The films Animal House, Porky’s, Revenge of the Nerds, PCU, and Old School follow an archetypical and evolutionary pattern of comedic brotherly formation or reformation of an organized fraternity in a higher learning institution. Each of these films have been released in its own generation, often times portraying a previous generation or satirizing its own generation. These patterns include similar narrative structures of a high fraternity of good ole’ boys attempting to sustain or improve their social status against a new or reborn group of a lesser fraternity attempting to enter or maintain their position and domain. Additional patterns will be in post-theatrical cultural and historical significance, replay value based on cult status, the revenge plot, and independent or low-budget productions.

The archetype posited is no different than most coming-of-age films dealing with education, but the films in question feature gross-out, R-rated humor and have found critical, box office, or cult status success, and have a generational impact. Each of the films in question have a basic external struggle of outcasts finding acceptance, the means to legitimize a new or fledging fraternity, and/or save or acquire a domain to house the organization. The each film deals with the alignment of a higher fraternity or student body figure with a collegiate or university executive(s), often a college dean. The higher fraternity or student body figure is coerced into framing the lower fraternity to the point of near extinction. The need for the lower fraternity to exact revenge is necessary for the organization and individuals to survive in the new environment.

The analysis of these films may seem elementary at first or even naïve to be considered for investigation, however this examination is fundamental in reaching a higher understanding of the individual films and the broader social identification of morals in post-Classical Hollywood audiences. This essay will use a structuralist methodology to denote that these films are a part of a repetitive generational archetype that uses comedy to express and re-assert common American morals, ideals, and behavior to the dominate eighteen to twenty-four year-old male theater-going audience and demographic. Each film in question frames a current generational theme or aspect of the generation before. These films portray the virtues of good over evil, political corruption, and at the time of each films’ individual release, an examination of the modern college or university’s social spheres and mores.

Over the course of several generations, American cinema has depicted the changing popularity, necessity, and downfall of fraternities and sororities. Rarely, if ever, have American films portrayed fraternities in a positive light. From Animal House in the late 1970s to Old School in the early 2000s American cinema has portrayed the changing landscape from the division of fraternal tropes within the very fraternities to acceptance of all race, ages, social class, and academic abilities in. The American Generational Fraternal Comedy since 1978 has mirrored the American collegiate lack of need for discriminatory and capricious societies and instead has promoted diversity and universal acceptance.

Individual Films

Animal House

Released on July 28, 1978 with a budget of $2.7 million (2010: $9 millionAnimal House would be of the most profitable films in American film history in terms of gross to budget1. Directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller, this film would start the generation fraternal comedy archetype. Targeted toward the late baby boom generation, the film portrays 1962 college life and is a catalyst for the gross-out sub-genre popular with the demographic, garnishing an R rating.

Two freshmen, Larry “Pinto” Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent “Flounder” Dorfman (Stephen Furst) (Hereafter, the characters in Animal House will be referred to by their nicknames, Pinto and Flouder, as they are used in the film.) seekout Omega Theta Pi house to pledge but are unwelcome, and are instead accepted into the worst house on campus, Delta Tau Chi, based solely on their needs to increase dues. Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) wants to remove the Delta fraternity from campus due to repeated conduct violations, pegs Omega president Greg Marmalard (James Daughton) to find a way to get rid of the Deltas permanently.

Bluto and Daniel Simpson “D-Day” Day (Bruce McGill) persuade Flounder to sneak Doug Neidermeyer’s (Mark Metcalf) horse into Wormer’s office late at night after Neidermeyer had harassed him earlier. They give Flounder a gun and tell him to shoot the horse. Not knowing the gun is filled with blanks and not wanting to kill the horse, Flouder fires into the air. The noise frightens the horse killing it instantly. A Bluto shows his impression of a popping pimple which starts a food fight that overwhelms the food hall allowing Bluto and D-Day steal the answers to an upcoming psychology test. Unknown to them, the Omegas have planted the exam and the Deltas get every answer on the test incorrect. Their grade point averages drop so low that Wormer only needs one more incident to revoke the charter that allows them to remain on campus.

