is an ode to his time in California growing up, and to the masses of surfers and young men who were forced to serve in the war with Vietnam. Despite the initial mixed response to the film, it is the almost subtle nature of Milius' characters, their ‘ordinariness' that enables so many fans to relate to the story and their coming of age over the course of the decade.
If you're feeling like you'd like to know more about what it meant to surf a longboard in the 60s in California, or even to simply understand one of the core pillars of surf films today, check out the film… Here's a little clip below to give you a flavour: