Meatballs (film)

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Theatrical release poster by Morgan Kane
Directed byIvan Reitman
Produced byJohn Dunning
Written by
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyDonald Wilder
Edited byDebra Karen
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 29, 1979 (1979-06-29)
Running time
94 minutes
Budget$1.6 million or $1.2 million[1]
Box office$43 million[2]

Meatballs is a 1979 Canadian-American comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman. It is noted for Bill Murray's first film appearance in a starring role and for launching the directing career of Reitman, whose later comedies included Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984), both starring Murray. The film also introduced teenage actor Chris Makepeace in the role of Rudy Gerner.

The film was the highest-grossing Canadian film in the United States of all-time and also in Canada, winning the Golden Reel Award. It was followed by several sequels, of which only Meatballs III: Summer Job (1986) had any connection to the original.


Tripper Harrison is the head counsellor of a group of new counsellors-in-training (CITs) at Camp North Star, a cut-rate summer camp located in Ontario. Camp director Morty Melnick (called Mickey by everyone, a play on Mortimer Mouse) falls victim to Tripper-led practical jokes, mainly by being taken from his cabin in the middle of the night and waking up in unusual places.

Rudy Gerner, a lonely boy who is sent to summer camp by his workaholic father, decides to run away from camp. Noticing Rudy is shy and having difficulty fitting in, Tripper tracks Rudy to a nearby bus station and takes him under his wing. Each morning they go jogging and rapidly bond as friends. Tripper helps Rudy gain confidence while Rudy encourages the reluctant Tripper to start a romance with Roxanne, the girl's head counsellor. Love is also in the air for many of the CITs; Candace "kidnaps" Crockett in a speedboat and confesses her feelings for him. Wheels, who had broken up with A.L. the year before, successfully rekindles their relationship during a dance. The nerdy Spaz develops a crush on Jackie.

A subplot deals with North Star's rivalry with Camp Mohawk, a wealthy summer camp located across the lake. During a basketball game, North Star is being beaten by Mohawk when they attempt their own perverse form of victory. This sets the stage for the yearly Olympiad held between the camps in which Mohawk carries a 12–0 record.

During the first day of competition, Mohawk dominates North Star, cheating in many cases to win. Crockett fails to clear the high jump bar, Hardware gets pummelled in boxing, and Jackie suffers a broken leg in field hockey, thanks to the dirty work of two Mohawk girls. The score at the end of Day One is: Mohawk 170, North Star 63. That evening at the North Star Lodge, Tripper gives a rousing speech, telling the demoralized campers that it doesn't matter whether they win or lose. In unison, Camp North Star begins to chant, "It just doesn't matter!" Day Two of the Olympiad belongs to newly inspired North Star as they win every event. Wheels outwrestles his opponent, Spaz defeats Rhino in a stacking contest with inspiration from Jackie and a thwarted Mohawk cheating attempt, and, after 12 years of North Star defeats, Fink finally beats "The Stomach" in the hot dog eating contest. North Star now trails by only 10 points with one event left, a four-mile cross country run for 20 points. Tripper steps forward and selects a surprised Rudy to compete against Horse, Mohawk's star runner. The many mornings Rudy spent jogging and training with Tripper pay off as he wins the race, giving North Star its first Olympiad victory by a score of 230–220.

Later that evening, Morty, Tripper, Roxanne, and the CITs sing around a campfire and say their final goodbyes as the camp prepares to close at the end of summer. Rudy has already decided to return to camp next year and Roxanne agrees to live with Tripper. The two ride off on Tripper's motorcycle, leading the buses out of camp and leaving Morty behind, in bed, on a raft in the middle of the lake.



Harold Ramis said that Reitman did not know for certain whether Murray would be in the movie until he showed up for the first day of filming.[3]

Filming took place at Camp White Pine, on Hurricane Lake, between Haliburton and West Guilford, Ontario in August-September 1978.[4]

Critical response [edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 72% based on 36 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Meatballs is a summer camp comedy with few surprises, but Bill Murray's riffing adds a spark that sets it apart from numerous subpar entries in a frequently uninspired genre".[5]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "With far fewer high spirits than 'Animal House,' and only two characters of any interest, 'Meatballs' reveals itself to be a loud, off-key cry for conformism of a most disappointing sort. It's a sheep in wolf's clothing."[6] Dale Pollock of Variety wrote, "Record of tv stars making the transition to feature films is spotty overall, but Bill Murray proves a welcome exception to the rule. The 'Saturday Night Live' regular manages to sock over 'Meatballs' with amazing vitality and elan."[7]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and stated that it "is pleasant as can be, but there's hardly a belly laugh in it. Murray plays a nice guy counselor who befriends a lonely camper. It's all very sweet, but funny? Not particularly."[8] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a fast, funny sendup of summer-camp life" that "is not as all-out raunchy as 'Animal House'—but it's hilarious in a similar blissfully uncomplicated and nutty way."[9] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "'Meatballs' is as tartly, unpretentiously funny as its title ... As the senior boys' counselor, an easygoing role model and spontaneous comic genius, Bill Murray of 'Saturday Night Live' makes a deceptively sensational debut as a film comedy star."[10] Jack Kroll of Newsweek remarked that "this film has almost none of the scraggy, raunchy, irreverent anarchy that gave Animal House a kind of perverse anti-style. There's nothing at all perverse about Meatballs; in fact, it's so cutesy, squeaky-clean that it becomes Andy Hardy with a few extra belches."[11]

