Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bart Layton|
|Written by||Bart Layton|
|Music by||Anne Nikitin|
|Cinematography||Ole Bratt Birkeland|
|Box office||$3.5 million|
American Animals is a 2018 crime drama film written and directed by Bart Layton. The film stars Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, and Ann Dowd. It is based on a real life library heist at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018 and was released in the United States on June 1, 2018, by The Orchard and MoviePass Ventures. It was released theatrically in the United Kingdom on September 7, 2018, by STX International. The film received positive reviews from critics, with many praising the performances.
The storytelling frequently jumps between interviews with the real people portrayed in the film and the actual events performed by actors.
In 2003 in Lexington, Kentucky, Spencer Reinhard is an art student who feels his life has no meaning and that he needs something exciting, even if tragic, in his life to inspire greater artistry. Warren Lipka is a rebellious student on an athletic scholarship, though he does not care much for sports and is only pursuing the education to please his family.
After Spencer is given a tour of Transylvania University library's rare book collection, the two plan to steal a valuable edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America and other rare books. Warren travels to Amsterdam to meet black market buyers who express interest. Upon returning to the U.S., he informs Spencer that they could make millions of dollars, much to their excitement.
Realizing that pulling off the heist will require more people, they enlist the help of childhood friends Erik Borsuk, who helps provide the logistics, and Chas Allen, who will be the getaway driver. They prepare for the job, learning that the only person guarding the books is the special collections librarian, Betty Jean Gooch.
On the day of the robbery, they disguise themselves as elderly businessmen and enter the library. After noticing that there are too many people in the special collections library for the job to succeed, they abort the heist and retreat. Three of the conspirators want to give up, but Warren calls the library asking for a private appointment the next day.
They drop the elaborate disguises. While Spencer acts as a lookout, Warren and Eric enter the library dressed as businessmen. Warren clumsily tases the librarian and makes Eric help tie her up and gag her. They take the rare books and blunder to an exit. In a panic, they drop and have to leave the biggest prizes, two enormous Audubon books comprising "The Birds of America." All four manage to escape with two of the rarer books.
They take the books to Christie's auction house in New York to get the authentication of value that Warren had said the Dutch buyers required. Spencer is told he has to return the next day and leaves his cell phone number with an assistant. In the van outside, Chas berates everyone for their stupidity, and they return to Lexington with the books. Shortly after, Spencer realizes that the police will be able to trace them from emails they used in setting up the heist as well as his cell phone number.
The thieves show signs of great stress as they try to lie low: Warren attempts to shoplift from a grocery store; Spencer gets into a car accident; and Eric starts a bar fight. Inevitably, the FBI raid their homes and arrest them. Movie titles show they each were sentenced to seven years incarceration.
After prison, the real-life robbers express their regret, noting how much pain they have put their families through. It is also revealed that Warren may have lied about going to Amsterdam, fabricating the story to get the others to agree to the heist. An epilogue describes their lives after prison. Eric lives in Los Angeles as a writer, and Chas has become a fitness coach in Southern California. Warren has re-enrolled in college and studies filmmaking in Philadelphia. Spencer still lives in Lexington making a living as an artist, specializing in birds. Betty Jean Gooch, the librarian, still works at Transylvania University.
- Evan Peters as Warren Lipka
- Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard
- Blake Jenner as Chas Allen
- Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk
- Udo Kier as Mr. Van Der Hoek
- Ann Dowd as Betty Jean Gooch
Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk and Betty Jean Gooch all appear as themselves. 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.  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.
The film blurs elements of fiction and documentary, with the real-life versions of people depicted occasionally appearing alongside the actors in scripted scenes.
- Devil In Me - 22-20s
- Sound of da Police - KRS-One
- Free Animal - Foreign Air
- In Cold Blood - Alt-J Baauer remix
- Hurdy Gurdy Man - Donovan
- A Little Less Conversation - JXL Radio Edit Remix
- Breathe and Stop - Q-Tip
- Red Balloon - Tim Hardin
- Bullet in the Head - Rage Against the Machine
- Definition - Black Star
- D.R.E.A.M. - Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli
- What It's Worth - Black Milk
- Ms. Fat Booty - Mos Def
- Here Come the Nice - Small Faces
- Carbona Not Glue – The Ramones
- Runnin' - The Pharcyde
- NY State of Mind - Nas
- Are You Satisfied? - Reignwolf
- Shook Ones (Part II) - Mobb Deep
- It Was a Good Day - Ice Cube
- They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) - Pete Rock
- When I B On tha Mic - Rakim
- Shark Fin Blues - The Drones
- Vitamin C - Can
- New York Groove - Ace Frehley
- Peace Frog - The Doors
- I'm Alive - Johnny Thunder
- Who By Fire - Leonard Cohen
- Crucify Your Mind - Rodriguez
It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018. The film's distribution rights were purchased by The Orchard and MoviePass Ventures for $3 million. It was released on June 1, 2018.
In its opening weekend the film made $140,629 from four theaters (an average of $35,157), finishing 24th. According to their own reports, MoviePass members made up 25–35% of the film's opening weekend audience. Speaking about 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!"
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 187 reviews, and an average rating of 7.7/10. 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." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
- "American Animals". Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
- Lodge, Guy (January 19, 2018). "Film Review: 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
- "American Animals (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
- Lee, Chris (June 1, 2018). "The Real-life Heist Caper Behind American Animals". Vulture. New York Media. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
- Debruge, Peter (November 29, 2017). "Sundance Film Festival Unveils Full 2018 Features Lineup". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- Lodge, Guy (January 19, 2018). "Sundance Film Review: 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- Janes, Théoden (March 3, 2017). "About that movie being shot in Charlotte right now..." The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
- Lee, Cameron (February 15, 2017). "Indie film "American Animals" starring Evan Peters and Blake Jenner being shot in Charlotte". CLTure. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "American Animals Soundtrack". Spotify. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- "American Animals Soundtrack". TuneFind. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- 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.
- Lang, Brent (January 24, 2018). "Sundance: MoviePass, The Orchard Buy 'American Animals'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- 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.
- 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.
- "American Animals (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved September 4, 2018.
- "American Animals Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 15, 2018.