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John David Landis[1] (/ˈlændɪs/; born August 3, 1950)[2] is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is best known for the comedy films that he has directed, such as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983), Three Amigos (1986), Coming to America (1988) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), and for directing Michael Jackson's music videos for "Thriller" (1983) and "Black or White" (1991).

John Landis
John landis.jpg
John Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary in 2005
John David Landis

(1950-08-03) August 3, 1950 (age 68)
ResidenceBeverly Hills, California
OccupationDirector, producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active1969–present
Known for The Blues Brothers
Michael Jackson music videos
Beverly Hills Cop III
National Lampoon's Animal House
Coming to America
An American Werewolf in London

Trading Places
Net worth$70 million
Children2, including Max Landis


Early lifeEdit

Landis was born into a Jewish family[3] in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer and decorator.[4] Landis and his parents relocated to Los Angeles when he was four months old. Though spending his childhood in California, Landis still refers to Chicago as his hometown, and is a big fan of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.

When Landis was a young boy, he watched The 7th Voyage of Sinbad which inspired him to become a director:[5]

I had complete suspension of disbelief—really, I was eight years old and it transported me. I was on that beach running from that dragon, fighting that Cyclops. It just really dazzled me, and I bought it completely. And so, I actually sat through it twice and when I got home, I asked my mom, "Who does that? Who makes the movie?"[6]



Landis began his film career working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. He worked as a "go-fer" and then as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969; he replaced the film's original assistant director, who became ill and was sent home.[7] During that time Landis became acquainted with actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom would later work in his films. Following Kelly's Heroes, Landis worked on several films that were shot in Europe (especially in Italy and England), including Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard (a.k.a. A Town Called Hell).[7] Landis also worked as a stunt double.

I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. ... I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.[7]

Landis made his feature debut in 1971 as a director in the US with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies.[7] The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker—the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Schlock was a failure, and Landis was not offered another directing job for some time.[citation needed]

In 1977, Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.[7]


In 1978 Landis directed his first film for Universal Studios, National Lampoon's Animal House, which was financially successful, earning over $120 million, domestically, at the box office.[8] In 1980 he co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It featured musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was, at the time, one of the most expensive films ever made, costing almost $30 million (for comparison, Steven Spielberg's contemporary film 1941 cost $35 million). It is speculated that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie.[7] The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers (as the unnamed desk clerk near the end) and Landis had made a cameo in 1941 as a messenger.

In 1981, Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. It was perhaps Landis's most personal project; he had been planning to make it since 1969, while in Yugoslavia.

Twilight Zone deathsEdit

On July 23, 1982, during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) were killed in an accident involving an out-of-control helicopter. The three were caught under the aircraft when it crashed.[9] The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:

The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.[10]

Landis and four other crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless, and had not told the parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours.[9] He admitted that he had violated the California law regulating employment of children, by using the children after hours, and conceded that that was "wrong." But he denied culpability.[9] Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After a nine-month jury trial during 1986 and 1987, Landis, represented by criminal defense attorneys Harland Braun and James Neal, and the other crew members were acquitted of the charges.[11][12]

Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws in California.[11] The parents of the children sued, and eventually settled out of court with the studio for $2 million per family. Morrow's children, one of them being actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was 20 at the time, also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Landis said:

When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts—which we weren't—and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter—which it didn't. ... The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The special effects man who made the mistake by setting off a fireball at the wrong time was never charged.[7]

Subsequent film careerEdit

Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. After filming ended, Landis and his family went to London.

Next, Landis directed Into the Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie. The film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis appeared in the film as an Iranian hitman. To promote the movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night".

His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to ... films of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the Landis film, portraying himself.[citation needed]

In 1986 Landis directed Three Amigos, which featured Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin.

Landis co-directed and produced Amazon Women on the Moon. It is a satirical comedy film that parodies the experience of watching low-budget movies on late-night television.

Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America, which was commercially successful. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.[citation needed]

In 1991 he directed Sylvester Stallone in Oscar, based on a Claude Magnier stage play. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, as an homage to old Hollywood films.[citation needed] In 1992 Landis directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.

In 1994, Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. In 1996 he directed The Stupids. Then he returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998 with John Goodman and, for the fifth time in a Landis film, Dan Aykroyd: during that same year, he directed Susan's Plan. The four movies did not score with critics and audiences.

Burke and Hare was released in 2010, Landis's first theatrical release for over a decade.

