Tucker: The Man and His Dream was released in the United States on August 12, 1988, earning $3,709,562 in its opening weekend in 720 theaters. The film eventually grossed $19.65 million in US totals and was declared a box office bomb because it did not reimburse its $24 million production budget, despite positive reviews. Pocket Books published a novelization written by Robert Tine to coincide with the release of the film. Paramount Home Video released Tucker: The Man and His Dream on DVD in October 2000, which included audio commentary by Coppola, the 1948 promotional film Tucker: The Man and the Car (with optional commentary by Coppola), as well as a making-of featurette, Under the Hood: Making Tucker.
Critical reaction was mainly positive. Based on 37 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 84% of the critics enjoyed the film with an average score of 7.2/10. By comparison Metacritic calculated an average score of 74/100, based on 13 reviews. Richard Schickel of Time magazine praised the film for its exaggerated kitsch style. He also believed the role of Preston Tucker to be Jeff Bridges' best performance. Janet Maslin from The New York Times agreed, writing that Coppola, known for his dark approach on his previous films, "found the directorial range to actually make a feel-good movie." In addition, Desson Thomson, writing in The Washington Post, called the film a "satisfying commercial breakthrough for Coppola," and praised the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, as well as the ubiquitous approach for Dean Stockwell's cameo appearance as Howard Hughes. Roger Ebert gave a mixed review. "Preston Tucker lacks an ounce of common sense or any notion of the real odds against him. And since the movie never really deals with that - never really comes to grips with Tucker's character - it begins as a saga but ends in whimsy."
Although Coppola enjoyed his working relationship with Lucas, he commented in a July 1988 The New York Times interview with Robert Lindsey that "I think it's a good movie - it's eccentric, a little wacky, like the Tucker car - but it's not the movie I would have made at the height of my power." Coppola was able to stoically accept the critical and commercial reaction to Tucker: The Man and His Dream. "Every time in my career I tried to make, dare I say it, an art film, it never did well."
Despite helming his "labor of love," Coppola was insistent that Tucker: The Man and His Dream would be his last Hollywood project. He reiterated a long-held dream of his own, embarking on a "period of amateurism and experimentation as a Hollywood dropout." One of the unexpected benefits of the film's release was a renewed interest in the Tucker automobile and a boost in the collector's value of the Tucker 48; a recent auction of a low-mileage example topped the $1 million mark.