The Deltas have a destructive toga party featuring Otis Day and the Nights performing “Shout” in an iconic scene. Wormer revokes the fraternity’s charter after hearing of the party. After several downer plot twists, the Deltas are reinvigorated by a rant by Bluto prompting the Deltas to exact revenge by crashing the annual homecoming parade.

While the revenge never truly places the Deltas in a higher position, they do in fact reduce the social status and morale of those in attendance at the parade.

The cultural significance of Animal House is beyond just film criticism; in 2001 the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film started the trend of gross-out humor and the archetype in discussion. Many of the talents in the film would become staples in future films with similar ideals. The film also includes Saturday Night Live (SNL) star John Belushi, a member of the founding SNL cast, a moment declaring the generation.

The film finished with a domestic gross of over $120 million making over 44 times its budget and created a toga party craze at the time. A television spin-off was created and quickly canceled featuring many of the original characters and cast. Cast note: Tim Matheson as Eric “Otter” Stratton would be found in Van Wilder

Revenge of the Nerds

Released on July 20th, 1984, Revenge of the Nerds increased awareness of the nerd or geek culture that had been brewing from the mid-1970s onward. Written by: Jeff Buhai, Miguel Tejada-Flores, and Steve Zacharias and story by Tim Metcalfe, the film had a $8 million budget (2010: $16.8 million) and was given an R rating.

Nerds Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) enroll in Adams College to study computer science. The Alpha Betas, a fraternity to which many members of the school’s football team belong, carelessly burn down their own house and seize the freshmen dorm for themselves. The college allows the displaced freshmen, living in the gymnasium, to join fraternities or move to other housing. Lewis, Gilbert, and other outcasts who cannot join a fraternity renovate a dilapidated home to serve as their own fraternity house. They are accepted by the national black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs).

The Nerds prepare a party and invite the Tri-Lambs head but the party is nearly ruined before it starts when the Pi Delta Pis fail to meet their promise of making an appearance. However, thanks to the Omega Mus—a sorority consisting largely of overweight or nerdy women—do appear and provide a generous supply of marijuana and the party is successful. The Alpha Betas and Pis unleash pigs in the nerds’ house, then taunt and moon them; national Tri-Lamb members see the harassment the nerds. The first step in the fraternity’s social acceptance.

To seek revenge, the Tri-Lambs enter the Pi Delta Pi house in a panty raid to act as a distraction to install spy cameras. Later, the Tri-Lambs sneak into the football team’s locker room and put a powerful liniment on the players’ jock straps, resulting in a painful and humiliating football practice. The nerds’ ingenuity impresses the Tri-Lambs and officially make them the Adams College chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda. This rite of passage is the second step of Tri-Lamb acceptance.

After more harassment by the Alpha Betas, the Tri-Lambs realize they need to win control of the Greek Council by winning the annual Greek Games during homecoming, using their intelligence as a tool. Victorious, the Tri-Lambs extend their new power to the greater community and announce their acceptance of the unaccepted.

Animal House portrayed the destruction of a lesser fraternity without a payoff of maintaining its position, but simply exacting revenge of their rival’s parade float and expressing schadenfreude. Instead, Revenge Of The Nerds features a payoff where the Tri-Lambs successfully win the Greek Games and reach out to the broader community. This is a sign that the characters in Revenge of the Nerds are willing to make reformation changes to the student body through playing the game legitimately. The Deltas in Animal House however choose sheer destruction as a sign of revenge.

Revenge of the Nerds was successful with a $40.8 million domestic gross and would spawn several sequels over the years. The film would create quotable moments such as the disgusted utterance “Nerds!” in a implied derogatory fashion.


PCU was released on April 29, 1994 with a budget of $9,000,000 (2010 13.2 million).

