The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (2023)

In honor of a two-pronged celebration — that would be the height of summerandthe fortieth anniversary of the release of the first “National Lampoon’s Vacation” feature— it’s high time for the kind of ranking that’s literally been in the works for decades: each of the “Vacation” films. (Of note for this particular ranking: we’ve opted to include the four original features starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, plus the 2015 reboot in which they also appeared, though we’ve eschewed odd offshoots like the 2003 made-for-TV joint “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2” and the “short film” that’s really an ad, “Hotel Hell Vacation.”)

The Griswolds. They’re… just like us? Sort of? A typical American family prone to absolute disaster and iconic gags in equal measure, the Griswolds just want to have a good time (ideally, together), but life and their own hang-ups continually get in the way. These are people who so fundamentally should not be going on a road trip that they literally can’t even walk off the lot with the right damn car before they embark on it.

Over the course of four decades and five films, the Griswolds have seen (and destroyed) the world, re-cast (and re-cast and re-cast) their own kiddos, celebrated holidays (and their own foibles), and eaten a lot of truly awful food. They’ve also gifted us some of the best gags in American comedy and did it with a wacky edge of familial love. Pack up the Family Truckster, kids, we’re goingranking.

  • 1. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)

    The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (1)

    Yes, this might be a controversial pick, particularly for those “Vacation” purists who think the first film is the best (a school of thought that’s certainly not wrong in many aspects, and one that often carries over to many different franchises), but pound for pound, joke for joke, emotional beat for beat, Jeremiah S. Chechik’s 1989 banger is ultimately the best film in a franchise that’s far better than most people are willing to admit.

    The only film to keep the Griswolds rooted in just one location — there’s no Wally World here, no jaunt to Europe, no attempt to win big in Vegas — the Hughes-penned feature instead brings the madnesstothem, as their sprawling suburban Chicago home is overtaken by hordes of truly insane relatives during the hap-hap-happiest season of the year. The biggest laughs in the franchise tend to come from blowing relatable situations into their biggest, ballsiest version, and there’s nary a moment in the “Christmas Vacation” that doesn’t strike some sort of chord with anyone who has ever a) had a family and b) tried to celebrate a holiday with them.

    Wall to wall with impressive gags — cats and Jello in boxes, squirrels in (far too big) trees, the world’s worst turkey, the world’s worst houseguest, literally anything Julia Louis-Dreyfus does as one half of the world’s worst neighbors — “Christmas Vacation” was funny in 1989, and it’s still funny now. But it’s also the sweetest of the films, the only one that takes a major pause to see Clark reflect on how much he loves his family, clad in a terribly funny get-up of items he’s cobbled together in the attic when, yes, his beloved family accidentally leaves him behind to go shopping.

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    And when those blasted Christmas lights finally take, it’s the most genuinely moving moment in the entire franchise … and one almost immediately ruined by the arrival of the indelible cousin Eddie and crew. Perfect.

  • 2. “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)

    The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (2)

    Originally conceived of as a short story for “National Lampoon” magazine — which was, hilariously in retrospect, bumped from the very issue for which it was intended — John Hughes’ little ditty about a family traveling to Disneyland eventually went to Hollywood and spawned a beloved film franchise. Not too shabby.

    Plenty of tweaks and alterations were made along the way (like Disneyland becoming Walley World, or changing the POV from the son character to the father), but fans of Hughes will instantly notice many of his hallmarks here: mostly, it’s a very funny story steeped in highly relatable moments (and, yes, some fully “cancellable” so many decades on) that still retains a sweetness and affection for its characters.

    The Griswolds — and their rotating cast of kids — might not be exactly like us, but the situations they find themselves in while seeking nothing more than a little family fun ring very true indeed. A cross-country trip to the world’s most beloved amusment park? What could possibly go wrong?Everything.

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    Death, destruction, robbery, pee, solo Hamburger Helper, whatever the hell the Family Truckster is supposed to do, skinny dipping, and imminent bodily harm are only a handful of the hilarious horrors that await the Griswolds on their quest in Harold Ramis’ feature, as they attempt to complete what should have been a basic trip and are buffeted at every turn. But the specific alchemy of family and misadventures add up to something much greater, an enduring comedy about the true cost of keeping the clan together (feel free to steal from that cash register to pay for it, you did, after all, leave them a check).