In August 2011, Landis said he would return to horror and would be writing a new film.[13] He was the executive producer on the comedy horror film Some Guy Who Kills People.

Music videosEdit

He has directed several music videos. He was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller".[7] The resulting video significantly impacted MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won numerous awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009 (months before Jackson died), Landis sued the Jackson estate in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claimed to be owed at least four years' worth of royalties.[14][15]

In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White".


Landis has been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), Masters of Horror, and various episodes of Psych. He also made commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney. In 2011 he made an appearance in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's television series Psychoville.


Landis made his first documentary, Coming Soon in 1982; it was only released on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. Later in his career he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). These documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked on the Making of Thriller, which was filmed in 3-D.[16] Landis appeared in the Spanish documentary The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which covered the career of Spanish movie director Paul Naschy.[17]

Personal lifeEdit

Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman, an Oscar-nominated costume designer, two-term president of the Costume Designers Guild, and director of The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. They have two children: Max, a screenwriter, and Rachel, an early childhood educator with a master's degree in Human Development. In a BBC Radio interview, he stated that he is an atheist.[18] The family lives in Beverly Hills, California.[19]


The moving image collection of John Landis is held at the Academy Film Archive.[20]


Landis' work has received recognition from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences also known as the (ATAS), the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, the National Cable Television Association, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Rando Hatton Classic Horror, the Amiens International Film Festival, the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, the Fantafestival, the Fantasporto Film Festival, the Italian National Syndicated of Film Journalists, the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival.



  • 1982 - Saturn Award for Best Writing (An American Werewolf in London)
  • 1984 - CableACE Award for Documentary Special (The Making of 'Thriller')
  • 1984 - Fantasporto Award for International Fantasy Film Award (Twilight Zone: The Movie)
  • 1984 - Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Award for Best Foreign Director (Trading Places)
  • 1991 - CableACE Award for Comedy Series (Dream On)
  • 1992 - Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director (Oscar)
  • 1993 - CableACE Award for Comedy Series (Dream On)
  • 1994 - CableACE Award for Comedy Series (Dream On)
  • 1995 - CableACE Award for Comedy Series (Dream On)
  • 1995 - Cable ACE Award for Directing a Comedy Series ("The Courtship of Martin's Father") (Dream On)
  • 1995 - CableACE Award for Comedy Series (Dream On)
  • 1995 - CableACE Award for Directing a Comedy Series ("Off-Off Broadway Bound") (Dream On)
  • 1995 - Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director (Beverly Hills Cop III)
  • 1997 - Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director (The Stupids)
  • 2012 - Rond0 Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Film (Burke and Hare)



Year Title Director Producer Writer Actor Notes
1970 Kelly's Heroes Yes Production assistant
Uncredited role: Sister Rosa Stigmata
1973 Schlock Yes Yes Yes Role: Schlock
1973 Battle for the Planet of the Apes Yes Role: Jake's Friend
1975 Death Race 2000 Yes Role: Mechanic
1977 The Kentucky Fried Movie Yes Yes Uncredited role: TV Technician
1978 Animal House Yes
1979 1941 Yes Role: Mizerany
1980 The Blues Brothers Yes Yes Yes Role: Trooper La Fong
Co-written with Dan Aykroyd
1981 An American Werewolf in London Yes Yes Yes Uncredited role: Man Being Smashed Into Window
1982 Coming Soon Yes Yes Yes Documentary
1982 Eating Raoul Yes Uncredited role: Man who bumps into Mary
1983 Trading Places Yes Yes Uncredited role: Man with briefcase
1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie Yes Yes Yes Segments: "Prologue" and "Time Out"
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan Yes Role: Leonard Winesop
1985 B.B. King "Into the Night" Yes Yes Documentary
Co-directed with Jeff Okun
1985 Into the Night Yes Yes Role: SAVAK
1985 Spies Like Us Yes
1985 Clue Yes Executive producer
Co-written with Jonathan Lynn
1986 Three Amigos Yes
1987 Amazon Women on the Moon Yes Executive producer
Directed five segments
1988 Coming to America Yes
1990 Spontaneous Combustion Yes Role: Radio Technician
1990 Darkman Yes Role: Physician
1991 Oscar Yes
1992 Innocent Blood Yes
1992 Sleepwalkers Yes Role: Lab Technician
1992 Body Chemistry II: Voice of a Stranger Yes Role: Dr. Edwards
1992 Venice/Venice Yes Role: Himself
1994 Beverly Hills Cop III Yes
1994 The Silence of the Hams Yes Role: FBI Agent
1996 The Stupids Yes
1996 Vampirella Yes Role: Astronaut #1
1997 Laws of Deception Yes Role: Judge Trevino
1997 Mad City Yes Role: Doctor
1998 The Lost World Executive producer
1998 Blues Brothers 2000 Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Dan Aykroyd
1998 Susan's Plan Yes Yes Yes
1999 Diamonds Yes Role: Gambler
1999 Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby Yes Role: Judge
2004 Surviving Eden Yes Role:
2004 Spider-Man 2 Yes Role: Doctor
2005 The Axe Yes Role: Père copain Maxime
2005 Torrente 3: El protector Yes Role: Embajador árabe
2007 Look Yes Role: Aggravated Director
2010 Burke and Hare Yes
2011 Some Guy Who Kills People Executive producer
2012 Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader Yes Role: Professor
2015 Wrestling Isn't Wrestling Yes Short film
Role: Therapist


