Neighbors (1981 film)

Neighbors is a 1981 American dark comedy based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Berger. It was released through Columbia Pictures, was directed by John G. Avildsen, and starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cathy Moriarty, and Kathryn Walker. The film takes liberties with Berger's story, and features a more upbeat ending. The screenplay of the film is officially credited to Larry Gelbart, although it was extensively rewritten, to Gelbart's public disapproval. Released two and a half months before John Belushi's death, the film marks his last film performance.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn G. Avildsen
Produced byRichard D. Zanuck
David Brown
Screenplay byLarry Gelbart
Based onNeighbors
by Thomas Berger
StarringJohn Belushi
Dan Aykroyd
Cathy Moriarty
Kathryn Walker
Music byBill Conti
CinematographyGerald Hirschfeld
Edited byJane Kurson
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1981 (1981-12-18) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8.5 million
Box office$29,916,207[1]


Earl Keese is a low-key, ineffectual, middle-class suburbanite with a wife, Enid, and a teenage daughter, Elaine. Earl's peaceful, dreary life changes when a younger couple, Vic and Ramona, move in next door. Upon arrival, the new neighbors immediately impose themselves on the Keese household, leaving Earl infuriated with the loud, gung-ho Vic, and flustered by the sly and seductive Ramona. Earl is frustrated by his inability to handle them, and the fact that he can never come up with any proof that the couple are doing anything wrong on purpose. Enid and Elaine are no help, and over the course of one night, the antagonism between Earl and his new neighbors escalates into suburban warfare. Earl begins to question his sanity, and the sanity of his wife and daughter. He realizes that his new neighbors have provided him with the most excitement he's had in years, and that they can give him a promising future apart from suburbia and away from his family. In the film's closing scene, Earl joins Vic and Ramona, leaving his family behind and his house on fire.



Thomas Berger's bestselling novel, Neighbors, was published in 1980. Columbia Pictures acquired the rights to film the novel, and assembled a high-profile cast and crew: Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown had produced Jaws (1975); John G. Avildsen won an Academy Award for directing Rocky (1976); veteran comedy writer Larry Gelbart developed the hit TV series M*A*S*H (1972-1983); and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were the stars of TV's Saturday Night Live (on which they appeared from 1975-1979) and the film The Blues Brothers (1980). The film's female leads were played by Cathy Moriarty, who made her film debut in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), and Kathryn Walker, who had been the girlfriend of Belushi's National Lampoon colleague Douglas Kenney (1946-1980).

The production of Neighbors was troubled. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd switched their roles in pre-production, acting against type (usual-wild man Belushi played the meek Earl and usual-straight-arrow Aykroyd played the obnoxious Vic). Belushi and Aykroyd also argued constantly with director John G. Avildsen (as they believed that he had no understanding of comedy), and lobbied to have him removed from the picture. Belushi wanted either Aykroyd, himself or John Landis to direct the film. Avildsen also argued with producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, and screenwriter Larry Gelbart objected to the changes made to his screenplay by Dan Aykroyd. John Belushi's drug problems also impaired the film's production, and Neighbors would prove to be Belushi's final film before dying of a drug overdose.

Tom Scott was originally assigned to compose the score for Neighbors but was replaced by Avildsen's frequent collaborator Bill Conti. John Belushi unsuccessfully tried to have the film finish with a song written and performed by the punk rock group Fear (Belushi had discovered the band and brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for the film). Music producing partners Steve Cropper and Bruce Robb remember recording the band's music, but nobody knows exactly what happened with the final soundtrack which was ultimately replaced in the film by Conti's more traditional movie score. "How can I describe what it was like recording in the early days of punk?" said music producer and Cherokee owner Bruce Robb. "We had decided to track the song selection in order, and were on track 4 before the band realized they were all using different set lists. The irony is we couldn't tell." Upset with Belushi's antics and believing that Fear's music was inappropriate for Neighbors, the movie studio eventually forced the band off the soundtrack project. To make up for it, Belushi got them a guest spot on Saturday Night Live.

