One of the few collaborations of 80s comedy legends John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, The Great Outdoors follows two families as they go on vacation. One set of relations is a hard-working family with very little money who want to share a special break together, whilst the other family are the extremely wealthy in-laws who seem to want nothing other than to show off their riches.
The Great Outdoors isn’t necessarily the best-loved film of anyone involved, but there’s still a lot to be said in its favour, and here are some facts about the film which you might not have known.
20. It was the third and final collaboration of John Hughes and Howard Deutch
As well as boasting two of the biggest comedy superstars of the decade in front of the camera, The Great Outdoors featured an iconic 80s duo behind the camera as well. The film was written and co-produced by the legendarily prolific John Hughes, with Howard Deutch directing.
Deutch was a protege of Hughes, who had previously called the shots on two films written by the 80s teen movie pioneer: the classic romantic comedy dramas Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. The Great Outdoors proved to be the last collaboration between Hughes and Deutch; the director now works extensively in television.
19. It was the only time John Candy and Dan Aykroyd shared top billing
Both hailing from Canada, Aykroyd and Candy had worked together on comedy series SCTV before breaking into the movies, and had co-starred in 1941 and The Blues Brothers. However, it wasn’t until The Great Outdoors that the two men shared top billing on a movie.
Later, Aykroyd would enlist Candy (along with Chevy Chase and Demi Moore) to star in his 1991 directorial debut Nothing but Trouble. Unfortunately for Aykroyd, this proved to be an expensive flop, and the noted funnyman has never directed another movie since.
18. It gave Annette Bening her first film role
Aykroyd and Candy play mismatched brothers-in-law, whilst their sister wives are portrayed by Stephanie Faracy and a then-unknown Annette Bening. The Great Outdoors was in fact Bening’s very first movie, the actress having previously worked in television and theatre.
Two years later, Bening would be Oscar-nominated for her performance in The Grifters. In the years since Bening has been nominated three times for the Best Actress Oscar (for American Beauty, Being Julia and The Kids are Alright) as well as appearing in such hits as Captain Marvel.
17. It was originally entitled Big Country
When The Great Outdoors went into production, it was under John Hughes’ original choice of title, Big Country. However, 1988 also saw the release of Big, the fantasy comedy-drama which cast Tom Hanks as a boy whose wish for adulthood is mysteriously granted.
This being the case, there were concerns that the title Big Country was too similar to this other film, and might cause some confusion among cinemagoers (despite the completely different plots of each film). For this reason, it was decided to come up with a new title, and they settled on The Great Outdoors.
16. The restaurant burned down soon after filming
The restaurant seen in the film is called Ducey’s Bar and Grill, and it was famously home to the “Old 96er!” Far from being made up for the movie, this was indeed a real restaurant based on the shores of Bass Lake in California, where The Great Outdoors was filmed.
Sadly, the original Ducey’s Bar and Grill was razed by a fire not long after The Great Outdoors shot scenes there. The restaurant has since been rebuilt, and does a roaring trade thanks in part to its connection to the movie; the place contains a lot of posters and memorabilia from the Great Outdoors.
15. Lake Potowotominimac doesn’t actually exist
The Great Outdoors is set around Lake Potowotominimac in Wisconsin. However, we hope no fans of the film have ever set out across Wisconsin in search of it, as they’re liable to end up sorely disappointed – for in reality, no such lake actually exists.
As a matter of fact, the cast and crew of The Great Outdoors never even set foot in Wisconsin (whilst working on the film, at least). The principal location used in the movie was Bass Lake in California, whilst the cabin was a set built on the Universal Studios backlot.
14. Chevy Chase and Bill Murray were considered for Dan Aykroyd’s role
The Great Outdoors was a slight break from the norm for John Candy, as he plays a comparative straight man role to the more overbearing Aykroyd. This was pretty much the exact opposite of the role Candy played in Planes, Trains and Automobiles opposite Steve Martin.
It was a little different for Aykroyd too, and he wasn’t the first choice to play Roman. John Hughes first offered the role to Chevy Chase, who declined due to a scheduling clash. Next he approached Bill Murray, who passed as he was taking a hiatus from acting at the time.
13. Some characters share names with other John Hughes creations
It’s been said that John Hughes’ movies all exist within a shared cinematic universe. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much crossover with other Hughes-scripted films in The Great Outdoors, but the film does share some common ground with other Hughes movies thanks to the character names.
John Candy plays a man named Chet, which was also the name of Bill Paxton’s character in Weird Science. Meanwhile, Chris Young co-stars as Chet’s son, Buck; and the following year, Candy himself would play a character with that name in the hit comedy Uncle Buck – written and directed by, you guessed it, John Hughes.
12. It was only a minor critical and commercial success
Given the wealth of talent involved, hopes were high that The Great Outdoors would prove to be a comedy smash on a par with John Hughes’ 1987 hit Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which also starred John Candy. Sadly for those involved, this did not turn out to be the case.
The Great Outdoors earned just $43.4 million at the box office, having cost a reported $24 million to make. As a film generally has to earn back twice its budget to make a profit, this rendered it a bit of a flop. The film also attracted a middling reviews: today it has a 40% score at Rotten Tomatoes.
11. A remake starring Kevin Hart was announced in 2017
Although it wasn’t the biggest hit, The Great Outdoors has proved to have enough enduring popularity to warrant a remake. Studio Universal announced plans for a new take on the film in 2017 with Kevin Hart pegged to star, although little has been heard on the matter since.
