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Breaking Away

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Breaking Away
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Yates
Written bySteve Tesich
Produced byPeter Yates
StarringDennis Christopher
Dennis Quaid
Daniel Stern
Jackie Earle Haley
Barbara Barrie
Paul Dooley
Robyn Douglass
CinematographyMatthew F. Leonetti
Edited byCynthia Scheider
Music byPatrick Williams
Distributed by20th Century-Fox
Release date
  • July 13, 1979 (1979-07-13)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.3 million[2][3]
Box office$20 million[4]

Breaking Away is a 1979 American coming of age comedy-drama film produced and directed by Peter Yates and written by Steve Tesich. It follows a group of four male teenagers in Bloomington, Indiana, who have recently graduated from high school. The film stars Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern (in his film debut), Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley, and Robyn Douglass.

Breaking Away won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Tesich, and received nominations in four other categories, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Barrie). It also won the 1979 Golden Globe Award for Best Film (Comedy or Musical) and received nominations in three other Golden Globe categories. The film was ranked eighth on the List of America's 100 Most Inspiring Movies compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI) in 2006. In June 2008, the AFI also announced its 10 Top 10—the best ten films in ten classic American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. In that poll Breaking Away ranked as the eighth best film in the sports genre.[5][6]

As the film's young lead, Christopher won the 1979 BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer and the 1979 Young Artist Award for Best Juvenile Actor, as well as getting a Golden Globe nomination as New Star of the Year.

Tesich was an alumnus of Indiana University Bloomington. The film was shot in and around Bloomington and on the university's campus.


Dave, Mike, Cyril, and Moocher are working-class friends living in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana. Now turning 19, they all graduated from high school the year before and are not sure what to do with their lives; attending the university seems unrealistic. They spend much of their time together swimming in an abandoned water-filled limestone quarry. They sometimes clash with the more affluent Indiana University students in their hometown, who refer to them disparagingly as "cutters", referring to locals' common work in the limestone industry. (The term was invented for the film, because the real-world pejorative "stonies" was deemed unusable for its perceived link to marijuana.)[7]

Dave is obsessed with competitive bicycle racing, and Italian racers in particular, because he recently won a Masi bicycle.[8][9] His down-to-earth father Ray, a former stonecutter who now operates his own used car business (sometimes unethically), is puzzled and exasperated by his son's love of Italian music and culture, which Dave associates with cycling. However, his mother Evelyn is more understanding and prepares Italian dishes for the family, to Ray's annoyance.

Dave develops a crush on a university student named Katherine and masquerades as an Italian exchange student to romance her. One evening, he serenades "Caterina" outside her sorority house by singing Friedrich von Flotow's aria "M' Apparì Tutt' Amor", with Cyril providing guitar accompaniment. Her boyfriend Rod and his fraternity brothers beat Cyril up, mistaking him for the suitor. Cyril wants no trouble, but Mike – a former high school football quarterback – insists on tracking down Rod and starting a brawl. The university president (played by real-life president Dr. John W. Ryan) reprimands the students for their arrogance toward the "cutters" and, over the students' objections, invites the town to field a team for the annual Indiana University Little 500 race.[page needed]

When an Italian cycling team comes to town for an exhibition race, Dave is thrilled to compete with them. However, the Italians are annoyed by his challenge to their preordained victory, and force him to crash, which disillusions him. He subsequently confesses his deception to Katherine, who is heartbroken.

Dave's friends persuade him to join them in racing the Little 500. Ray privately tells his son how, when he was a young stonecutter, he was proud to help provide the material to construct the university, yet he never felt welcome on campus. Later, Dave runs into Katherine, who is leaving for a job in Chicago; they patch things up.

Dave is the only skilled cyclist among his friends, so he rides most of the Little 500 without a break, rather than switching riders periodically, like the other teams. Nonetheless, he gains a small lead, but is injured in a crash and comes in for a change. Mike, Cyril, and Moocher each take turns to the best of their ability, but fall farther and farther back. Finally, Dave has them tape his feet to the pedals – which commits him to finish the race himself – and makes up lost ground, overtaking Rod – riding for the favored fraternity team – on the last lap, and winning.

Ray is proud of his son and takes to riding a bicycle himself, for his health. Dave later enrolls at the university, where he meets a pretty French student. Soon, he is extolling to her the virtues of the Tour de France and French cyclists.




