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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Families can bond over ridiculous and trying situations. But the movie also presents plenty of sexist, racist, and classist messages. (For details, see Diverse Representations section.)
Positive Role Models
Clark Griswold tries to connect with his family in a meaningful way by forcing them all on a road trip, but he routinely acts in sexist, racist, classist, and fatphobic ways. Ellen is a long-suffering and patient wife. Kids Audrey and Rusty are a bit unruly: Audrey gets high on marijuana (off-screen), Rusty looks at pornographic magazines with his cousin, they squabble, etc.
Racist scenes include the Griswolds driving through a Black neighborhood: A gunshot goes off, sex workers drape themselves over a Black man dressed as a pimp, Black men surround the Griswolds' car and ask for money, Black kids steal the Griswolds' hubcaps and tag the car with "Honky Lips." Later, Clark points a fake handgun at a Black security officer and barks orders at him, including: "Sit. Lie down. Roll over. Stay" as the Black man cowers on the ground. Toxic gender norms include married men drinking beer and salivating over women who aren't their wives while women cook in the kitchen and are pregnant and have tons of kids. Christie Brinkley plays a demeaning role as a sex object. A White low-income family is portrayed as unintelligent, with several kids and another on the way, and incest is implied. A disability cliché includes the use of a walker as a visual gag: A woman comes out of a door with it, then hands it to another character and walks away without trouble. A fat security officer is stereotypically nerdy and bullied by the main character. Native American men briefly appear on horses; they're nonstereotypical, but a White character calls them "Indians."
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Violence & Scariness
Lead character pulls a handgun on theme park security guards (later revealed to be a BB gun). A bartender fires a rifle at the main character. Though not shown, a dog is killed when left leashed to the back bumper of a station wagon as a family drives down the highway. Reckless driving: Characters fall asleep at the wheel and lose control of their vehicle. A character dies and the dead body is wrapped in a blanket and tied to the top of the car. Implied father-daughter incest. All of these scenes are played for comedy.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Naked breasts during two different scenes. Tween boys look at pornographic magazines as one tells the other about masturbating. Implied oral sex discussed between a husband and wife. A man flirts with a woman outside of his marriage throughout the film; they skinny-dip. (She undresses down to her bra and underwear, and he takes his shirt off. Once they're in the pool, nudity is implied but not visible.)
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"F--k" is used 10 times, including during a long tirade by one of the lead characters in which it's frequently employed. Also "a--hole," "s--t," "damn," "son of a bitch," "for Christ's sake," "retard," and "fat ass." Tween character uses a euphemism for masturbation. "Honky Lips" spray-painted on the side of the station wagon driven by the Griswolds. Main character says "tribe" in a non-Native context.
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Products & Purchases
Neon signs for Budweiser and Miller High Life in bar windows. Characters drink cans of Coors beer. A sign advertises Coppertone suntan lotion. A Ferrari is prominently featured.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A tween shows her cousin a shoebox filled with marijuana and rolls several joints to take with her on a family road trip; the cousin giggles a lot and acts high in some later scenes. A father gives his tween son a beer as a "rite of passage," and the son chugs the beer. Drinking by adults; cigar and cigarette smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that National Lampoon's Vacation is the popular 1983 road comedy that kicked off several National Lampoon movies, including European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, etc. Expect lots of profanity, including a tirade filled with "f--k," plus insults like "retard" and "fat ass." There's brief female nudity (breasts), sexual innuendo, tween boys looking at pornographic magazines, and a man repeatedly fantasizing about a woman who isn't his wife, eventually skinny-dipping with her. Scenes of violence are played for humor, including a joke about father-daughter incest and times where main character Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) accidentally kills a dog by driving away while it's leashed to the back bumper of the car (not shown), and when he uses a fake gun to threaten people and gets shot at. A character also dies abruptly. Marijuana and joints are visible; it's implied that tween characters smoke them. Adults drink beer and smoke cigarettes and a cigar. The film has sexist messages and deeply racist portrayals of Black people. It also portrays low-income White people as unintelligent and incestuous and punches down at fat people and those who use mobility aids. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This 1980s comedy has its fun moments. But the offensive humor in National Lampoon's Vacation hasn't aged well (and was never really OK to begin with). The scenes involving Black characters are particularly cringeworthy, and a strong undercurrent of "boys will be boys" excuses Clark's sexist behavior, such as cheating on his wife or holding a Black security officer at gunpoint and telling him to act like a dog. These hijinks are meant to be over the top, but the jokes punch down at anyone who isn't affluent and White. The end result is a time capsule of the 1980s -- both the good and the bad, with a sense of humor that's truly in the eye of the beholder.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate