1st Edition

Big Wednesday Lamenting Lost Youth in the New Hollywood

By Mark McKenna Copyright 2025
    146 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book provides an examination of Big Wednesday as an unconventional film that employs a mythic sensibility in its representation of the loss of youth and young manhood.


    Critically and commercially unsuccessful on its original release, the coming-of-age, surf drama Big Wednesday (1978), has undergone a significant reappraisal. It is now considered not only an important contribution to youth cinema, but also the most important film that John Milius ever made. Over six chapters, the book considers questions of authorship, commerce, genre, stardom, and myth, and explores how these ideas intersect with the film’s status as a significant youth movie and collectively how these ideas have contributed to its recent critical rehabilitation. In doing so, the book also provides a much-needed reassessment of an important and overlooked entry in the New Hollywood canon.


    Exploring Big Wednesday’s subsequent resonance and relevance, this unique study will appeal to students and scholars in film studies, popular culture studies, youth studies, sociology and media studies.

    Introduction  1. Storytelling in New Hollywood  2. Friendship, Innocence, and Mythologized Youth  3. Resistance and Incorporation in Californian Surf Culture  4. Authorship and the Star Director  5. Genre and the Male Melodrama  6. Youthful Archetypes and the Transition to Cult Stardom  Epilogue


    Mark McKenna is an Associate Professor in Film and Media Industries at Staffordshire University. His research interests are broadly focused on marketing and branding practices, media labour processes, and media policy and regulation strategy, and his work has explored these ideas in a range of contexts and from a number of different perspectives. He is the author of Nasty Business: The Marketing and Distribution of the Video Nasties and Snuff, and the co-editor of Horror Franchise Cinema (Routledge, 2021).

    “McKenna’s deft exploration of various aspects of Big Wednesday reveals it to be far more than a cult surfing movie. This wide-ranging study not only provides an astute account of the film’s initial failure and eventual reappraisal but also focuses productively on how it works as an overtly sentimental male melodrama about the loss of youthful friendship.”

     - Martin Shingler, independent scholar, freelance writer, editor and researcher.

    “This is a impressively wide-ranging, carefully researched and engagingly written study of an oft neglected movie classic. In addition to an illuminating analysis of The Big Wednesday and of the film’s making, marketing and reception, the book offers a compelling account of the importance and evolution of surf culture, and a wealth of new insights into the careers of its maverick writer-director, John Milius, and its three leading men. All this is presented with detailed references to key debates in Film Studies and to significant trends in Hollywood cinema since the 1960s.”

     - Peter Krämer, author of American Graffiti: George Lucas, the New Hollywood and the Baby Boom Generation (2023) and co-editor of The Hollywood Renaissance: Revisiting American Cinema’s Most Celebrated Era (2018).