National Lampoon’s Animal House was not only a box office hit, but a culturally significant film that helped define and shape the ‘gross-out’ subgenre. The movie – which follows the trouble-making Delta fraternity at the fictional Faber College – is notable for being John Belushi’s first, but it also helped further the careers of actors including Thomas Hulce, Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon.
Here are some things you probably never knew about this hilarious film.
30. The studio feared one scene would cause race riots, until Richard Pryor reassured them
One of Animal House’s most memorable scenes has to be when the Deltas walk into a roadhouse exclusively for African-Americans. However, this moment was almost scrapped entirely due to studio concerns about how audiences would respond. Director John Landis, speaking to Cigar Aficionado in 2018, said: “[Universal Pictures President Ned Tanen] was convinced that there were going to be race riots across America because of that scene.”
Thankfully, an intervention from the esteemed comedian and actor Richard Pryor meant that the scene got the green light. Landis organised a screening for Pryor, who then wrote to Universal’s Ned Tanen to assure him that the scene was OK. The comedy legend wrote, “Ned. Animal House is f*****g funny, and white people are crazy. Richard.”
29. John Belushi improvised the cafeteria scene
Amazingly, John Belushi’s performance in the cafeteria scene – in which in Bluto takes bites out of doughnuts and burgers, inhales jelly and piles up an overflowing mountain of food on his tray – was entirely improvised on the spot. Animal House director John Landis urged the camera operator to “stay with him” as Belushi began going off-script. The famous “I’m a zit” joke – which sees Bluto spit food all over a bunch of Omegas – was also made up by Belushi on the spot.
Interestingly, Landis himself was meant to make a cameo in this scene, but this was ultimately cut. In the deleted scene, Landis appears as a cafeteria dishwasher who attempts to stop Bluto from pinching so much food. Bluto then throws Landis to the ground and says “You don’t f*** with the eagles unless you know how to fly.”
28. Donald Sutherland turned down the chance to be paid a percentage of the film’s (ultimately huge) profits
Nowadays, Animal House is widely regarded as one of the best comedy films of all time. Back in the 70s, however, nobody could have guessed just how successful the movie would become. Donald Sutherland, who stars in the film as Professor Dave Jennings, was one person who was convinced that the film would be a box office flop.
Sutherland was so certain that the film would bomb that he insisted on being paid upfront, rather than receiving a percentage of the film’s gross profits. Eventually a deal was settled, and Sutherland walked away with $50,000. Not a bad payday, but Sutherland could have taken home a whole lot more. The actor had been offered 2% of the film’s gross profits, which would have left him nearly $3 million better off.
27. It was originally supposed to star Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase
Although Animal House is remembered as a comedy classic, its cast only includes one bona fide comedy star: John Belushi. Belushi had got an early break working with National Lampoon on their stage productions and radio shows, before really hitting the big time on Saturday Night Live. Originally, it was hoped that a few of Belushi’s fellow SNL stars – who had also done early work with National Lampoon – would join him in Animal House.
The plan was to cast Chevy Chase as Otter, Bill Murray as Boon, Bryan Doyle-Murray as Hoover and Dan Aykroyd as D-Day, alongside Belushi’s Bluto. However, aside from Belushi none of them wanted to do it; on top of which, director John Landis was wary of it turning into an SNL movie. Subsequently, Landis cast lesser-known actors without a comedy background, including Tim Matheson and Tom Hulce.
26. A Summer of Love-set sequel was planned, but was scrapped after Belushi’s death
After Animal House proved a massive commercial success, there was naturally soon talk of a follow-up film. Studio Universal Pictures were pushing for a sequel, and a general concept for the film was put together. The plan was for Animal House 2 to be set in 1967, against the backdrop of the famed Summer of Love.
The film would have seen the Deltas reunited at the wedding of Tim Matheson’s Otter. However, after More American Graffiti (another high-profile comedy sequel set in the 60s) proved a flop, the studio put Animal House 2 on the back burner. Finally, the sequel was scrapped altogether following the untimely death of John Belushi in 1982.
25. Landis took the Delta actors to get their 1960s haircuts at a local barbershop
Although Animal House had a Hollywood budget behind it, it proved difficult to get the cast’s hair just right. Reports vary on why the crew’s assigned hairdresser wasn’t up to the job. Some say the hairdresser was fired after requesting too much time off. Other reports claim that the hairdresser simply wasn’t experienced enough to execute authentic-looking 60s-style haircuts.
Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that getting the Delta actors to look the part was quite an ordeal. Eventually, Landis took the cast to a local barber shop and simply asked the barber if he could replicate some 60s-style cuts. The barber agreed and cut all of the actors’ hair, one by one, there and then.
24. The frat house itself was barely damaged during production
For a film as rip-roaring as Animal House, with some notorious party animals in the cast, you might things got raucous on set. It may come as a surprise, then, that the ‘Animal House’ itself – University of Oregon’s Eugene building – was left almost entirely intact after filming wrapped. The only damage inflicted on the property was the hole Belushi made in the wall with a guitar. This hole was left un-mended, not that the real-life fraternity who lived there were upset about this.
On the contrary, the Eugene building’s residents placed a frame and plaque around the hole to commemorate it. Sadly, this piece of history didn’t last long: the Eugene building was demolished back in 1986, just eight years after Animal House was released.
23. Kevin Bacon wasn’t allowed to sit with the rest of the cast at the premiere
Today, with over 40 years in the business and almost 100 acting credits on his résumé, Kevin Bacon is a household name. Back in 2009, the Guardian went as far as deeming Bacon one of the best actors to have never received an Academy Award nomination. (He still hasn’t had one over a decade later.) However, Bacon wasn’t always universally known and loved. Animal House was actually his first film, so back in 1978 he was still pretty unknown.
This led to a mishap at the film’s premiere. Unfortunately, when Bacon arrived, the ushers didn’t believe he was in the film. Because of this, Bacon had to sit right at the back of the cinema with regular cinema-goers while the cast and crew watched the film together. Still, it’s fair to say Bacon got the last laugh, as he went on to enjoy a far more prominent career than most of his Animal House co-stars.
22. The song Louie Louie was actually investigated by the FBI
One scene sees Bluto teach everyone the hidden “dirty lyrics” in the Kingsmen’s 1963 hit song, Louie Louie. Interestingly, this scene is based on a real-life investigation that was conducted by the FBI between 1963 and 1965. Apparently, the crime-busting agency spent over two years trying to find a hidden, illicit meaning in the song.
The investigation was prompted by complaints from conservative groups which claimed that profanities were lurking behind the song’s muffled lyrics. Despite spending lots of time – and thousands of dollars – on the case, the FBI ultimately came to the conclusion that there were no obscene words in the song. In the decades since, Louie Louie has become one of the most widely covered songs in musical history, with some estimates saying it’s been re-recorded over 2,000 times.
21. The Delta cast went to a real frat party – and it ended in a drunken brawl
During filming, the Animal House cast were advised against ‘fraternising’ with real students at the University of Oregon. Of course, that didn’t stop them. One weekend, the cast of the Deltas accepted an invite from some UO girls to attend a real frat party at the university’s SAE house.
The only one of the Delta actors not present was John Belushi, who was still working on TV’s Saturday Night Live during production. The night didn’t go well – members of the real-life frat weren’t keen on the actors, which resulted in a drunken brawl. James Widdoes (who plays frat president Robert Hoover) ended up losing a few teeth after launching a cup of beer at a football player, while Bruce McGill (D-Day) received a black eye. When he heard of the fight on his return, Belushi had to be physically held back from going back out and seeking revenge against the students.
20. The University of Oregon gave permission for Animal House to film there because they regretted saying no to The Graduate
Most fans of Animal House will know that the comedy classic was filmed at the University of Oregon. However, did you know that acclaimed 1967 comedy drama The Graduate, starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman, was also originally meant to be shot there? In fact, the university president only allowed Animal House to be filmed on campus because he was so frustrated that he’d refused to let The Graduate be filmed there.
The president had neglected to read the screenplay of The Graduate, but when he saw it in theatres he instantly regretted his decision. Keen not to make the same mistake twice, he instantly accepted when producers came forward to ask if Oregon could be used for the shooting of Animal House. The Graduate was a huge hit and a multiple Academy Award nominee, ultimately landing Mike Nichols the Best Director Oscar. As for Animal House, the Academy overlooked it altogether.
19. The film made 47 times its budget back at the box office
National Lampoon’s Animal House proved to be an unexpectedly big hit at the box office. Director John Landis’ film was made on a fairly humble budget of $2.7 million. Generally speaking, so long as a film makes double its budget back at the box office, it’s considered profitable.
Animal House did considerably better than that, with its final box office takings coming in at a reported $141.6 million. As anyone with a calculator can tell you, that equates to a return of more than 47 times the film’s budget. That was one of the highest profit margins of any comedy film released in the 1970s.
18. It spawned a short-lived TV spin-off that gave Michelle Pfeiffer her first acting role
While we never got a big screen sequel to Animal House, the film did lead to a short-lived small screen spin-off. Delta House, a sitcom based around the characters from the film, premiered in 1979. The series saw the return of several actors from the movie: John Vernon as Dean Wormer, Stephen Furst as Flounder, Bruce McGill as D-Day, James Widdoes as Hoover, and Priscilla Lauris as Wormer’s secretary.
The show also gave future superstar Michelle Pfeiffer her very first screening acting credit, in a role known simply as The Bombshell. Only 13 episodes of Delta House were made, however, and the show’s early cancellation was largely due to clashes with TV network ABC. The makers of Delta House (which included a lot of the original National Lampoon team) frequently butted heads with ABC executives, who would not allow the show to get anywhere near as risqué as the movie had been.
17. Ghostbusters’ Ivan Reitman originally wanted to direct it
Animal House is co-produced by another figure who went on to major success with big screen comedy: Ivan Reitman. Early on in the development process, Reitman was keen to call the shots on the film himself. owever, at the time Reitman was fairly inexperienced in that department, having only directed micro-budget horror spoof Cannibal Girls.
Because of this, the job instead went to John Landis, who had more experience with big budget productions thanks to The Kentucky Fried Movie. Of course, in the years that followed Reitman would direct some major hits of his own: first Stripes, then most famously Ghostbusters. Reitman went on to direct many more major movies including Twins, Ghostbusters II, Kindergarten Cop and Junior, before passing away in February 2022.
16. Some real-life stories about the Delta fraternity were too “hateful” to shoot
The script for Animal House draws heavily on the real-life college experiences of writers Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney and Chris Miller. Miller’s experiences proved particularly key, as he actually belonged to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, and had delved into this in a series of short stories. Animal House shows its frat boys getting pretty outrageous – but some of Miller’s real-life stories were even more shocking.
A number of real-life anecdotes which Miller suggested for inclusion in the film were vetoed for fear of completely alienating the audience. For the sake of more sensitive readers, we won’t go into detail on these rejected scenes here, but suffice to say that humiliation, degradation and projectile vomit played a large part. The nastier elements were expunged at the insistence of director John Landis, who said of the original script, “It had a sense of anarchy and real wit… but it was kind of hateful.”
15. Meat Loaf was the second choice to play John Belushi’s role
- Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Animal House cemented the legend of sadly missed comedian John Belushi, giving him his first major movie role as John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky. However, if the Saturday Night Live star had not taken the role, director John Landis had an interesting back-up in mind. The second choice for Bluto behind Belushi was none other than the late rock superstar Meat Loaf.
The actor and singer (born Marvin Lee Aday) had worked largely in theatre up to that point. He had also made a notable appearance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, after appearing in the stage musical. Around the same time Animal House was released, Meat Loaf shot to fame with his best-selling debut album Bat Out of Hell.
14. Karen Allen only agreed to bare her bottom when Donald Sutherland said he’d do it too
Animal House features the debut film appearance of Karen Allen, who went on to the hits Raiders of the Lost Ark and Starman. Allen was one of the many female cast members in the film who was asked to appear nude on camera. While Allen was not asked to do full frontal nudity, director John Landis wanted her to show her bottom.
However, the actress has said since that she was not comfortable with the idea at first. She changed her mind when co-star Donald Sutherland offered to also bare his behind on camera. Allen recalls, “I thought he was so sweet to do that, so I sort of let go of my objections and said, ‘Okay, if Donald Sutherland is going to bare his bottom, by golly, I’ll bare mine too!'”
13. Harold Ramis wrote the part of Boon for himself, but John Landis turned him down because he was 33
The screenplay for Animal House was co-written by National Lampoon founders Doug Kenney and Chris Miller, with Harold Ramis. Like his peers, Ramis was another up-and-coming figure in 70s comedy who got his early break with National Lampoon, although he didn’t go on to work on SNL. At the time, Ramis was primarily a writer with limited acting experience: he had appeared on camera on TV comedy series Second City Television.