  • 3. “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985)

    The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (3)

    A quick glance at the credits for the first sequel to “Vacation” hints at what should have been a smash: Chase and D’Angelo back as Clark and Ellen (and the first of many rotating casts of kid characters alongside them). Hughes is co-credited for the script, and Amy Heckerling in the director’s chair. And yet, the truth is very different: Hughes balked at writing a sequel and had nothing to do with the actual script, and the response to the film was so negative that it tossed the talented Heckerling into “director jail” for years. Despite making almost $50 million, the film was widely regarded as a failure.

    So why is it number three on this list? Because it’s actually good. Yes, like many sequels, it feels a bit like a retread from the original, but the choice to send the Griswolds (for all their charm, the prototypical “ugly Americans”) through a whirlwind tour of Europe (which they, of course, won on a horrifying American game show) recasts the jokes, the gags, and the reactions. Or, more succinctly: any film that relies on a running gag of running over Eric Idle, too British and too polite to say anything about it, deserves a fair shake.

    The Griswolds are always strangers in a strange land — these are people who aren’t even “at home” when they’re with close relatives — and that element comes into even sharper relief when they’re forced to fend for themselves in literally unknown countries. The French hate them. The Germans can’t understand them. The British loathe them (they do destroy Stonehenge). And yet they can’t shake their plucky optimism for either what the trip might hold or their innate affection for each other. That’s worth the price of admission.

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  • 4. “Vacation” (2015)

    The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (4)

    Much like Heckerling’s “European Vacation,” Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s pre-“Game Night” sequel benefits from hindsight. While the film was a smash hit at the 2015 box office, more than tripling its budget, the Ed Helms- and Christina Applegate-starring comedy was roundly bashed by critics.

    Please, give it another go. While not as funny as the originals, this “Vacation” still smacks of sweetness (Helms as an adult Rusty struggles to do right by his family, understandably, given what he grew up with) even as it often verges into the grotesque (a wildly puking Applegate? jokes about child molesters?). But the jokes — of which there are so many good ones — recommend it, from the updated Family Truckster and its many buttons, a subplot about a suicidal Charlie Day, yet another sterling Chris Hemsworth comedic performance, to a visual gag involving a “pet rat” that ranks as the funniest bit of 2015.

  • 5. “Vegas Vacation” (1997)

    The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked (5)

    There are plenty of scenes in “Vegas Vacation” — the last feature in the traditional line of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo joints — that crackle with hysterical specificity: Clark (Chase) and cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) hitting up a buffet that includes “blue” and “yellow” options, Eddie frying up family dinner on an exceptionally hot rock in the middle of the Nevada desert, the possibility of meeting (and wooing) with Wayne Newton, the kind of stuff that would speak to anyone who has actually been to Las Vegas (or, in the case of this writer, actually lived there at the time this film was released), but gags aren’t enough to carry this one.

    The entire Erbland clan might have howled over seeing Ellen (D’Angelo) becoming a Wayne-iac with precious little friction (you really used to be able to go to the crooner’s house!), but despite the kind of jokes that really speak to the film’s setting, the emotional value just isn’t there. (Pause for “not a jackpot” joke here.)

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    The first film in the franchise to not be written or co-written by creator John Hughes, “Vegas Vacation” might be (and often is) very funny, but the heart of the Griswold family is truly bankrupt this time around. All of the hijinx, scrapes, and screw-ups that the Griswolds endure had (at least, previously) still been rooted in a desire to have a good time together,but Stephen Kessler’s film tosses over that emotional core to split up his Griswolds, pushing each of them into incredibly stereotypical subplots (Clark becomes addicted to gambling, kiddos Rusty and Audrey join the mob and try to become strippers, respectively) simply for the gags.

    And while the entire family does eventually (spoiler alert) reunite and reevaluate their values in the process, there’s something ungodly cheap about watching the foursome split back up to drive their (well, Rusty’s) automobile winnings back to Chicago. It’s funny, sure, but it also misses the point, making it ultimately a (apologies) very shaky bet indeed.

(Video) Every Vacation Movie Ranked


The ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Films, Ranked? ›

While the Griswolds' name is spelled with an 'o' in the other Vacation films, in this one Clark's passport, and the "Pig in a Poke" game show, both spell their name "Griswald" - with an 'a'.