A comprehensive look at the troubled production of Neighbors can be found in the books Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward (1984) and Belushi: A Biography by Judith Belushi Pisano and Tanner Colby (2005).


Critical reception

For one test-version of the film, the head of Columbia Pictures, Frank Price, made the contentious decision to have quotations from positive press reviews of Berger's book assembled into a caption that would serve as a prologue to the film (this move prompted an angry missive from Dan Aykroyd). The final version of Neighbors was released to cinemas in December 1981. Although Neighbors was not a commercial flop, it received mixed reaction from both critics and from some fans of Belushi and Aykroyd, who didn't like that they played the complete opposite character types that they usually would.

David Ansen, writing for Newsweek Magazine, wrote:

Thomas Berger's paranoid comic novel could have been made a fascinating movie in the hands of, say, Roman Polanski, who knows how to make a comedy of menace. John G. Avildsen (Rocky) doesn't have a clue: you can't twist reality if you can't establish a reality to twist. Belushi and Aykroyd obviously got cast because they're "bankable," but no one seems to have asked if they were appropriate. The parts demand subtle comic acting – they do TV turns. Just how much blame falls on Larry Gelbart's disjointed script is hard to say (Avildsen could make any writer look bad), but without question Bill Conti has come up with the year's most offensive score – a cattle prod of cartoonish cuteness that only underlines the movie's desperate uncertainty of tone. The ads for Neighbors call it "a comic nightmare;" it's more like a sour case of creative indigestion.[2]

On the other hand, Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film three stars out of four, and wrote that "Neighbors is a truly interesting comedy, an offbeat experiment in hallucinatory black humor. It grows on you." Ebert also wrote approvingly of Belushi and Aykroyd as the leads, citing it as "brilliant casting, especially since they divided the roles somewhat against our expectations."[3] In his book Guide for the Film Fanatic, Danny Peary wrote, "I think this surreal comedy is imaginatively done, and perfectly conveys the lunacy of the two comics...I'm glad they went against type because both actors are at their absolute best." Peary argued that the "final picture is faithful to Thomas Berger's zany, satirical novel" but noted that he prefers "the film's happier ending."[4]


In December 2007, Varèse Sarabande released the Neighbors soundtrack on CD. The CD contains the score by Bill Conti as heard in the film (tracks 1-30), as well as the unused score by Tom Scott (tracks 31-49).

1."Neighbors Main Title"2:58
2."New Neighbors"3:41
3."A Little T.V."0.33
4."Buying Dinner"0:57
6."More T.V."1:32
7."In the Yard"1:11
8."Looking Around"2:42
9."Home Sweet Home"0:32
10."Baby's New Do"0:43
11."The Swamp"0:56
13."Locked In"0:29
14."A Vivisectionist?"1:10
15."Getting Towed"0:43
16."Lights Out"0:28
17."Night Watch"0:31
18."Let's Talk"1:00
19."Over Coffee"0:28
20."I'll Be Back"0:48
22."Hi Neighbor"1:52
24."There's No Place Like Home"1:42
25."Please Stay"0:59
26."We'll Miss You"0:22
27."Red Stone Romance"1:58
28."Spruce Hill"1:02
29."Leaving the Neighborhood"2:14
30."End Credits"2:37
31."Main Title"1:36

While the film features the songs "Hello, I Love You" by The Doors, "Holiday In Cambodia" by Dead Kennedys, and "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, none of the songs are included on the soundtrack album.


  1. "Neighbors (1981)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  2. Woodward, Bob. Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (1984, Simon & Schuster) pp. 262–263.
  3. Ebert, Roger (1 January 1981). "Neighbors Movie Review & Film Summary (1981)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-08-29.
  4. Peary, Danny. Guide for the Film Fanatic (1986, Simon & Schuster) p.295.
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