National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - Rotten Tomatoes

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)



Critic Consensus: The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live's irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate.

National Lampoon's Animal House Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

Director John Landis put himself on the map with this low-budget, fabulously successful comedy, which made a then-astounding 62 million dollars and started a slew of careers for its cast in the process. National Lampoon's Animal House is set in 1962 on the campus of Faber College in Faber, PA. The first glimpse we get of the campus is the statue of its founder Emil Faber, on the base of which is inscribed the motto, "Knowledge Is Good." Incoming freshmen Larry "Pinto" Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent "Flounder" Dorfman (Stephen Furst) find themselves rejected by the pretentious Omega fraternity, and instead pledge to Delta House. The Deltas are a motley fraternity of rejects and maladjusted undergraduates (some approaching their late twenties) whose main goal -- seemingly accomplished in part by their mere presence on campus -- is disrupting the staid, peaceful, rigidly orthodox, and totally hypocritical social order of the school, as represented by the Omegas and the college's dean, Vernon Wormer (John Vernon). Dean Wormer decides that this is the year he's going to get the Deltas expelled and their chapter decertified; he places the fraternity on "double secret probation" and, with help from Omega president Greg Marmalard (James Daughton) and hard-nosed member Doug Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf), starts looking for any pretext on which to bring the members of the Delta fraternity up on charges. The Deltas, oblivious to the danger they're in, are having a great time, steeped in irreverence, mild debauchery, and occasional drunkenness, led by seniors Otter (Tim Matheson), Hoover (James Widdoes), D-Day (Bruce McGill), Boon (Peter Riegert), and pledge master John "Bluto" Blutarsky (John Belushi). They're given enough rope to hang themselves, but even then manage to get into comical misadventures on a road trip (where they arrange an assignation with a group of young ladies from Emily Dickinson University). Finally, they are thrown out of school, and, as a result, stripped of their student deferments (and, thus, eligible for the draft). They decide to commit one last, utterly senseless (and screamingly funny) slapstick act of rebellion, making a shambles of the university's annual homecoming parade, and, in the process, getting revenge on the dean, the Omegas, and everyone else who has ever gone against them. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovimore
Rating: R (N/A)
Genre: Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Chris Miller III, Harold Ramis, Chris Miller, Douglas Kenney, John Hughes
In Theaters:
On DVD: Feb 24, 1998
Universal Pictures - Official Site


Tom Hulce
as Larry "Pinto" Kroger
Stephen Furst
as Flounder
John Vernon
as Dean Wormer
Kevin Bacon
as Chip Diller
Mary Louise Weller
as Mandy Pepperidge
James Daughton
as Greg Marmalard
Donald Sutherland
as Prof. Dave Jennings
Mark Metcalf
as Douglas C. Neidermey...
Verna Bloom
as Marion Wormer
Sarah Holcomb
as Clorette De Pasto
Cesare Danova
as Mayor Carmine De Pas...
James Widdoes
as Robert Hoover
Pricilla Lauris
as Dean's Secretary
Lisa Baur
as Shelly
Chris Miller
as Hardbar
Joshua Daniel
as Mothball
Sunny Johnson
as Otter's Co-ed
Stephen Bishop
as Charming Guy with Gu...
Eliza Roberts
as Brunella
Robert Elliott
as Meaner Dude
Reginald H. Farmer
as Meanest Dude
Priscilla Lauris
as Dean's Secretary
Rick Eby
as Omega
John Freeman
as Man on Street
Sean McCartin
as Lucky Boy
Helen Vick
as Sorority Girl
Eliza Garrett
as Brunella
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for National Lampoon's Animal House

Critic Reviews for National Lampoon's Animal House

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (7)

You may not care to take up permanent spiritual residence at Animal House, but it's funny place to visit.

Full Review… | July 31, 2015
Washington Post
Top Critic

While the low comedy is undeniably effective, the film leaves behind a bad taste of snobbery and petty meanness.

Full Review… | July 25, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The Lampoon people understand the darkest secret of an American college education: one of the noblest reasons to go is to spend four years studying sex.

