American Animals

American Animals is a 2018 crime docudrama film written and directed by Bart Layton. Starring Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, and Ann Dowd, it follows four college friends who plan a heist of their library. It tells the story of an actual heist which took place at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004.[4]

American Animals
American Animals.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBart Layton
Written byBart Layton
Produced by
CinematographyOle Bratt Birkeland
Edited by
  • Nick Fenton
  • Chris Gill
  • Julian Hart
Music byAnne Nikitin
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 19, 2018 (2018-01-19) (Sundance)
  • June 1, 2018 (2018-06-01) (United States)
  • September 7, 2018 (2018-09-07) (United Kingdom)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
Box office$3.5 million[3]

American Animals premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018. The film was theatrically released in the United States on June 1, 2018 by The Orchard and MoviePass Ventures.[5] Among other awards the film won the Junior Jury Award at The Montclair Film Festival. It received critical acclaim, particularly for its screenplay, acting, use of unreliable narrators, and an unconventional storytelling structure that fused real-life characters and actors representing those characters.


Spencer Reinhard, an art student seeking excitement or tragedy for inspiration, is given a tour of Transylvania University library's rare-book collection; his eye is drawn to a rare first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America. He and his friend Warren Lipka, a rebellious student on an athletic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, discuss the possibility of stealing it and other rare books.[6] They note that the collection is guarded by only one librarian, whom they believe they could easily overpower before stealing the books and escaping via the staff elevator. Warren travels to Amsterdam to meet black-market buyers who express interest, informing Spencer they could make millions. They later enlist the help of two friends: Eric Borsuk to provide logistics and Chas Allen as the getaway driver.

They make an appointment for a private viewing of the collection in order to gain access to the room, and arrive disguised as elderly businessmen; but they abort the heist when Warren sees multiple librarians in the room. Spencer wants to abandon the plan, but Warren persuades him and the others to try again the next day. Spencer acts as a lookout as Warren and Eric, without disguises, enter the library. Warren clumsily tases the librarian, making Eric help restrain her. They blunder to the exit, dropping The Birds of America, but escape with two books.

The group travels to Christie's auction house in New York to get the authentication of value Warren said the Dutch buyers required. Spencer is told he has to return the next day and leaves his cell phone number with an assistant. Chas berates Spencer for using a phone number that can be identified as his, and they return to Lexington with the books. Shortly after, Spencer realizes the police will also be able to trace the email address they used to make the appointments with Christie's and the library; the FBI eventually does, and they are arrested.

In documentary interviews with the real-life thieves filmed years after they are released from prison, they express regret. Spencer suspects Warren may have lied about going to Amsterdam in order to convince the others to partake in the heist. Eric and Chas now live in California as a writer and a fitness coach, respectively; Warren studies filmmaking in Philadelphia; and Spencer lives in Lexington as an artist.


Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk and Betty Jean Gooch all appear as themselves, along with Reinhard's parents, Allen's mother, Lipka's father, and one of the culprits' teachers.[7]

Additionally, Gary Basaraba and Lara Grice portray Warren's parents, Jane McNeill portrays Spencer's mother, and Whitney Goin portrays Chas's mother. Wayne Duvall appears as Coach Bill Welton.


Filming began in Charlotte, North Carolina, in February 2017. Many of the scenes were filmed on campus at Davidson College.[8][9][10][11] The title comes from Eric Borsuk's memoir, which derives its name from a passage in On the Origin of Species, one of the books stolen by the gang, about animals dwelling in the cave systems of Kentucky;[12] this quote is featured at the beginning of the film.

The film blurs elements of fiction and documentary, with the real-life versions of people depicted occasionally appearing alongside the actors in scripted scenes, and different versions of the same scene shown to reflect different accounts of events by the participants.


The score and themes were composed by Anne Nikitin. Other songs include:[13][14]


It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018.[5] The film's distribution rights were purchased by The Orchard and MoviePass Ventures for US$3 million. It was released on June 1, 2018.[15][16]

Box officeEdit

In its opening weekend the film made US$140,629 from four theaters (an average of US$35,157), finishing 24th.[17] According to their own reports, MoviePass members made up 25–35% of the film's opening weekend audience. Speaking about American Animals, as well as MoviePass Ventures' other film Gotti, one independent studio head told Deadline Hollywood: "It used to be in distribution, we'd all gossip whether a studio was buying tickets to their own movie to goose their opening. But in the case of MoviePass, there's no secret: They're literally buying the tickets to their own movie!"[18]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 215 reviews, and an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "American Animals tangles with a number of weighty themes, but never at the expense of delivering a queasily compelling true crime thriller."[19] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20]


  1. ^ "American Animals". Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  2. ^ Lodge, Guy (January 19, 2018). "Film Review: 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  3. ^ "American Animals (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Lee, Chris (June 1, 2018). "The Real-life Heist Caper Behind American Animals". Vulture. New York Media. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Debruge, Peter (November 29, 2017). "Sundance Film Festival Unveils Full 2018 Features Lineup". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  6. ^ Scott, A. O., "In ‘American Animals,’ These Guys Didn’t Visit the Library to Study", The New York Times, May 30, 2018.
  7. ^ Lodge, Guy (January 19, 2018). "Sundance Film Review: 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  8. ^ Janes, Théoden (March 3, 2017). "About that movie being shot in Charlotte right now..." The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  9. ^ Lee, Cameron (February 15, 2017). "Indie film "American Animals" starring Evan Peters and Blake Jenner being shot in Charlotte". CLTure. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Robert (February 9, 2017). "Blake Jenner, Four Others Join Evan Peters in Indie Heist Film 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  11. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (November 1, 2016). "Evan Peters To Star In Bart Layton's Heist Pic 'American Animals'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  12. ^ Paul H Barrett (23 May 2016). The Works of Charles Darwin: Vol 15: On the Origin of Species, (First Edition, 1859). Routledge. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-315-47704-6.
  13. ^ "American Animals Soundtrack". Spotify. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  14. ^ "American Animals Soundtrack". TuneFind. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  15. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (February 14, 2018). "The Orchard & MoviePass Ventures To Unleash Sundance Acquisition 'American Animals' This Summer". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  16. ^ Lang, Brent (January 24, 2018). "Sundance: MoviePass, The Orchard Buy 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 3, 2018). "'Solo' Hits Asteroid With $29M-$30M; 'Action Point' Condemned To $2M+: Post-Memorial Day Blues At The B.O." Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 17, 2018). "MoviePass Reps 40% Of 'Gotti's $1.67M Opening As Critics Slaughter John Travolta Mob Pic". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  19. ^ "American Animals (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  20. ^ "American Animals Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 15, 2018.

External linksEdit