Preppy pre-freshman Tom Lawrence (Chris Young) who visits Port Chester University, a college where fraternities have been outlawed and political correctness is rampant on campus. Tom unwillingly finds himself in the middle of the war between “The Pit” and “Balls and Shaft”, two rival groups on campus. Balls and Shaft members want the outlawed Greek system to return. Members of The Pit, a party-frat which split from Balls and Shaft years prior, currently led by James “Droz” Andrews (Jeremy Piven), just want everyone to get along. Besides Balls and Shaft, the other great nemeses of The Pit are a radical feminist group on campus known as the Womynists, and the college president, Ms. Garcia-Thompson (Jessica Walter), who is obsessed with enforcing “sensitivity awareness” and multiculturalism. Ms. Garcia-Thompson conspires with Balls and Shaft to get The Pit, their mutual nemesis, kicked off campus.

The Pit responds by throwing a party to raise funds to pay off their debts and keep their house. The party at first appears to be a failure. However, a series of unlikely events results in George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic performing at the party. Ms. Garcia-Thompson throws the The Pit out using new complaints and the history of complaints against The Pit as her reason. The members of The Pit plot their ultimate revenge at an alumni gathering the next day. They succeed in provoking the other students into an impromptu protest (ironically using the collective chant “We’re not gonna protest”), causing the Board of Trustees to fire Garcia-Thompson due to her inability to control the students.

PCU flopped commercially, only taking in $4.3 million. Despite the film’s inability to find an audience theatrically, the film would become a frequent staple on premium movie channels such as HBO. Piven’s “Don’t be that guy” would become a cult-phrase to criticize those who attended concerts wearing t-shirts of the artist or group they were intending to see. The Caine-Hackman theory became a cult favorite as well which pose the idea that any time on cable television there was either a Michael Caine or a Gene Hackman film airing.

Regardless of its commercial failure, PCU follows the narrative structure of the generation fraternal comedy and includes similar characters. The plot aligns itself in a similar fashion to both Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. Where the previous films established the outcasts, PCU portrays the result of drastic reformation in the university system, such as a more diverse student population that begs for political correctness and even the abolishment of fraternities. Balls and Shaft, a conservative origin for The Pit, romanticizes the days when they were the higher fraternity. PCU could be looked at as a result and a possible counter to Revenge and Animal House.

The film aligns itself as anti-political-correctness satire of how the mid-Generation Xers were dealing with college in an age of diversity, centered around MTV, and began to use computers and the internet for research and the completion of projects. The film includes David Space as the SNL star.

Old School

Directed by Todd Phillips and written by Phillips with Scott Armstrong, Old School had a $24 million budget[ (2010: $28.5 million).

Mitch (Luke Wilson), after leaving his girlfriend, purchases a house near his old college and Bernard (Vince Vaughn)  holds a house party in Mitch’s honor and to help attract women. The party ignites Frank (Will Ferrell) to begin drinking again and returns to his previous bachelor behavior against his new wife’s wishes. Snoop Dog makes a surprise appearance and performs for the audience.

The trio meet Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven) who explains the house is now specifically designated for social services and community housing. Mitch, Frank, and Bernard must either move out or meet the Dean’s criteria in order to keep the house. Bernard shares the idea to start a fraternity that is open to everyone. Although Mitch is initially reluctant to accept the notion of turning his house into a fraternity, he agrees with the idea and is dubbed “the Godfather”.

Dean Pritchard revokes the charter claiming the group violated an assortment of university policies and all students involved were set for expulsion. Mitch, a lawyer by trade, finds a loophole allowing the fraternity to complete a series of collegiate activities. The fraternity succeeds in the assignments but the absence of a deceased member, Blue, reduces the overall grades and the revocation stands. Frank obtains a tape that revealing that the Dean bribed the Student Council President with admission to Columbia. The Dean is fired and the fraternity takes residence in the Dean’s former on-campus home.