Year Title Director Producer Writer Actor Notes
1974 The Six Million Dollar Man Yes Role: Michael
Episode: "The Pal-Mir Escort"
1976 Holmes & Yo-Yo Yes Episode: "Key Witness"
1985 Disneyland's 30th Anniversary Celebration Yes Television documentary
1985 George Burns Comedy Week' Yes Episode: "Disaster at Buzz Creek"
1990 Psycho IV: The Beginning Yes Television film
Role: Mike Calveccio
1990–1996 Dream On Yes Yes Executive producer
Directed 17 episodes
Role: Herb
1990 Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration Yes Television documentary
1994 Weird Science Executive producer
1994 The Stand Yes Role: Russ Dorr
Episode: "The Stand"
1995 Sliders Executive producer
1997–1999 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show Yes Executive producer
Directed episode: "Honey, Name That Tune"
1999–2002 The Lost World Executive producer
2002 The Kronenberg Chronicles Yes Executive producer
2004 Slasher Yes Television documentary
2005–2006 Masters of Horror Yes Yes Directed and wrote episode: "Deer Woman"
Directed episode: "Family"
2007 Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Yes Yes Television documentary
2007–2008 Psych Yes 3 episodes
2008 Fear Itself Yes Episode: "In Sickness and in Health"
2008 Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen Executive producer
Television documentary
2011 Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV Yes Stand-up special
2012 Franklin & Bash Yes Episode: "Voir Dire"

Music videosEdit

Year Title Artist
1983 Thriller Michael Jackson
1985 My Lucille B.B. King
1985 Into the Night B.B. King
1985 In the Midnight Hour B.B. King
1986 Spies Like Us Paul McCartney
1991 Black or White Michael Jackson

Other worksEdit


  1. ^ "John Landis - NNDB". Retrieved 2017-07-28.
  2. ^ "John Landis - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". Retrieved 2017-07-28.
  3. ^ Bloom, Nate (February 2, 2012). "Jewish stars: Whales, ghosts and 'Smash'". Cleveland Jewish News.
  4. ^ John Landis bio @ Yahoo! Movies
  5. ^ As told to Robert K. Elder for The Film That Changed My Life,
  6. ^ Landis, John. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p. 223. Print.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan (2008). John Landis. M Press. ISBN 1-59582-041-8.
  8. ^ "National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2017-07-28.
  9. ^ a b c Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (1988). "Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case". Arbor House (Morrow). Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. ^ Airplane disaster report Archived March 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ a b Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy". Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved December 26, 2008.
  12. ^ Weber, Bruce. "James F. Neal, Litigated Historic Cases, Dies at 81", The New York Times, October 22, 2010,
  13. ^ Chitwood, Adam. "John Landis Co-Writing New Horror Movie". Collider.
  14. ^ Legal Thriller: Michael Jackson Sued by John Landis Yahoo News, January 27, 2009
  15. ^ "Michael Jackson sued by 'Thriller' director".
  16. ^ "Michael Jackson's Thriller to Get 3D Treatment?". DreadCentral.
  17. ^ "Naschy Documentary to Debut This Fall".
  18. ^ "Interview: John Landis, conducted by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode". Kermode and Mayo's Film Review, BBC Five Live. London. November 11, 2011. Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  19. ^ "John Landis' House in Beverly Hills, CA - Virtual Globetrotting".
  20. ^ "John Landis Collection". Academy Film Archive.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit