On this day in 1978, National Lampoon’s Animal House, a movie spoof about 1960s college fraternities starring John Belushi, opens in U.S. theaters. Produced with an estimated budget of $3 million, Animal House became a huge, multi-million-dollar box-office hit, spawned a slew of cinematic imitations and became part of pop-culture history with such memorable lines as “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
Set at the fictional Faber College (the University of Oregon served as a stand-in during filming), Animal House centered around the disreputable Delta House fraternity, whose members enjoyed beer-soaked toga parties and crude pranks such as putting a horse in the dean’s office. Animal House was the first big hit for director John Landis, who went on to helm The Blues Brothers (1980), Trading Places (1983) and Coming to America (1988). The film’s cast included a then-unknown Kevin Bacon (Footloose, Mystic River), Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Tom Hulce (Amadeus), all of whom were then just beginning their movie careers.
Animal House was co-written by Doug Kenney, Harold Ramis and Chris Miller, whose days at Dartmouth College in the early 1960s served as an inspiration for the film. Animal House marked the first film produced in affiliation with National Lampoon, a college magazine that was first published in 1970 and known for its dark humor. Other National Lampoon movies included Vacation (1983), which was written by John Hughes, directed by Ramis and starred SNL alum Chevy Chase.
At the time Animal House was released, John Belushi, who played party animal Bluto Blutarsky, was starring on the TV sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL). Belushi, who was born January 24, 1949, appeared on SNL from 1975 to 1979 and co-starred in the hit movie Blues Brothers with his SNL castmate Dan Akroyd. Belushi died of a drug overdose at age 33 on March 5, 1982, at the Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood, California.