‘Animal House’: Donald Sutherland Made a $20 Million Mistake Before Filming the Cult Classic

National Lampoon’s Animal House is considered to be one of the top comedy movies of history. The classic film premiered in the summer of 1978, and, to be honest, no one had high hopes for the production. Harold Ramis wrote the screenplay, and, at the time, the talented writer had absolutely no experience in the industry. Ramis would eventually go on to create a very successful career for himself in the film industry, and he probably has National Lampoon’s Animal House to thank for that. In the end, the movie had many unexpected developments, and Donald Sutherland can absolutely attest to that. Take a closer look at the movie and find out the details behind Sutherland’s $20 million mistake. 

Donald Sutherland smiling in front of a black background
Donald Sutherland | Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

A look back at ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’

Faber College was the backdrop of National Lampoon’s Animal House and the film centered around the age-old feud that existed between two of the fraternities on campus. The movie began with Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman going through the pledging process and after spending the majority of the evening not fitting in, Dorfman led them to Delta Tau Chi Fraternity. Immediately the audience could see the fraternity embraced partying, misfits, and everything in between. As the new freshmen began to feel at home at the eclectic fraternity things started to get sticky. It became evident that Dean Wormer had quite a few issues with fraternity known for their “troublemaker” ways, and much of National Lampoon’s Animal House portrayed the characters and Delta Tau Chi Fraternity trying to save their beloved home and community. At the time, as Celebrity Net Worth has highlighted, the production was considered to be a “gross-out” comedy, and it was unclear how National Lampoon’s Animal House would be perceived. 

Since there was little to no faith that the movie would actually be successful, National Lampoon’s Animal House received a lowly budget of $2.5 million. In the words of Tanen, “Screw it, it’s a silly little movie, and we’ll make a couple of bucks if we’re lucky — let them do whatever they want.”As many people already know, the movie definitely made more than a “couple of bucks.” Take a look back at the cast of the film and how successful the movie ended up being. 

The cast of ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’

There were many unknown and uncertain factors when it came to National Lampoon’s Animal House. Much of the cast was inexperienced. Believe it or not, National Lampoon’s Animal House was actually Kevin Bacon’s first film. 

Universal Studios believed the best way to ensure the success of the film would be to lock-down big or well-known names for the cast. Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray were a few of the talented actors of the time to get offered leads, but none of them were interested. In the end, John Belushi was cast as one of the main characters. Belushi agreed to play the role of John Blutarsky, but Universal Studios still wasn’t pleased. They were searching for more star power which is what led them to Sutherland. Though Sutherland did appear in National Lampoon’s Animal House, he wound up making one of the biggest mistakes of his career. 

Donald Sutherland made a $20 million mistake before filming the cult classic


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During the planning stages of National Lampoon’s Animal House, the director John Landis turned to Sutherland. Landis and Sutherland were already family friends, and Sutherland was considered to be one of the most popular actors of the 1970s. When Landis approached Sutherland with a $35,000 salary and a small percentage of the film’s profits the actor declined his offer. Many people were chalking up the movie to be a dud, and Sutherland was one of them. Universal Studios came back offering Sutherland the same salary but matched it with a whopping 15% of National Lampoon’s Animal House‘s gross earnings. It was still a no for Sutherland. 

In the end, Sutherland agreed to get paid $50,000 cash for his role in the film. Sutherland was cast as a professor who was quite fond of marijuana and his students. Though his role was relatively minor, Sutherland’s negotiation tactics ended up costing him big time. If Sutherland had accepted Universal Studios’ second offer the actor would have earned upwards of $20 million dollars for his appearance. Even though it is probably still incredibly regretful for Sutherland, it is likely that his iconic and legendary career has made up for the difference.