Which National Lampoon Vacation movie is the best? ›

5 National Lampoon's vacation movies ranked – in order of funny
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) It must be a National Lampoon's vacation movie if it stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. ...
  • National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) ...
  • Vacation (2015) ...
  • National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985) ...
  • Vegas Vacation (1997)
May 30, 2022

Is it Griswold or Griswald? ›

While the Griswolds' name is spelled with an 'o' in the other Vacation films, in this one Clark's passport, and the "Pig in a Poke" game show, both spell their name "Griswald" - with an 'a'.

Why did the kids always change in Vacation? ›

In each of the main films of the series, the Griswold children are portrayed by different actors. This is usually attributed to the fact that after Anthony Michael Hall declined to reprise his role in European Vacation in order to star in Weird Science, director Amy Heckerling requested both children be recast.

Why is National Lampoon's European Vacation not rated R? ›

While not as vicious as Vacation , European Vacation is an odd film to wind up with a PG13 rating, as it features copious raunchy language and an amount of nudity sufficient to usually guarantee an R rating. The easily offended are thus warned.

Why is Vacation 1983 Rated R? ›

The MPA rated Vacation R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity.

Is Clark Griswold a good guy? ›

Clark's main mission is to pull off a wonderful "good-old-fashioned family Christmas," and there's nothing wrong with that. But the road there is paved with good intentions, as they say. In spite of his noble pursuits, he is by no means the hero of the story.

Why is Clark called Sparky? ›

In the DVD commentary for this movie, Chevy Chase said that the nickname was Beverly D'Angelo's idea, and she still affectionately calls him Sparky. In an interview, Chevy Chase said that after this film was released, he got dozens of letters from people who had visited London and ended up trapped in a roundabout.

What does Frank Shirley call Clark Griswold? ›

Frank Shirley is the main antagonist of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. He is portrayed by Brian Doyle Murray. He his Clark Griswold's greedy and pompous boss. He often mistakes Clark's name, calling him "Mark" "Bill" or "Carl".

Why are the kids different in every Griswold movie? ›

Anthony Michael Hall's rising fame (he opted for Weird Science instead of the Vacation sequel) led to the Griswold kids getting recast for each subsequent installment.

Who is older Audrey or Rusty Griswold? ›


In "Christmas Vacation," Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey's younger brother.

Will a 7 year old remember a Vacation? ›

Some young children DO remember

For example, in a recent study, children aged 5 – 7 could recall 63% to 72% of the events from when they were 3. Children aged 8 – 9 years old, remembered only about 35% of the events. Some children even retain very early memories into adulthood. Their first riding lesson!

At what age do kids remember vacations? ›

“The age at which a child can remember a vacation can vary from child to child,” explains social psychologist Susan Newman. “But parents want to be sure their children are old enough to enjoy and be able to do whatever the vacation plans cover. The age for this tends to be around 5 or 6.”

Do the Griswalds go to Europe? ›

The Griswold family competes in a game show called Pig in a Poke and wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe. In a whirlwind tour of Western Europe, chaos of all sorts ensues. They stay in a sordid London hotel with a sloppy, tattooed Cockney desk clerk.

Is the movie vacation inappropriate? ›

Nudity and several references to sex, promiscuity, groping, and sex acts. A married couple attempts to have sex several times but is foiled, including once when they try to have sex publicly but are met with other couples also waiting to have sex (or in the middle of it).

Is vacation movie okay for kids? ›

“Vacation” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bawdy humor and bawdy language.

What is the original Griswold Vacation movie? ›

National Lampoon's Vacation, sometimes referred to as simply Vacation, is a 1983 American road trip comedy film directed by Harold Ramis starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy, and Christie Brinkley in her acting debut with special appearances by Eddie Bracken, Brian Doyle-Murray, ...

Is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation a good movie? ›

Following in the tradition of the previous "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies, also starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, the 1989 "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is every bit as hilarious, enjoyable and entertaining as the previous movies.

Is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation inappropriate? ›

Parents need to know that much of the slapstick humor in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is directed at younger viewers -- from the cartoon opening to an impossibly high-speed sled ride -- but language and sexual references make it iffy for younger kids.

Is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation funny? ›

Among his picks, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation holds up as one of the most endearing (and riotously funny) Christmas classics. Read on for Arnold's take on why we all find the Griswold family's mishaps so darn relatable this time of year.


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