Curiously, this isn’t the only John Hughes/John Candy-related remake that Kevin Hart has been linked to: it’s also been reported that the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle actor will appear alongside Will Smith in a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
10. The poster was modelled on British magazine The Great Outdoors
When the film’s title was changed from Big Country to The Great Outdoors, there was one small issue: The Great Outdoors was also the name of a British magazine aimed at hikers and countryside enthusiasts. Happily, the filmmakers were able to secure the rights to the title.
On top of that, the film’s marketing materials also wound up paying homage to the magazine, as the poster was modelled closely on the layout of the magazine’s typical cover artwork. The Great Outdoors is still in print today, although it’s artwork has naturally undergone some revisions over the years.
9. Aykroyd repeats one of his famous lines from Ghostbusters
Dan Aykroyd has long been most famous for Ghostbusters. On top of coming up with the idea and co-writing the screenplay to the 1984 film with Harold Ramis, Aykroyd is also synonymous with the role of Dr. Ray Stantz, which he would later reprise in three further films (if we count his cameo in Casper).
The Great Outdoors arrived four years after Ghostbusters, and Aykroyd’s performance as Roman Craig includes a nod to Ray Stantz. On catching a bat that has invaded the cabin, Roman proudly declares, “we got it, we got it!” These are the exact words Aykroyd says in Ghostbusters after they catch the ghost popularly known as Slimer.
8. Candy and Aykroyd drink a real Wisconsin beer
Although the Wisconsin-set comedy The Great Outdoors was in reality shot in its entirety in California, there are certain minor details which are accurate to the upper mid-western state. Perhaps most notably, the beer that we see drunk by characters in the film is a genuine Wisconsin product.
The beer in question is Point Special Beer, a lager brewed in Point Stevens, Wisconsin which is very popular in the state. The Great Outdoors features multiple scenes in which this beer is consumed; it’s also advertised on a prominent neon sign in a bar scene.
7. ‘Paul Bunyon’s Cupboard’ is based on a real Wisconsin restaurant
Who doesn’t enjoy a good competitive eating challenge? The Great Outdoors features one of the most famous of these, when Candy’s Chet takes the family to restaurant Paul Bunyon’s Cupboard and attempts to eat a gargantuan steak known as the ‘Old 96er.’
The restaurant was closely modelled on a real Wisconsin eatery known as Paul Bunyon’s Cook Shanty. This remains a popular tourist destination in Wisconsin Dells to this day, although some may disappointed to learn they don’t offer a 96-ounce steak challenge.
6. It’s got a post-credits scene
These days, post-credits scenes seem almost obligatory on most blockbuster films since they became a staple of Marvel. It’s easy to forget that such scenes did occasionally appear in earlier films: John Hughes movies brought us some notable ones, famously at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The Great Outdoors (though not directed by Hughes himself) also sports a final scene after the end credits. This amusing prologue gives us a subtitled conversation between the raccoons about the bald-headed bear, who tell us the bear’s name is Jody, and that she’s now bald on both ends after being shot in the rear.
5. There are nods to The Blues Brothers
As well as featuring a sly reference back to Ghostbusters, The Great Outdoors also features subtle nods to Dan Aykroyd’s other great enduring hit, The Blues Brothers (which, lest we forget, also featured John Candy in a minor supporting role). You’ll need to watch very closely to catch them, however.
Watch the end credits, and you’ll note that one song on the soundtrack, Dragboat, is listed as being performed by the Elwood Blues Revue; this, of course, was the name of Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers character. The ‘Loon’s Nest’ cabin set was also built on the same location used as Bob’s Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers.
4. Roman’s daughters were also Harrison Ford’s daughters in The Mosquito Coast
Dan Aykroyd’s Roman and Anette Bening’s Kate have twin daughters, Mara and Cara, who are conspicuous by their total lack of dialogue. These characters were portrayed by the real life twin sisters Hilary and Rebecca Gordon, in one of their few screen credits.
Hilary and Rebecca Gordon sisters had previously appeared in one other film, again portraying the daughters of a notable screen couple: they appeared in 1986 drama The Mosquito Coast, as the children of Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, and the younger sisters of River Phoenix. These are the only major film credits of the Gordon sisters.
3. Chevy Chase turned the film down to make another country-based comedy, Funny Farm
Dan Aykroyd’s role of Roman Craig in The Great Outdoors had originally been intended for Chevy Chase, as screenwriter John Hughes had previously worked with Chase on the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. However, Chase had to decline as he had already signed on to make another film, Funny Farm.
Ironically, Funny Farm has a similar premise to The Great Outdoors: Chase plays a high-flier from the city who decides to try his hand at country life, with comedic results. The two films wound up opening at the box office within two weeks of one another in June 1988, and neither of them proved to be a big hit.
2. The original trailer includes scenes that didn’t make it to the movie
One pet hate of a great many moviegoers is when the trailer presents snippets of scenes which, once the final film is released, aren’t actually included in the end product. This turned out to be the case with the original theatrical trailer for The Great Outdoors.
Among the scenes teased by the trailer, there’s a moment of John Candy’s Chet talking to a mounted moose head in the cabin as if it’s an old friend, as well as Dan Aykroyd’s Roman belching and laughing loudly. None of these moments can be found in the film that made it to screens.
1. It’s set in the summer, but was shot in the fall
The Great Outdoors is a summer movie, and was released to cinemas in June 1988. However, as is a common problem for such films, it wound up going into production at a different time of year: cameras rolled for three weeks between October and November 1987.
While this didn’t present too great an issue for the interior scenes, it naturally presented a problem for sequences shot in the great outdoors themselves. To this end, professional greensman Dennis Benda was hired to help decorate the trees and green areas to appear as they would at the height of summer.