National Lampoon's Vacation was the 11th highest-grossing movie of 1983, earning $61.3 million at the North American box office. Aside from being a major success for former Saturday Night Live star Chevy Chase, it spawned four sequels. National Lampoon's European Vacation followed in 1985, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in 1989, Vegas Vacation (without the Lampoon's affiliation) in 1997, and the back-to-basics reboot Vacation in 2015.
In each movie, family man Clark Griswold (or his grown-up son Rusty in the reboot) tries to give his clan a perfect, memorable vacation, only to have a series of comic complications foil his efforts. The humor comes from his increasing desperation when things inevitably go wrong. Though the movies are light-hearted comedies, their productions often reflected the series' core concept. Tons of problems sprang up and needed fixing. Cast and crew members found themselves feeling like real-life Clark Griswolds as they struggled to give audiences something special and unforgettable in the midst of chaos.
A peek behind the scenes of the Vacation movies reveals the many challenges that went into making them. These tales involve bad behavior, logistical nightmares, intense fears, and of course, crazy Chevy Chase stories. So gas up the Family Truckster and get ready for a wild ride.
Making The First 'Vacation' Required A Grueling Real-Life Road Trip
In National Lampoon's Vacation, the Griswold family travels from suburban Chicago to the fictional Walley World theme park in California. To make the movie, the cast and crew went on a grueling real-life road trip not dissimilar from the one the fictional family takes.
The bonus features on the special edition Blu-ray reveal that to get the necessary footage, the production traveled hundreds of miles, stopping to film in six different states. Aside from the Illinois and California locations, they shot at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where the Griswolds pause to briefly sight-see, and St. Louis, Missouri, where the Family Truckster passes the famous Gateway Arch.
Colorado and Monument Valley, UT, also provided locations for the exhausting summer-long trek. To combat the heat in desert locations, gigantic air conditioners helped keep the car cool for the actors.
Amy Heckerling Loathed Working With Chevy Chase
Amy Heckerling - the director of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and later, Clueless - signed on to direct National Lampoon's European Vacation after original director Harold Ramis opted out of the sequel. Her experience making the movie was not entirely happy, as she and the film's star didn't see eye-to-eye during the production. She told Flavorwire that working with Chevy Chase “was not a marriage made in heaven.”
In fact, Heckerling apparently disliked Chase so much she was ready to bolt from the set at any moment. “I couldn’t go on the set unless I knew I had in my hand a physical ticket to New York so that I could just go at any time,” the director said. “I had to hold it in my hand, so I knew that I had a way out.”
The First Movie's Ending Was Changed Because Test Audiences Hated It
When it came time to test National Lampoon's Vacation, preview audiences went wild. The only thing they didn't like was the ending, which they overwhelmingly hated. The original conclusion featured the Griswolds storming Roy Walley's home after discovering Walley World is closed, then forcing him to entertain them by singing and dancing.
Because of the poor reaction, a new ending was shot four months after formal production wrapped. The update, which finds Clark compelling a security guard to let his family ride the rides at gunpoint, went over much better with audiences.
Interestingly, Vacation's original ending was re-purposed for Christmas Vacation, where Cousin Eddie kidnaps Clark's boss and drags him to the Griswold home.
Chris Columbus Walked Away From 'Christmas Vacation'
Following the success of his comedy Adventures in Babysitting, Chris Columbus came in to direct the third installment in the franchise, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, by writer/producer John Hughes. Unfortunately, Columbus left the project after having an ill-fated dinner with star Chevy Chase.
Columbus told Chicago magazine, “Chevy treated me like dirt. I stuck it out and even went as far as to shoot [the] second unit. Then I had another meeting with Chevy, and it was worse."
Columbus asked to be let go from the project. Hughes felt so bad about the whole situation that he offered Columbus the chance to direct another holiday-themed comedy he'd written. That movie was Home Alone.