MOTW: Why "Animal House" Will Always Be a Classic Comedy

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The Dean at a College in 1962 is determined to expel the entire Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, but those troublemakers have other plans for him.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
September 23rd, 2013

MOTW: Why "Animal House" Will Always Be a Classic Comedy

Any time film critics or experts try to make a list of the best films in any given genre, the picks are rarely universal. This is especially true of comedy, which is a very personal thing. For example, some people love the slapstick goofiness of the Three Stooges franchise, whereas others prefer the more cerebral comedy found in Kevin Smith's films. A critic's choice for the best comedy films of all time will begin and end with personal taste, but one film that most agree on is "Animal House." Here are the biggest reasons why the film will always be a comedy classic.

The First Gross-Out Comedy

Several teen comedies have had scenes that might make viewers feel sick to their stomachs. A few of the exploits in the "American Pie" series and a number of events in "Van Wilder" are good examples of this very common phenomenon. "Animal House" did it first though, and some might even argue that the film did it best. In one scene, Bluto (John Belushi) stuffs his face full of cafeteria food and then spews it out onto several people, referring to himself as a zit that just got popped. This is just one of the many examples of this type of humor that can be found throughout the film.

"Animal House" is pretty much the granddaddy of not only college campus films but gross-out films as well. When the film was made in 1978, no such comedy subgenre existed, making director John Landis and his entire cast and crew a bit iconoclastic. They dared to go where no comedy had gone before, and countless comedies since have taken full advantage of their chutzpah.

It Still Stands Up Three Decades Later

Some films don't stand the test of time very well and seem dated just a few years later. "Animal House" is set in 1962, so it had every chance to fall prey to the timeliness bug. Sure, the cars and especially the clothes and hairstyles are very dated in the film, but none of those things even matters. The real meat of the film is the zany characters and their hilarious one-liners and hijinks. The film has plenty of funny characters, and the script strives to put them in situations in which they'll have ample opportunity to say or do something worthy of a hearty laugh.

More than thirty years after the film was released, each of the sight gags and one-liners is still funny. Some fans have watched the film dozens of times and still laugh at many of the jokes as if they were hearing them for the very first time. In addition, many of the one-liners from the film have entered the pop culture lexicon, much like "I am your father" and "it's a trap!" from the "Star Wars" franchise have done.

It Is Infinitely Quotable

Yes, "Animal House" definitely has plenty of lines that are still uttered today, and not just by fraternity members. One of the most memorable lines from the film is Bluto yelling, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Fans of the film still say this one today. Another example is "seven years of college down the drain," another Bluto gem. This has become a running joke for many students who are either going to college part time or have just taken longer than the usual four years to graduate. College was probably the best seven years of their lives, and they will probably admit to that with a chuckle if they are fans of "Animal House."

John Belushi

Before "Animal House," Belushi had done a few short films and was known as a member of the famed Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. He became a household name after the film was released because he managed to steal the movie from the rest of the ensemble cast. The most brilliant part is that he had lots of scenes, but only a handful of lines. He had to rely on physical comedy and facial reactions in order to convey his character's thoughts. He could also easily handle some of the raunchier material in the film, turning a peeping Tom session at the local sorority house from potentially creepy to completely hilarious. The film would not have been the same without Belushi, and his career wouldn't have been the same without the film. It was the perfect lightning-in-a-bottle cinematic symbiosis that by itself made "Animal House" a bona fide comedy classic.