Big Wednesday (1978) is an American coming of age film directed by John Milius. Milius co-wrote Big Wednesday with Dennis Aaberg, and it is loosely based on their own experiences at Malibu and a short story Aaberg had published in a 1974 Surfer Magazine entitled "No Pants Mance." The picture stars Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey as Californiasurfers facing life and the Vietnam War against the backdrop of their love of surfing.
Although initially a commercial failure, the film has found a cult audience in the years since its release.
The film tells the story of three young friends whose passion in life is surfing. The friends include: Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent), a self-destructive type who has a devil-may-care attitude; Jack Barlowe (William Katt), the calm and responsible one of the bunch; and Leroy "The Masochist" Smith (Gary Busey), whose nickname tells a lot about his personality.
Their surfing lives are traced from the summer of 1962 to their attempts of dodging the Vietnam War draft in 1965 (including faking insanity, homosexuality, and all manner of medical ailments), and to the end of their innocence in 1968 when one of their friends is killed in Vietnam. The three make the difficult transition to adulthood with parties, surf trips, marriage, and the war.
The friends reunite years later, after Barlowe has served time in Vietnam, for the "Great Swell of '74." With this reunion, the transitions in their lives becomes the end point of what the 1960s meant to so many as they see that the times have changed, and what was once a time of innocence is gone forever.
- Jan-Michael Vincent as Matt Johnson
- William Katt as Jack Barlowe
- Gary Busey as Leroy "The Masochist" Smith
- Patti D'Arbanville as Sally
- Lee Purcell as Peggy Gordon
- Sam Melville as Bear
- Celia Kaye as the Bear's bride
- Darrell Fetty as Waxer
- Gerry Lopez as Himself
- Hank Worden as Shopping Cart
- Joe Spinell as Psychologist
- Steve Kanaly as Sally's Husband
- Barbara Hale as Mrs. Barlow
- Fran Ryan as Lucy
- Dennis Aaberg as Slick
- Reb Brown as Enforcer
- Arthur Rosenberg as Official
- Janet Julian as Party girl
- Charlene Tilton as Party girl
- Frank McRae as Sergeant
- Perry Lang as Tall kid
- Michael Talbott as Hog
- Robert Englund as Narrator, Fly
- Keith Davis as Ostrich