National Lampoon has been a staple of American comedy since the 1970s. It began as a magazine and evolved into the movie business, first with National Lampoon’s Animal House, followed closely by National Lampoon’s Vacation. The Vacation franchise has been wildly hit or miss and consists of six and a half movies, one of which has become a Christmas holiday tradition for many. So, we here at Giant Freakin Robot decided to apply our Giant Freakin Movie score algorithm to the Vacation franchise to see just how hit and miss the movies actually are.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 8.35/10
This should come as no shock to any who have been part of the Vacation franchise. Chevy Chase tickled the funny bone in this John Hughes scripted 1983 comedy, which was based on Hughes’ National Lampoon story, “Vacation ’58“. The story was about a complete doofus, Clark Griswold, who takes his family in the Family Truckster on a cross-country trip from their tiny suburb in Chicago to the Wally World amusement park in California.
The movie is hilarious from the start. Chase is the perfect Clark Griswold with his inane mannerisms, silly faces, crazy situations, but ultimately big heart who cares for only one thing: to bring to his family a wonderful vacation at any cost. Beverly D’Angelo stars as his wife Ellen, with Anthony Michael Hall as Rusty, his son, and Dana Baron as Audrey, his daughter. The movie also brought out hilarious roles for Imogene Coca, Christie Brinkley, John Candy, and Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. It is a classic from start to finish.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 7.2/10
To many, this is their Christmas tradition. Sitting down in front of a nice fire in the fireplace, popping a big bowl of popcorn, and getting their laugh on with this holiday classic. The third in the Vacation series, this movie was again scripted by John Hughes and was based on his National Lampoon short story “Christmas ’59.” Clark Griswold and family are back but this time they are staying home. After two disastrous trips (one of which we’ll get to soon), Clark is bringing the family to him for a Christmas celebration.
Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo return as the Griswolds, and what would end up being a theme for the series, another pair of actors portray Rusty and Audrey. This time, Johnny Galecki is Rusty and Juliette Lewis plays Audrey. Back for more Griswold fun is Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. In this humorous sequel, we get to meet Clark and Ellen’s parents, and we get to see Clark light up his house with such Christmas spirit it causes a temporary citywide power outage and when restored can be seen from space. The movie is all Christmas spirit.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION (1985)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 4.8/10
European Vacation was the first sequel in the series and to many a misfire. Chevy Chase was up to his usual antics, but the story was disjointed and not really funny. Beverly D’Angelo was along for the ride as Ellen but maybe it was the fact that the Griswold children were played by actors who were not in the first movie.
For the sequel, Dana Hill played Audrey and Jason Lively was Rusty, a sad change from the original Rusty and Audrey. John Hughes co-penned the script based on one of his stories, but it truly lacked the flavor of the original, even though the Griswolds were back on vacation. The movie seemed like a series of sketches that took place in various countries and misfired terribly. Not one of the better entries in the franchise.
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 4.4/10
This Vacation is the fifth and final movie in the franchise which had Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen in limited action. This movie focused on Rusty Griswold, this time all grown up and played by Ed Helms (as the fifth Rusty) and Christina Applegate as his wife.
Vacation tries (and only sometimes succeeds) to relive the magic from the original Vacation as Rusty wishes to take his family on a similar trip from Chicago to Wally World. Along the way, the Griswolds visit sister Audrey, this time played by Leslie Mann (the fifth Audrey) and her husband Stone (Chris Hemsworth), who likes to show off his body and oversized man part. The film touches a few nostalgic chords but has a mean streak that helps it miss the mark.
VEGAS VACATION (1997)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 3.65/10
Another misfire in the franchise and this one was the first not to carry the National Lampoon moniker. It is also the first film in the franchise where John Hughes didn’t get a screenwriting credit. Vegas Vacation is the fourth film in the series that saw the return again of our favorite Griswolds, played by a game Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, but for the fourth time, the children looked different. Ethan Embry played Rusty (not bad when compared to Anthony Michael Hall) and Marisol Nichols played Audrey who does not bear a resemblance to any of her family members.
This time, we find our vacationing Griswolds off to Vegas for a little fun on the strip. Along the way, they visit Cousin Eddie and his family who now live on a former hydrogen-bomb test site. Ellen gets involved with Mr. Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, but the laughs are minimal at best (except for Cousin Eddie).
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION 2: COUSIN EDDIE’S ISLAND ADVENTURE (2003)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: 1.95/10
Why? Well, someone thought it’d be a great idea to center a Vacation Christmas movie around Cousin Eddie and his family. Randy Quaid returns as Cousin Eddie in this TV movie that also brought back Miriam Flynn as Catherine, his wife, a role she played in the original Vacation, Christmas Vacation, and Vegas Vacation.
In this ungodly poor attempt at a Vacation movie, we find Cousin Eddie fired from his job at a nuclear facility. With Christmas approaching, Eddie decides to go to his boss to talk to him about his job. Fearing that Eddie might sue, the facility offers Eddie and his family a free vacation to a South Pacific island. During their trip, the family takes a boat ride that finds them shipwrecked on an isolated island. Leave it up to Eddie to man up and save his family.
Perhaps the only thing notable about this movie is that Dana Baron returns as Audrey Griswold. This would be the only time an actress portraying Audrey has returned to the franchise. Too bad it was for this shipwreck of a film.
HOTEL HELL VACATION (2010)
GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE: no score
Back in 2010, the vacation rental marketplace HomeAway (now VRBO) decided to put together a short film to help boost their numbers. It was called Hotel Hell Vacation and it brought back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen. HomeAway purchased a replica Family Truckster to help make this 14-minute short happen.
The short has Clark and Ellen on their way to visit their son Rusty but Clark has scheduled a romantic interlude for the pair. Typical Griswold hilarity ensues but it was nice to see Clark and Ellen back in action.
It was announced in 2019 that Johnny Galecki (Rusty in Christmas Vacation) was bringing his take on the Vacation franchise to HBO Max. The series is to be called The Griswolds and was to follow the family after they return home from vacation. The series was being written by Tim Hobert and he also carries the title of executive producer along with Galecki. There is no word on who, if any, from the original cast has been asked to return or if they will just go with a whole new Griswold clan.
The GIANT FREAKIN MOVIE SCORE is calculated using rating averages from Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database.