The Little 500 bicycle race that forms the centerpiece of the plot is a real race held annually at Indiana University. A reenactment of the race was staged for the film in the "old" Memorial Stadium on the IU campus, which was demolished in 1982, four years after Breaking Away was shot.[citation needed]

The team is based on the 1962 Phi Kappa Psi Little 500 champions, which featured legendary rider and Italian enthusiast Dave Blase, who provided screenwriter and fellow Phi Kappa Psi team member Steve Tesich the inspiration for the main character in the movie.[10] Blase, together with team manager Bob Stohler, provided the name of this character: Dave Stohler.[11] In the 1962 race, Blase rode 139 out of 200 laps[10] and crossed the finish line as the victor, much like the main character in the film. Blase appears in the movie as the race announcer.[12]

The working title of the movie script was Bambino, written in 1978, which originally had Dave's family name as "Blase", which was later changed to "Stohler" for the film.[13]


Dave's house
Rooftop Quarry, originally named Sanders Quarry, near Bloomington

Location filming in and around Bloomington[14] took place during the summer of 1978. Many of the scenes were filmed on the campus of Indiana University; glimpses of the Indiana Memorial Union are in the background of Dave's ride through the campus. Dave Stohler's house is at the corner of S. Lincoln and E. Dodds Streets. The used car lot ("Campus Cars") that Dave's father owns was at 1010 S. Walnut Street, and was a real used car lot for many years, but now has two small commercial buildings on the property. Pagliai's, the pizza restaurant in the film, is now Opie Taylors on the east side of North Walnut Street. Other scenes were filmed outside the Delta Delta Delta sorority house at 818 E. 3rd Street and along Jordan Street. Two scenes were filmed on W. 7th Street: one at Fairview Elementary, the other three blocks east near the intersection of W. 7th Street and N. Madison (the old railroad tracks have since been removed). Dave runs a red light in front of his father at the southwest corner of the Monroe County Courthouse, at the intersection of College Street and W. Kirkwood Avenue.

The starting-line scene of the Cinzano 100 bicycle race was at the intersection of Indiana State Roads 46 and 446 on the city's eastern edge. Dave's "ecstasy ride" on the wooded road after first meeting Kathy (where his bike tire blew) was filmed on the "West Gate Road" in Indiana's Brown County State Park, 14 miles (23 km) east of Bloomington on State Road 46.

The abandoned limestone quarry where Dave and his friends swam, called Rooftop Quarry by locals, is at the end of East Empire Mill Road off old State Road 37 in Perry Township, south of Bloomington. Trespassing and safety are problems, and its owner, Indiana Limestone Company, has bulldozed dirt and trees to eliminate launch points to discourage jumping into the quarry and taken other steps to make access more difficult.[15]

The film features music by Felix Mendelssohn, Gioachino Rossini and Friedrich von Flotow. The music was adapted by Patrick Williams.

Prior to filming, cyclists Ira Schaffer and Gerry Bretting spent several weeks helping introduce Dennis Christopher and Hart Bochner to the world of bicycle racing after director Peter Yates met Bretting at the Wilshire West Bicycle store.

Tesich and Yates worked together again on Eyewitness (1981) and Eleni (1985). In 1977, Yates had directed Tesich's play Passing Game at the American Place Theatre. Tesich later wrote the cycling-themed film American Flyers (1985).


The film received positive reviews upon its release. Roger Ebert called it "a wonderfully sunny, funny, goofy, intelligent movie that makes you feel about as good as any movie in a long time. It is, in fact, a treasure ... Movies like this are hardly ever made at all; when they're made this well, they're precious cinematic miracles."[16] The New York Times's Janet Maslin wrote that, even though "the cast is unknown, the director has a spotty history, and the basic premise falls into this year's most hackneyed category ... the finished product is wonderful. Here is a movie so fresh and funny it didn't even need a big budget or a pedigree."[14] A Variety magazine review concluded that "though its plot wins no points for originality, Breaking Away is a thoroughly delightful light comedy, lifted by fine performances from Dennis Christopher and Paul Dooley."[17] Critic Dave Kehr, however, gave a later, somewhat dissenting opinion: "Released at a time when any small-scale film earned critical favor simply by virtue of its unpretentiousness, Breaking Away probably looked better in context than it does now."[18] However, he conceded that "Peter Yates lends the film a fine, unexpected limpidity, and the principals are mostly excellent."[18]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 42 reviews, with a rating average of 8.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "At once a touching, funny coming-of-age story and a compelling sports film, Breaking Away is a delightful treat."[19] On Metacritic—which assigns a weighted mean score—the film has a score of 91 out of 100 based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[20]