Originally, Ramis had written the character of Boon in the hopes of playing the part himself. However, director John Landis thought that Ramis (aged 33 at the time) looked too old to play a college kid, so Peter Riegert was cast instead (although Riegert was only three years younger). Ramis (who sadly passed away in 2014) would go on to star in Stripes and Ghostbusters, and would also move into directing with Caddyshack and Vacation.
12. Otis Day actor DeWayne Jessie legally changed his name to Otis Day after the film came out
Some people who appear in films get a bit worried about being forever associated with one specific film role. This clearly was not a big concern for the performer formerly known as DeWayne Jessie, who had been working throughout the 70s as a musician and bit-part actor before being cast as singer Otis Day in Animal House.
This character went down so well that Jessie wound up legally changing his name to Otis Day. He also purchased the rights to the name from Universal Studios, so he could perform and record as Otis Day and the Knights. Even so, Jessie/Day is actually just lip-synching in Animal House to vocals pre-recorded by singer Lloyd Williams.
11. Stephen Furst got his role by smuggling his picture and résumé to a producer in a pizza box
Animal House proved to be a major career turning point for most of its cast, not least Stephen Furst. At the time that Furst landed the role of Flounder, he’d been making a living delivering pizzas. An enterprising young actor, Furst found a way to worked his less-than-ideal employment to his advantage.
Anytime he was making a delivery to the office of any potentially powerful figure in the movie business, Furst would sneak in his picture and résumé with the pizza. Believe it or not, this approach actually paid off when Furst delivered a pizza to Matty Simmons, publisher of National Lampoon magazine. This was enough to get Furst’s foot in the door, and after a successful audition process he was cast in Animal House.
10. Babs actress Martha Smith swapped roles with Mary Louise Weller because of the peeping scene
One of the key ways that Animal House set the stage for the high school/frat house comedies that would follow was its use of female nudity. Voyeuristic scenes in which male characters peep on women became a staple of the gross-out comedy. Animal House started this, with the scene in which John Belushi’s Bluto uses a ladder to peep in the window of the sorority house.
Originally, the role of Mandy – the girl who Bluto is most anxious to spy on – was poised to be taken by actress Martha Smith. However, Smith was so uncomfortable with the scene’s content that she requested a different role, and wound up swapping with Mary Louise Weller. This is one of a number of sequences in Animal House that has been widely criticised over the years for its outdated, sexist attitudes.
9. The film had a tiny budget because the studio never believed it would be a hit
When work on Animal House began, so few people believed in the project that it’s half-surprising it even got made at all. As the film’s producer Ivan Reitman recalls, “The studio [Universal] didn’t want to make it. They only gave it a budget of $2.7 million, which was small even then.”
Happily, Animal House director John Landis had worked on lower budgets, and knew how to make the most of the money. Even so, there remained a lot of uncertainty as to how the film would go down with audiences. However, all such concerns were washed away when Animal House went down a storm at its first test screening. Reitman reflects, “That was one of the great screenings of my life. I’ve never seen an audience get into a movie like that. It was like a rock concert.”
8. The movie popularised the toga party
One of the most memorable sequences in Animal House is the Delta House toga party. Toga parties were a real tradition in some US colleges, dating back to the early 50s. However, in the wake of Animal House, the practice became more popular than ever before. In the years following the film’s release, recorded numbers of college toga parties went up at an astonishing rate.
Reportedly, some such parties proved so huge they had to be taken out of the frat houses and into football stadiums. At present, the Guinness world record for largest toga party is held by the University of Queensland, Australia, for a 2012 event with 3,700 toga-clad attendees.
7. The “food fight!” scene doesn’t actually feature a food fight
Another moment that everyone remembers from Animal House is when John Belushi’s Bluto yells, “food fight!” However, memory can be a funny thing, and if you haven’t seen Animal House for a while you might remember the scene a bit differently. In fact, the so-called food fight scene doesn’t really live up to its name at all, lasting all of a few seconds.
John Landis recalls, “They all take their food and [interestingly] enough, they don’t throw it at each other.” As the director explains, “They all throw it in the air – It’s one shot,” and no actual food fighting takes place. Despite this, Animal House is still a film that comes to mind whenever a food fight occurs on film, probably because of Belushi’s memorable cry.
6. The script was built around two rejected Harold Ramis screenplays
As is often the case in the movie business, the original story idea that eventually became Animal House was something very different. In fact, the Animal House script was built from not one, but two scripts by Harold Ramis which the National Lampoon team rejected. The first of these was a script entitled Freshman Year, which closely resembles Animal House in setting, though not in tone and content.
Freshman Year was a more serious and heartfelt script based around Ramis’ own experience as a college student in the early 60s. When this was turned down for not being in the correct National Lampoon spirit, Ramis and Doug Kenney co-wrote a far more outrageous comedy entitled Laser Orgy Girls, which featured a teenage Charles Manson meeting aliens. This too was passed over for being a little too extreme – so eventually Ramis, Kenney and Chris Miller reworked both scripts into Animal House, whose tone fell somewhere between the two.
5. Mark Metcalf played Niedermeyer again in Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It video
Although Animal House 2 never happened, at least one character from the film got a semi-sequel of their own. Mark Metcalf, the actor who played Niedermeyer, more or less plays the role a second time in the video for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It. In the closing moments of the 1984 rock hit, singer Dee Snider roars, “you’re all worthless and weak – now drop and give me 20!”
This is a direct quote of dialogue delivered by Metcalf in Animal House, which demonstrates what fans of the movie Twisted Sister were. Metcalf would go on to appear in another video for Twisted Sister, I Wanna Rock. The video for I Wanna Rock has another Animal House connection, as it also features Flounder actor Stephen Furst.
4. Verna Bloom improvised her scene with Dean Wormer
It wasn’t only John Belushi and the younger members of the Animal House cast who got to ad-lib. Verna Bloom – who features as Marion Wormer in the film – also demonstrates her improvisational skill in the film. The actress ad-libbed the iconic scene with Dean Wormer which sees her drunk and on the phone to the mayor.
Landis encouraged Bloom to improvise because he was apparently dissatisfied with the scene as it was written. Bloom’s other credits include Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, and Mary in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. Bloom passed away at the age of 80 in 2019, but she remains remembered and revered for her iconic performance in Animal House.
3. It was the first in a long-running series of National Lampoon’s movies
Animal House was the first theatrical venture of influential American comedy team National Lampoon. After starting life as a satirical publication at Harvard College, National Lampoon became a hugely popular magazine which later moved into radio, LPs and live theatre. After the success of Animal House, the next two National Lampoon movies – 1982’s Class Reunion and Movie Madness – were critical and commercial disappointments.
However, the property came back in a big way in 1983 with National Lampoon’s Vacation, which became a franchise in its own right. National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation and Christmas Vacation 2 came next, followed eventually by the 2015 reboot simply entitled Vacation. Over the years, more than 70 movies, TV movies and video releases have been released under the National Lampoon banner (although the relationship between the bulk of these and the original company is tenuous at best).
2. It has been preserved on America’s National Film Registry
As a smutty comedy designed to appeal primarily to an adolescent male sensibility, you wouldn’t expect Animal House to be particularly well thought-of among the high brow. However, in 2001 the film received one of the highest honours possible for a work of cinema in the USA. The National Lampoon film production was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in their National Film Registry. This rare accolade is only afforded to works of cinema which are deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Animal House clearly qualifies, as on top of immortalising a key era of 20th century America, it also provided a format which countless other frat house/high school comedies have followed in the years since. The similarly influential comedies Porky’s, Revenge of the Nerds and American Pie are just a few of the films made since which owe a clear debt to Animal House.
1. It launched John Landis as a major Hollywood filmmaker
Prior to Animal House, John Landis had two directing credits to his name: Schlock and The Kentucky Fried Movie. The success of Animal House established Landis as a major talent, and the director followed it with three films which are now considered all time greats. These were 1980’s The Blues Brothers (also starring John Belushi), 1981’s An American Werewolf in London and 1983’s Trading Places.
However, Landis’ reputation took a serious blow on Twilight Zone: the Movie, on the set of which actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed in an accident on the director’s watch. Despite the fall-out from this (Landis and his fellow filmmakers were charged with manslaughter, but eventually found not guilty), the director went on to make more hits including Coming to America, as well as the videos for Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Black or White.