Full Review… | July 25, 2007
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

There's enough bite and bawdiness to provide lots of smiles and several broad guffaws.

Full Review… | July 25, 2007
Top Critic

An unashamed sense of its own fantasy is coupled with classically mounted slapstick; nostalgia mixes with cynicism in seductive proportions; and John Belushi's central performance as brain-damaged slob-cum-Thief of Baghdad is wonderful.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

National Lampoon's Animal House is by no means one long howl, but it's often very funny, with gags that are effective in a dependable, all-purpose way.

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for National Lampoon's Animal House


National Lampoon's Animal House presents a subversive and funny screenplay and the talents by John Landis in direction and John Belushi in the cast. Animal House, for sure is a great inspiration for the 80's comedy movies, and to a unforgetable generation of comedians and to everyone that lived these time. Crude humor and good entertaining. Fresh.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer


When I reviewed Basic Instinct three years ago, I talked about the reputation of erotic thrillers, commenting that they are "often lumped together with horror movies as the stuff that 'sensible', 'reasonable' citizens wouldn't touch with a twenty-foot pole." You could add gross-out comedies to this list of untouchable genres, and you might have a case given the quality of Superbad and its recent counterparts. But just as dismissing all erotic thrillers would prevent us from having fun with Paul Verhoeven, so to dismiss gross-outs outright would lead us to overlook the qualities of the film which created that genre.

National Lampoon's Animal House is the first, best and perhaps only good film to carry the National Lampoon brand. Its combination of bad taste humour, top-notch performances and countercultural undercurrents has ensured its place in the history of American comedies. It remains one of the highest-grossing American films of all time, and the standard to which all subsequent gross-out comedies aspire. Not everything about it works after 36 years, but its importance cannot be underestimated.

Together with John Landis' previous film, the TV parody Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House created the majority of the clichés and conventions which we now associate with gross-out comedies. There is the emphasis on physical comedy, which extends into jokes about bodily fluids and human anatomy. There is the utter contempt for authority, civility or maturity, with the protagonists showing no respect or ambition towards people with short hair in suits. There is the raucous, energetic storytelling, with boisterous acting and big emotions from all the cast. And, most of all, there are those difficult moments in which you're either laughing your face off or covering your eyes, feeling really quite ashamed at what just happened on screen.

It's very difficult to review a gross-out comedy without simply listing all the individual gags and commenting on how outré or disgusting they are. Subsequent gross-out efforts like Porky's often resorted to taking similar gags and either seeing just how far they could push them or just cutting to the chase a lot quicker. An example would be the scene where Bluto sneaks over to the Omega House to watch the girls undress from the top of a ladder. While in Animal House he makes the effort to watch them for a while, even shuffling the ladder along to see into the next room, in Porky's the girls are shoved straight into the shower and the boys look on with little effort to withhold themselves.

While you have to keep reminding yourself to see the film as a product of its time, many of the jokes in Animal House are still hilarious today. The accidental killing of Neidermeyer's horse is very well done, with John Belushi's widening eyes and repeated utterance of "Ho-ly shit!". Most of the best jokes are at Neidermeyer's expense, whether it's being dragged along the football field by his horse or being trampled during the food fight. The quick sight gags are also well-assembled, such as Dean Wormer reading Bluto his grades, only to find Bluto has put two pencils up his nose, preceding Rowan Atkinson's famous ploy in Blackadder Goes Forth.

When Animal House was first released, it was accused by large sections of the press of being mean-spirited. In fact, what has made the film last so long, and age so relatively well, is the amount of heart that it has. We have genuine affection for the characters even at their most outrageous, and we have a stake in their actions because we are always rooting for the underdogs. Dorfman and Kroger (a.k.a. Flounder and Pinto) are the heart and soul of the film, being every bit as socially awkward and inept as we were in our first years of university.

