'Animal House': Best Summer Blockbusters, No. 9
Fat, drunk, and stupid may not be the best way to go through life, but it sure does create one memorable film character!
Movies have often been set in and around college campuses, but none quite like Animal House. From toga parties to food fights, the film not only introduced us to many collegiate cinematic clichés, but pretty much reinvented the entire genre. When you think of a college movie, you think of Animal House.
John Belushi made a huge leap from TV onto the big screen as Bluto, the exact opposite of what you think a fraternity boy would look like back in 1962 when the film is set. Now, Belushi and his character have become the poster child for frat life. The movie was director John Landis’ third feature, but the first to be produced by the popular humor magazine National Lampoon.
In addition to Belushi’s film debut, Animal House also introduced us to young pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen before she started to hang out with Indiana Jones. Who cares about the lost ark when you have the Deltas and a sweet story of unadulterated revenge. Now, I want you to know (oh, I want you to know right now) why Animal House is the next Summer Blockbuster on our list to make us want to shout!
Release Date: July 28, 1978
The Competition: In theory, Animal House shouldn’t have done as well as it did against a pretty crowded summer box office with big name franchises producing sequels like Jaws 2, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and The Revenge of the Pink Panther. Animal House would go on to make more money than those three films combined. On the other end of the school-setting spectrum, Grease opened in the beginning of the summer of 1978 — but those students generally attracted a different audience. Luckily for both films, The Bee Gees had a massive flop with their failed crossover attempt Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when it opened a week before Animal House.
Box Office: $141.6 million domestic ($276,528 opening weekend in 12 theaters.)
What EW said: “What is so peculiarly discomfiting about watching Animal House… is how tame and placid and oddly genial it now seems. In its original release, the story of an outlaw fraternity taking on a rival house of bumbling crypto-fascists and a weaselly college administrator was the heady distillation of boorish charm and slovenly anarchic cool (large strands of Animal‘s DNA can be found in campus capers like Revenge of the Nerds and Old School). But if time has softened the comedy, it has only enhanced our appreciation of John Belushi’s man-child Bluto: His manic energy (”Food fight!”) and sly, arched-brow humor (”My advice to you is to start drinking heavily”) provide the solid foundation for this old House. B+” – Wook Kim
Cultural Impact Then: When the movie was being made, not many people knew of National Lampoon or who Landis or writers Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney were. Animal House launched their careers into the comedic stratosphere with such follow up films like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and The Blues Brothers. Animal House remains the most successful movie in the National Lampoon franchise which has since spawned a number of both good (National Lampoon’s Vacation, Van Wilder) and some not-so-good films (Barely Legal…anybody? Nobody.) John Belushi also was a pioneer in the emerging trend of comedic actors from Saturday Night Live taking the time during the week to take their skills to the big screen. Belushi actually traveled back and forth from New York to the Oregon set during the week for both jobs. Thanks to that commitment to the art of spitting out mashed potatoes, many SNL cast members are now getting more jobs in film, and probably a lot less sleep.
Cultural Staying Power: It would be easy to say that there is a bit of Animal House in every National Lampoon movie that followed, but it’s kind of true. In fact, there is a little bit of Animal House in any modern college film from Revenge of the Nerds to Old School to next month’s Neighbors. On a personal level, any guy who has been in a fraternity in college like the Deltas or the Omegas has had at least one cliched moment that was brilliantly mocked in the movie, or wanted one at least. Sorry Mom and Dad, but I have been to more than one toga party in my life, and I have done plenty of shouting at said parties. The animals in the house are all underdogs that no matter when you watch the film in your own life, you want to route for. And if you don’t, well you can always join the Peace Corps.