National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The Griswold family's cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park proves to be much more arduous than they ever anticipated.

  • The Griswold family are on a quest. A quest to a Walley World theme park for a family vacation, but things aren't going to go exactly as planned, especially when Clark Griswold is losing all thought towards a mysterious blonde in a red Ferrari.

  • The Griswold family, father Clark W., wife Ellen, daughter Audrey and son Rusty, set out in high spirit to spend their vacation driving cross-country from Chicago to a glorious climax in Walley World on the West Coast. The trip which Clark planned down to the minute, slowly loses its smoothness from the moment the first grain of sand gets in. A meeting with constantly-in-debt, simple-minded cousin Eddie results in the Griswold family giving cantankerous aunt Edna a lift to Phoenix. Of course, the Griswolds receive one strike of bad luck after another, and when they finally arrive at Walley World, they have to find out that the park is closed for maintenance. But Clark promised his beloved family the best vacation ever...

  • Chicago resident Clark Wilhelm Griswold Jr., his wife Ellen Griswold, his son Russell "Rusty" Griswold, and his daughter Audrey Griswold have prepared to go on vacation to Wally World, a Disney-like amusement park located in Los Angeles. Clark has planned this trip right down to every last single solitary detail, but on the way to Los Angeles, things get complicated. First, they get lost in East St. Louis, Illinois, where Clark asks a belligerent pimp for directions as the pimp's henchmen are secretly stealing the car's hubcaps, then they stop in Dodge City, Kansas to see what the old west was like. After this, they head to Coolidge, Kansas to spend a night with Ellen's cousin Catherine and Catherine's sloppy husband Eddie, and they pick up Ellen's annoying Aunt Edna and her vicious dog Dinky from Eddie and Catherine's house so they can take Edna and Dinky to Phoenix, Arizona, where Edna's son Normy lives. During the visit at Eddie's, Eddie's son Dale shows Rusty some porno magazines, and Eddie's daughter Vicki shows Audrey a shoebox full of pot. After leaving Eddie and Catherine's house, the Griswolds head to a picnic area, where they discover that Dinky has urinated on the picnic basket. Later, when the Griswolds get to South Fork, Colorado, they spend a night at a Kamp Komfort, a campsite that has smelly tents. When they leave on the next day, they accidentally drag Dinky to his death behind the car. When they reach a desert region of Arizona, the Griswolds narrowly skirt death after crashing through a roadblock sign and messing up the car, and after Clark treks through the desert to find a gas station, the car is repaired by a pair of greedy mechanics who want all of Clark's money for doing the repairs, which are very shoddy. When the Griswolds run out of money, Clark is forced to swipe some money from a hotel where he tried to get a check cashed, this being while Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey look at the Grand Canyon just outside the hotel. After the Griswolds leave this hotel, Edna dies in the car. That night, the Griswolds head into Phoenix, Arizona, and leave Edna's body at Normy's house. After a makeshift funeral service, they leave Normy's house. Clark starts going crazy because things haven't gone right on this vacation, and the way Clark scheduled it, they should have already been at Wally World. Will they ever get to Wally World, and will they get to enjoy it?

  • Follows the Griswold family, Clark and Ellen along with their two children Rusty and Audrey, as they venture westward from the suburbs of Chicago to the Disneyland-like theme park, Walley World. Clark has planned the trip down the last detail, including seeing the world's largest ball of twine. However, Clark's pursuit of adventure is matched by his dimwitted bumbling, leading to a vacation his family will not soon forget.

  • Chicago native Clark Griswold has decided to take his wife ,Ellen, kids 14 year-old Rusty and 12 year-old Audrey to a Los Angles theme park called Walley World. But when Audrey takes up pot smoking and Rusty reads porno magazines, annoying Cousin Eddie sends spiteful Aunt Edna to join them on their trip, the Griswolds get stuck in the ghetto, Aunt Edna dies, Clark drives off the road, hillbillies take all their money, and Clark is shot at in a Dodge City bar, will their vacation be all it was cracked up to be?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is a food processing salesman living in Chicago, Illinois who wants to spend more time with wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and his teen children Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron). So, he decides to lead the family on a cross-country expedition from Chicago to the Los Angeles amusement park, "Walley World", billed as "America's Favorite Family Fun Park". In the opening scene, Clark and Rusty drive to a local car dealer lot where he decides to purchase a new sports wagon for the cross-country drive. But the conniving salesman Ed (Eugene Levy), tells him that the car he ordered never arrived and scams Clark into taking in its place a more gas-guzzling, technically failing, behemoth station wagon called the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Clark refuses to be conned, but after his old station wagon is "accidentally" crushed by a compacter machine, Clark is left with no choice but to take the Family Truckster.

    At home, although Ellen tells Clark that she wants to fly to California for their two-week vacation, he insists on driving, so he can bond with his family. The next day, the family packs into their new car for the long drive to California, only to have all their luggage strapped to the top of the station wagon fall off after they back out of the garage... a bad omen of things to come.

    During the first day's drive, Clark and Ellen try to ease the boredom by singing old folk songs including the so-called Wally World National Anthem. Rusty and Audrey take their escape by listening to their radio Walkman's of their favorite rock group The Ramones. While stopping for gas, Clark cannot find the gas tank opening, and accidentally tears off the station wagon's license plate searching for it.

    Later that same day, the family arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, but after crossing the Mississippi River into the city, they get lost and end up in a rough ghetto area where some local street hoodlums steal their hubcaps and spray paint graffiti on one side of their car while giving them sham directions back to the local expressway.

    While driving late at night on the interstate west of St. Louis, all of the family falls asleep... including Clark driving in which their car exits the road and roars through a residential neighborhood, tearing up several yards, before stopping for the night at a local motel.

    Clark has planned a romantic evening at the motel with Ellen with wine and quarters for the vibrating mattress, but the mattress is loud and starts bouncing wildly. Clark pulls blankets onto the floor and they crawl under the covers, ready for sex. The kids rush in from the connecting room to investigate the noise. Rusty unplugs the bed before the kids go back to their room.

    On the second day of the vacation (Day 2), the family arrives in Dodge City, Kansas without further incident where Clark falls victim to another tourist trap when he insults the local bartender at a Western-themed tavern, and gets shot with a round of blanks. Back on the road, Clark is tempted by a hot young woman (Christie Brinkley) driving a flashy red 1983 Ferrari 308 GTS, with a California license place that reads LUV ME.

    That afternoon, the Griswolds arrive at a farm outside of Coolidge, Kansas to visit Ellen's cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and her eccentric husband Eddie Johnston (Randy Quaid), and their five kids, plus one on the way, creating more tension among the Griswolds. Catherine and Eddie foist crotchety old Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her vicious dog, Dinky, on the Griswolds, asking them to drop her off at her son Normy's home in Phoenix, Arizona. Eddie also asks for a loan of $500 to help him out with numerous debits he owns the local bank and many bill collectors. The kids have better experiences with Eddie and Catherine's eldest kids. Cousin Vicki (Jane Krakowski) shows Audrey her secret pot stash, while Cousin Dale (John Navin) shows Rusty his secret porn magazine collection.

    The next day (Day 3), the Griswolds along with Aunt Edna and Dinky drive off. During a picnic stop in Colorado, Clark has another encounter with the young woman in the red Ferrari whom is parked and dancing to pop music. The Griswolds stop for the night in a run-down campground in South Fork, Colorado where they survive another tourist trap for the night as well as deal with Edna's vicious dog.

    The next day (Day 4), the Griswalds and Aunt Edna pack up and leave the campground for Arizona. But while packing the car, Clark forgets to untie the nasty Dinky from the car's rear bumper before leaving. Clark does not realize his error until he is pulled over by a local motorcycle cop (James Keach) to angrily inform him of his mistake that has led to the apparent death of the dog. Never less, the policeman, overcome by his own memory of his childhood dog, allows Clark to proceed on his way. During the drive, Clark again sees the young woman driving the red Ferrari while everyone else is asleep. Tempted to keep speed with her, Clark accelerates & almost has an accident. Subsequently, one of the suitcases falls off the car, which contains all of Ellen's credit cards.

    The next day (Day 5), the family gets lost on a back road somewhere in Arizona where while Clark and Ellen argue, they accidentally drive off the road, missing a large roadblock and get into an accident, damaging the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Clark hikes off into the desert and spends many hours wondering aimlessly in the hot and arid desert until he finds a gas station... only to find the family there after they were rescued by some local Indians whom had a camel to tow their car to the very station. After making some half-hearted repairs, the redneck mechanic (Mickey Jones), who also happens to be the local sheriff, scams Clark out of all the money he has on him (over $500 for the repairs). But they manage to get to the Grand Canyon Village to check in for the night.

    The next day (Day 6), the frustrated Clark realizes that in reporting Ellen's lost credit cards to their hometown bank, the bank had frozen Clark's credit cards by accident, and Clark cannot convince the stuffy hotel clerk to take a check to pay for their rooms for the night. With the desk clerk distracted for a few minutes, Clark steals all the cash in the hotel's cash register, leaves behind the $1,000 check, and flees the hotel like a Wild West bank robber, grabs the family away from the scenic sight of the Grand Canyon, and speeds away.

    Continuing through Arizona, they find that Aunt Edna passed away in her sleep. With little options, they decide to drive to Phoenix anyway and deliver her to her son Normy's house (with the dead Aunt Edna tied to the roof of their car). When they reach Normy's home that evening in a raging thunderstorm, they discover he is out of town, and leave Edna's rigor mortised body on a lawn chair in the backyard, over Ellen's objections. Clark concedes to Ellen's request they say a prayer for the dear departed Edna.

    Despite all the events and the begging of Ellen and the kids, Clark is more determined than ever to get to Walley World. They check into a motel for the night where after another argument with Ellen, Clark hangs out at the motel's bar where he has a face-to-face-encounter with the beautiful young woman from the red Ferrari and they make small talk about things. The woman beckons Clark to go skinny dipping with her in the motel's swimming pool, but upon diving in, Clark screams over his reaction to the cold pool water... thus waking up the entire motel, including Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey. When the woman takes her leave, Clark goes back to apologize to Ellen who demands that Clark repay the favor by taking him back to the pool to skinny dip with her.

    The next day (Day 7), the family finally arrives in Los Angeles, California and arrives at Wally World... only to find that the park is closed for the next two weeks for repairs. Clark, slipping into madness seeing all the week's struggles had been for nothing, buys a realistic-looking BB gun from a local sporting goods store, returns to Wally World, and demands to a overweight and geekish park security guard named Russ Lasky (John Candy) to take them through the park; Ellen and kids follow him, attempting to placate their father.

    Eventually a SWAT team arrives along with park owner Roy Walley (Eddie Bracken) and they arrest the whole family. Clark manages to talk to Roy who surprisingly understands Clark's impassioned epitome of the American Vacation, bringing back memories of his own childhood years ago. Roy does not file charges against the Griswolds, and lets the family enjoy the park as his guests, along with the police and SWAT team who are seen riding on the park's top roller coaster attraction in the final shot of the movie.

    The end credits show various still photographs of the Griswolds enjoying the rest of the vacation at all the various stops they made over the course of the movie, including a final frame of them returning to Chicago via plane... having abandoned their gas-guzzling car in California.

See also

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