On July 29, 1983, Warner Bros. unveiled the Harold Ramis-directed comedy in theaters, where it would go on to launch a franchise of Vacation sequels and spinoffs. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
There’s nothing worse than a family vacation. That is, except for this delightfully witty excursion from Warner Bros., which may prove a boon to family participations, a bonanza to cross-country Auto Club sales and certainly a boost to box-office admissions lines. It’s simple but wondrously identifiable: Dad, mom, brother and sis pack up for the summer (against their personal reservations) and hop in the wagon for a cross-country trip. The agreed-upon destination: Wally World — a state-of-the-art amusement park in L.A.
This delirious, entertaining excursion has been trip-ticked by National Lampoon writer John Hughes. He’s penned a four-star entertainment, the kind of thing that even the grumpiest back-seater would agree was worth the visit. Lampoon’s Vacation is the funniest, wariest but most affectionate look at charted America in a long time. Harold Ramis (undersung for his contributions to Stripes) directs with clever, insightfully appreciative intelligence.
Chevy Chase as the befuddled, thrust-into-decision-making role of dad and Beverly D’Angelo as his perceptive, tolerant wife are definitely front-seat material. Supplying the sly back-seat commentary are, naturally, the kids (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron). Indulgent and restless, they provide to-the-point commentary, especially when Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) is propped up between them.
As in the best of planned vacations, things don’t go according to design. An off-ramp mistake lands these big-eyed Midwesterners in the midst of a St. Louis neighborhood which would give pause even to Leon Spinks. Obligatory plains-visits to the family black sheep come down the line, giving the kids a chance to exchange precocious notes with their country cousins. Randy Quaid as a bleery, Coors-carrying in-law is inspiredly crazy in a relatable, necessary stop-off scene.
Intriguing, but not identifiable by experience, is the appearance of super model Christie Brinkley, whizzing by in a red Ferrari. She’s enough to take your eyes off the road.
This is one Vacation trip not to be missed. — Duane Byrge, originally published on July 29, 1983.