Grand Theft Auto (1977): Ron Howard’s Feature Debut

Ron Howard made his feature directorial debut with the action comedy Grand Auto Thef, the only movie in his career that he both directed and starred in.

Grand Theft Auto
Grand theft auto poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster by John Solie

He also wrote the screenplay with his real-life father Rance Howard, who also co-starred.

The title of the film, which is set in Los Angeles, derives from the crime grand theft auto, which is committed a number of times by several different characters.

Paula Powers’ (Nancy Morgan) wealthy parents, Bigby (Barry Cahill) and Priscilla Powers (Elizabeth Rogers), want her to marry Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke), who hails from wealthy family.

However, Paula is really in love with classmate Sam Freeman (Ron Howard), an environmental research major, who her dad dismisses as “fortune hunter.”

Bigby threatens to disinherit her and take away her sports car (that she had bought with her own money) if she disobeys him.

Though met with negative critical response, Grand Auto Theft was popular at the box-office.


Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Rance Howard and Ron Howard
Produced by Jon Davison
Cinematography Gary Graver
Edited by Joe Dante
Music by Peter Ivers
Distributed by New World Pictures (Roger Corman)

Release date: June 18, 1977

Running time: 84 minutes
Budget $602,000
Box office $15 million