The film is constructed in a way which betrays not only the upstart nature of the magazine, but Landis' love for old comedies. The film opens with our two protagonists going to the Omega fraternity welcome party, and promptly being shoved into a quiet corner with the other outcasts, out of the way of the snooty, 'clever' people. The trappings and sense of humour aside, it's not so different from what Charlie Chaplin used to do, putting the Tramp around 'respectable' people in authority and then bursting their egos to either win the day or get the girl (sometimes both).

The other big reason for Animal House's endearing popularity is its countercultural subtext. While the magazine was very much a product of the 1970s, Animal House is set in 1962, dubbed by co-writer Douglas Kenney as "the last innocent year... in America". What appears on the surface to be a bunch of overgrown teenagers fooling around and being idiots becomes something of a harbinger for the youth-led revolution that would sweep America as the decade went on. The film doesn't go into any great detail on this, let alone become political, but it is important not to overlook this setting.

Viewed through this kind of prism, it isn't hard to see why the film became such a big hit with young audiences. While the hippie rebellions of the 1960s were long dead by the time of its release, it epitomised and captured the fantasy of so many young people, to fight against the established order and eschew the values of their parents. Most of the 'adult' characters - Dean Wormer, Greg, the vast majority of Omega house - are characterised as complete squares, who deserve to be run out of town for being so boringly pro-establishment. Only Donald Sutherland's pot-smoking English professor is spared the rod, being down with the kids enough to get Karen Allen to sleep with him.

This brings us on to a further asset of the film, namely the relatively decent way in which it treats its female characters. It's hardly going to win any prizes for equal opportunities, but neither is it as openly leering or sleazy as one might expect. Some of this is down simply to period details - girls' underwear was more complicated in the 1960s and there was a lot more of it. But Landis is careful to give a couple of his actresses room for manoeuvre, with Karen Allen making the very most of her role. She's neither a self-obsessed, pulchritudinous cheerleader like Kim Cattrall in Porky's or a bookish nerd who couldn't buy a boyfriend.

The performances in Animal House are of a very good standard given the inexperience of both the cast and the director. Landis' biggest coup is being able (for the most part) to rein in John Belushi, getting him to focus his energy where Steven Spielberg let him flounder in 1941. He's not entirely in control, particularly during the final set-piece, but there are hints in the performance he gets from Belushi of the great work they would do in The Blues Brothers.

Elsewhere John Vernon is brilliantly intimidating as Dean Wormer, using his distinctive voice and uptight physique to be both threatening and spineless. Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert are a perfect team as Otter and Boon respectively, with the golf scene summing up their endearing kinship. Donald Sutherland makes the most of his brief appearance (which includes a shot of his backside) and Karen Allen holds her own against the male cast, just as she would do in Starman or Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The problems with Animal House can be divided into two camps. The first, and more forgivable, are the technical shortcomings, which can be largely put down to Landis' lack of experience. The ramming of the parade stand is poorly edited, with the Deltas' car taking an awfully long time to cover two yards, and the payoff of the Dean and other dignitaries leaping into shot isn't really worth the effort. We could put much of the final sequence into this camp, with underwhelming crowd choreography and poor timing on a couple of gags.

The second camp concerns the moments when the film oversteps the mark. There's not much point getting offended by Animal House, since it exists to provoke an emotional response that will separate those who get it from those who are too old or dull to understand. Nevertheless, the subplot about Pinto supposedly molesting a young girl really shouldn't be there: it's not narratively integral, as well as not being pretty.

National Lampoon's Animal House remains the benchmark for the gross-out comedy genre it helped to create. Landis' later comedies like Trading Places would be more technically proficient, and not all of its material holds up to present-day scrutiny. But the anarchic spirit and enjoyably bad taste remains intact, making it essential viewing for comedy fans - even those who are on double secret probation.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer


Third time seeing and it still remains a hilarious, worthwhile classic.

Matthew Samuel Mirliani
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

Super Reviewer

National Lampoon's Animal House Quotes

– Submitted by Dutch E (2 years ago)
– Submitted by David E (2 years ago)
– Submitted by David E (2 years ago)
– Submitted by Joseph B (3 years ago)

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