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For a low-budget Canadian film about summer camp, 1979’s Meatballs had quite the impact. At the time, the $1 million production was the country’s highest-grossing film. Its $43 million in box office would be $150 million today, surpassed only ?by 1982’s Porky’s ($300 million today) and 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($336 million). It also made Bill Murray a star and established Ivan Reitman, who would later direct Ghostbusters, Twins and Kindergarten Cop.
Meatballs‘ ?plot centers on low-rent Camp North Star’s head counselor Tripper Harrison (Murray), who revels in practical jokes, ups ?the self-esteem of downtrodden campers, leads a competition against rival Camp Mohawk and falls in love with a head counselor. While audiences loved it, THR was ambivalent.
“Perhaps the nicest thing about Meatballs … is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it really is, a pleasant ?summer diversion,” said the review. (Jeffrey Katzenberg, then a ?young creative exec at Paramount, had seen its potential and pushed for it to be acquired.)
While Meatballs had a massive effect on Murray, then on Saturday Night Live, he almost didn’t make the movie. “I knew about two days before we started shooting that he was absolutely doing it,” says Reitman. “Then he showed up?on the second day of shooting. He just didn’t want to do it. He just refused to say ‘yes.’ And I refused to hire anyone else and kept pestering him.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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