Box office[edit]

The film was a surprise hit grossing $17.9 million in its first 17 days.[12] The film was the first Canadian film to gross more than $2.5 million in Canada, surpassing 1970's Deux femmes en or, to become the highest-grossing film of all-time, with a gross of $4.2 million, winning the Golden Reel Award for the year.[13][14] It also became the highest-grossing Canadian film in the United States,[13] with a combined gross of $43 million in the United States and Canada.[2]


The film's score was written by Elmer Bernstein and several musicians also contributed to the soundtrack including Mary MacGregor (performing "Good Friend"), David Naughton (performing "Makin' It", which served as the theme for his title sitcom, which was cancelled prior to the film's release), and Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots (performing the title theme "Meatballs"). "Good Friend" and "Makin' It" made the Billboard and Cashbox pop charts (see below).


  • Makin' It (by David Naughton) (Billboard, number 5) / Still Makin' It (instrumental of A-side) -- RSO 916—1979
  • Good Friend (by Mary MacGregor) (Billboard number 39) / Rudy and Tripper (dialogue from film) -- RSO 938—1979


Meatballs RSO 1-3056 (Billboard, number 170, August 1979)

Side one
  1. "Are You Ready for the Summer" – North Star Camp Kids Chorus
  2. "Rudy and Tripper" (instrumental)
  3. "Makin' It" – David Naughton
  4. "Moondust" – Terry Black
  5. "C.I.T. Song" – Original Cast
Side two
  1. "Good Friend" – Mary MacGregor
  2. "Olympiad" (instrumental)
  3. "Meatballs" – Rick Dees
  4. "Rudy Wins the Race" (instrumental)
  5. "Moondust (Reprise)" – Terry Black
  6. "Are You Ready for the Summer (Reprise)" – North Star Camp Kids Chorus

Home media [edit]

Meatballs was first released on DVD in 1999 by HBO (although Paramount Pictures was behind the original theatrical release and the first VHS and SelectaVision release in the 1980s, and also continues to hold international video rights.) Sony Pictures Entertainment issued a special-edition DVD (with an anamorphic transfer, a director's commentary, and a "Making of" featurette) on June 5, 2007. The sequels did not receive the same treatment of re-release. However, Lionsgate released the Blu-ray on June 12, 2012, which retains the commentary from the Sony DVD but not the featurette.


Meatballs was followed by three sequels: Meatballs Part II (1984), Meatballs III: Summer Job (1986) and Meatballs 4 (1992). None of the sequels involved either Ivan Reitman or Bill Murray. Only Meatballs III had any relation to the story or characters of the original, featuring Patrick Dempsey as Rudy Gerner.


  1. ^ Lee, Grant (13 Jan 1979). "FILM CLIPS: Canadians Shooting for the Big Leagues". Los Angeles Times. p. b10.
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for Meatballs". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  3. ^ Martin, Brett (July 2009). "Harold Ramis Gets the Last Laugh". GQ: 64–67, 124–25. Archived from the original on 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-06-22. Bill left Ivan hanging, though. Ivan didn’t know if he was going to be there until the day they started shooting.
  4. ^ Slotek, Jim (2014-05-31). "'Meatballs' celebrates 35th anniversary with a reunion". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2019-07-06.
  5. ^ Meatballs at Rotten Tomatoes Flixster
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 3, 1979). "Screen: Bill Murray in 'Meatballs'". The New York Times. C10.
  7. ^ Pollock, Dale (June 27, 1979). "Film Reviews: Meatballs". Variety. 18.
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 20, 1979). "'Meatballs'—not enough gusto for a main course". The New York Times. Section 4, p. 2.
  9. ^ Thomas, Kevin (July 8, 1979). "Was Summer Camp Ever Like This?" Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 26.
  10. ^ Arnold, Gary (July 11, 1979). "'Animal House' Goes to Camp". The Washington Post. B1.
  11. ^ Kroll, Jack (July 9, 1979). "Animal Houses's Kid Brother". Newsweek. 68.
  12. ^ Pollock, Dale (August 6, 1979). "Par's Rolling in '79 Fiscal Green". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  13. ^ a b "'Meatballs': Canadian Coup Could Gross $50,000,000". Variety. November 21, 1979. p. 46.
  14. ^ "Canada-Only B.O. Figures". Variety. November 21, 1979. p. 24.

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