The film, according to Phillips is a comedic answer to Fight Club and the comparisons are certainly valid, it is more interesting to consider the affect of the previously mentioned films on Old School‘s narrative structure and tropes. Was the film’s similarities to the generation fraternal comedy unconscious or were the paths laid down by Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and PCU a direct influence?

Old School grossed $75.5 million and has become a cult sensation among Generation Y. Will Farrell at the time was the SNL star, and included Jeremy Piven, originally a protagonist in PCU, now a corrupt antagonist in Old School.

Narrative Tropes

The narrative trope of the Generational Fraternal Comedy is a sub-myth of Joseph Cambell’s monomyth or hero’s journey. One or several friends enter or return to the new world of college looking for acceptance, a common American paradigm shift and coming of age moment and rite of passage. These characters are typical hero figures in the mythological sense, and their arrival in this new world is a catalyst for a larger group of natives to reassert their dominance or create a new social sphere.

These character(s) are then refused social entrance into the high fraternity or group with the highest social and financial status, only to be accepted into the lesser fraternity, though not necessarily in this order. The denial of the higher fraternal order limits the characters to the generational outcasts of the university or college, making them outcasts as well and experiencing a social stigma. The university or college dean or executive expresses distaste at the lesser fraternity’s behavior and has a leader or spokesperson of the highest fraternity or student body to frame the lesser fraternity as a catalyst for destruction or removal.

The heroes are involved in separate incidents that severely lower their behavioral credibility, all-the-while, the high fraternity has set-up their framing technique. A large party is thrown at the lower fraternity’s domain, which provokes the university executive to dismiss the fraternity from affiliation. Often this party or celebration begins as a failure, but through a series of luck and the surprise appearance of a music act, the party becomes legendary. The framing technique is launched and the lower fraternity is then expelled or exiled from the university. The lower fraternity takes revenge at a major social event either gaining prominence over the situation, finding equilibrium in the social sphere, and/or revealing the executive level corruption.

The characters in these films are also mirror the societal acceptance of a new social group and acceptance and embracing the idea that not all are welcome at higher fraternities. Revenge of the Nerds obviously explains acknowledgement that ‘nerds’ or the technologically and academically advanced, yet socially inept characters are now in numbers to be accepted by the greater community, and that the greater community needs nerds and each has a nerd inside of them. PCU satirizes the Generation X’s new diversity and how political correctness has changed the collegiate social landscape. It is the fraternities that are now outcasts. Old School features a fraternity that is a comedic answer to Fight Club with Animal House tendencies. Members are of all races, ages, ethnicities, and sizes, even though the main characters are in their 30s. They join to resist the American Dream.

The generational fraternal comedy may be found in many other films produced and released before, after, and between the films in question. However, it is these films that have been analyzed have the most cultural significance to American film history and have established themselves as seminal films of this sub-genre of films. The narrative structures have obvious similarities and contain the same evolution of post-Classical Hollywood narrative techniques in comedy. The overall analysis of these films reveal that these films have unconscious structuralist lessons for the audience. Good over evil, political corruption and revenge through schadenfreude (even if it is returning the favor) and universal acceptance of all people are many of the overall lessons portrayed in these films. A higher fraternity either loses its reign and a lesser fraternity finds equilibrium within their college culture. Each film is an cultural update to reflect the mores of its current generation.

For the next decade, it will be interesting seeing where the next film that uses the same tropes and structuralist form takes the social mores to. More important, finding a pre-cursor to Animal House would be just as important. Van Wilder has many of the same elements of the generational fraternal comedies, however due to its close proximity to Old School it has been excluded from this essay.

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Aaron Weiss founded CinemaFunk in September 2009 after recieving his degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Central Florida. In 2012, he received his Master's in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He works full-time as a Senior Web Strategist at Tampa SEO Training Academy. When not doing either, Aaron is watching Indycar races, taking a hike, or riding his bike in Tampa, FL.