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Animal House(1978)

Forty years ago, the gross-out comedy genre became mainstream when John Belushi, as John “Bluto” Blutarsky, shoved food in his mouth and then sent it flying out, announcing, “I’m a zit!” That moment was improvised, but it came in the middle of a surprisingly tightly plotted and observant take on college life penned by three National Lampoon writers — Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller — drawing on their own frat house experiences. Producer-director Ivan Reitman approached the magazine’s publishers about bringing their irreverent humor to the screen, then helped them sell the package to Universal, where a group of younger executives saw its box office potential. Reitman wanted to direct the film himself but had to cede that job to John Landis, who had just scored an independent hit with The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). He kept the tale of reckless fraternity members at war with a crooked college president grounded in reality. It also helped that he had a strong cast, including Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst as frat brothers, John Vernon as the dean and, in their film debuts, Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen. The king of anarchic shenanigans, however, was Belushi, who turned his relatively small role into a scene-stealing ticket to big-screen stardom. (d. John Landis, 109m, Digital)

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