The film grossed approximately $20 million in North America.[4]

The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[21]

NBC paid $5 million to screen the film on television on May 5, 1980, bypassing HBO and significantly shortening the normal window between theatrical release and screening on broadcast television, which was generally three years at the time.[22]


Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Peter Yates Nominated [23]
Best Director Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Barbara Barrie Nominated
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Steve Tesich Won
Best Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score Patrick Williams Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Dennis Christopher Won [24]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won [25]
Best Director – Motion Picture Peter Yates Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Steve Tesich Nominated
New Star of the Year – Actor Dennis Christopher Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen Steve Tesich Won [26]
Young Artist Awards Best Motion Picture Featuring Youth Nominated [27]
Best Juvenile Actor in A Motion Picture Dennis Christopher Won
AFI's 10 Top 10 Sports films 8th Place [28]
AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Most inspiring films of all time 8th Place [29]


A short-lived television series based on the film, also titled Breaking Away, aired in 1980–1981 and starred Shaun Cassidy. Barrie, Haley and Ashton reprised their roles in the prequel series.

The film inspired the song "One For the Cutters" by The Hold Steady, which appeared on their 2008 album Stay Positive.

The 1992 Bollywood film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, starring Aamir Khan, has certain similarities to Breaking Away.[30] However, the director Mansoor Khan stated that he only became aware of Breaking Away after the likeness was brought to his attention. Both films have several thematic similarities, including friendship, class barriers, bicycle racing, and parental relationship, but are distinctly different films, with different narratives, characters, motivations, treatment and racing rules.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BREAKING AWAY (A)". British Board of Film Classification. May 24, 1979. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  3. ^ A Hot Director Breaks Away From the Mainstream By SHAUN CONSIDINE. The New York Times, 15 July 1979: D17.
  4. ^ a b Breaking Away, Box Office Info. The Numbers. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  5. ^ American Film Institute (June 17, 2008). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". ComingSoon.net. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  6. ^ "Top 10 Sports". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  7. ^ Ksander, Yaël (February 5, 2007). "Breaking Away". Indiana Public Media. Minute of Indiana History. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  8. ^ "Retro review: recreating the 'Breaking Away' Masi bike". Ride Media. October 31, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  9. ^ "Behind the Scenes: Dennis Christopher Talks "Breaking Away," Part I | RKP". redkiteprayer.com. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Jim Schwarb. "Pedaling Through 50 Years of Little 500 History". Indiana Alumni Magazine. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  11. ^ Jim Caple (May 3, 2007). "Nothing little about IU's Little 500". ESPN Sports.
  12. ^ Zoroya, G. (April 7, 2000). "Breaking 50 in Bloomington, Ind., The Little 500 Bicycle Race Outpaces Even Its Own 'Breaking Away' Myth". USA Today. p. 01D.
  13. ^ Bambino by Steve Tesich. 1978. The Script Lab. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  14. ^ a b Janet Maslin (July 18, 1979). "Breaking Away (1979)". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "These New Photos Show Rooftop Is Inaccessible But Not Destroyed". Limestone Post Magazine. May 16, 2016. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  16. ^ Roger Ebert (January 1, 1979). "Breaking Away".
  17. ^ "Review: 'Breaking Away'". Variety magazine. December 31, 1978.
  18. ^ a b Dave Kehr. "Breaking Away". Chicago Reader.
  19. ^ "Breaking Away (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  20. ^ "Breaking Away Reviews". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  21. ^ The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. The New York Times via Internet Archive. Published April 29, 2003. Retrieved June 12, 2008.
  22. ^ Fabrikant, Geri (April 16, 1980). "NBC Pays $5 Mil For Fox' 'Breaking Away' In Hopes Of Bolstering Its Ratings". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  23. ^ "52nd Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  24. ^ "33rd BAFTA Awards". BAFTA.org. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  25. ^ "37th Annual Golden Globe Awards". GoldenGlobes.org. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  26. ^ "Writers Guild Confers Awards". Los Angeles Times. April 4, 1980. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  27. ^ "1st Annual Youth in Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  28. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Sports". American Film Institute.
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time". American Film Institute.
  30. ^ "We list down 7 Bollywood films inspired from Hollywood".
  31. ^ "Classic Revisited: Aamir Khan's coming-of-age in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar". Rediff. Retrieved November 13, 2014.

External links[edit]