Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is now an adult working as a pilot for a low budget airline called Econo-Air, and shares a stale relationship with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two sons, their shy and awkward 14-year-old son James (Skyler Gisondo), and their sadistic and intimidating 12-year-old son Kevin (Steele Stebbins). The gloating from his friends Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Nancy Peterson (Regina Hall) about a family trip they had in Paris doesn't help his situation. He desires to relive the fun of his family vacations from his childhood (such as their trip to Vegas, Europe, Walley World, and even staying home for Christmas). These memories prompt him to abandon his family's annual trip to their cabin in Cheboygan, Michigan (which the rest of the family secretly hate) and instead drive cross country to Walley World, just like he did years before with his parents and sister. For the trip, Rusty rents a Tartan Prancer, an ugly, over-complicated Albanian SUV.
Along the way, the Griswolds take many detours. The first is Memphis, where it's revealed that the otherwise mild-mannered Debbie was an extremely promiscuous Tri Pi sorority sister in college nicknamed 'Debbie Do Anything' even when they meet a sorority member named Heather (Elizabeth Gillies). While staying at a motel, James meets Adena (Catherine Missal), a girl his age that he saw while driving on the highway, but is scared away by Rusty trying to entice her towards him in a very embarrassing and weird way.
In Arkansas, they are led to a supposedly hidden hot spring by a "helpful" local, eventually realizing that it's a sewage dump. They return to the Prancer only to see it's been broken into, their luggage and cash stolen, and then sprayed with graffiti in a shape of a penis.
Next they stop in Texas to get help from Rusty's sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann), and her husband, Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth). Rusty begins to suspect problems in his relationship with Debbie due to Stone's obviously outward sexual behavior and actions, but she rebuffs his suspicions. One night, Stone walks in on the couple and makes a show of his attractive body and oversized member.
Spending the following night at an Arizona campsite, Rusty and Debbie sneak away to attempt to have sex at the Four Corners monument, where officers from all four states confront the couple and each other, allowing them to escape. James finally asserts himself against Kevin with encouragement from Adena, who they encounter again. The next morning, after nearly getting killed by a suicidal Grand Canyon rafting guide (Charlie Day), who has just been dumped by his fiancée, the Prancer runs out of gas in the middle of the desert and explodes, leading Rusty to think about the disastrous trip and walk off dispirited and alone. After being tracked-down by a seemingly unstable truck driver (Norman Reedus), who they think has been stalking them throughout the trip, he instead returns Debbie's missing wedding ring and gives them a lift to San Francisco, where they spend the night at a bed and breakfast run by Rusty's parents, Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo). They intend to fly home to Chicago the next day, but Rusty and Debbie confront each other about their stale marriage and decide to start over again.
With some encouragement from Clark the next morning, Rusty borrows his father's Wagon Queen Family Truckster and drives Debbie and the boys to Walley World to ride their newest roller coaster, Velociraptor. After spending the entire day waiting in line, they are cut off by Ethan (Ron Livingston), a more successful airline pilot rival of Rusty's, and his family before the announcement of the park's closing. A fight breaks out, which the Griswolds win, forcing the other family to flee. The Griswolds finally board the ride, but it stalls halfway up a loop, and they are rescued after several hours.
They are brought closer by the experience, and Rusty uses his airline connections to book a relaxing vacation in Paris alone with Debbie, while sending the boys home where the Petersons will look after them. As the film end, we see them on the plane to Paris sitting in a pair of jump seat right next to a lavatory. Exasperated, Debbie asks and learns that it will be a 12-hour flight.
In February 2010, it was announced by New Line Cinema (owned by Warner Bros., which released the previous films) that a new Vacation film was being produced. Produced by David Dobkin and written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the story focuses on Rusty Griswold as he takes his own family to Walley World.
In July 2012, it was announced that Ed Helms would star in the sequel as Rusty Griswold, who now has his own family misadventures on the road. On March 28, 2013, Variety announced that original series stars Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase were in talks to reprise their roles, most likely in the form of a torch-passing cameo role. No mention was made of other series regulars, such as Randy Quaid's Cousin Eddie.
On April 23, 2013, it was reported that the film had been delayed indefinitely, due to creative differences. Later, Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day were also reported to co-star. Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins played Rusty Griswold's sons along with Helms and Christina Applegate. On September 15, Leslie Mann joined the film to play Rusty's sister, Audrey Griswold. On September 29, Keegan-Michael Key and Regina Hall were cast to play family friends of the Griswolds.
On October 10, director Daley revealed in an interview that he might have a cameo with Samm Levine and Martin Starr, which would be a reunion of cult comedy show Freaks and Geeks, though it was not confirmed. On November 12, four actors joined to play Four Corners cops, Tim Heidecker, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, and Michael Peña.
Principal photography began on September 16, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia. On September 16, scenes were filmed on location at the Olympic Flame Restaurant.
On September 30 and October 1, 2014, scenes were filmed on location at The Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast in historic Covington, Georgia. The Twelve Oaks was staged as Christina Applegate's character's sorority house, Triple Pi, and the location of her attempt to run the obstacle course once more to prove that she is the Chug Run champion.
Other scenes were shot around Piedmont and 6th avenues from October 6 to 8, including at the Shellmont Inn. On October 22, 2014, scenes were filmed at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Scenes for Walley World were filmed at Six Flags Over Georgia. The coaster in this movie called Velociraptor is originally the Ninja, created by the Dutch coaster designer Vekoma BV.
In a similar vein to the original film's "Wagon Queen Family Truckster", the film features a custom-designed minivan named the "Tartan Prancer". Dubbed the "Honda of Albania", it is a heavily modified Toyota Previa and features unconventional styling elements such as a mirror-image front and rear clip, complete with two sets of headlights (pulled from the Land Rover LR3/Discovery) and rearview mirrors, as well as dashboard buttons marked by nonsensical symbols. As part of a promotional tie-in with the film, Edmunds.com released a tongue-in-cheek review comparing the Tartan Prancer against the 2015 Honda Odyssey.
The musical score for the film was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. A soundtrack album was released by WaterTower Music on July 24, 2015. In addition to Mothersbaugh's score, it features many contemporary songs, along with several renditions of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" (including a remixed and remastered version of the original that plays at the start of the film, and again near the end).
The film was originally set to be released on October 9, 2015, but it was moved to July 31, 2015, before finally being pushed up to July 29, 2015, the 32nd anniversary of the release of the first Vacation film. Warner Bros. spent a total of $35.2 million on advertisement for the film.
Vacation grossed $58.9 million in North America and $45.8 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $104.7 million, against a budget of $31 million.
The film grossed $1.2 million from its early Tuesday preview showings, and a combined $6.3 million on Wednesday and Thursday. In its opening weekend, it grossed $14.7 million, finishing second at the box office behind Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($55.5 million).
On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a rating of 26% based on 158 reviews and an average rating of 4/10. The site's consensus reads, "Borrowing a basic storyline from the film that inspired it but forgetting the charm, wit, and heart, Vacation is yet another nostalgia-driven retread that misses the mark." On Metacritic, it has a score of 34 out of 100 based on 33 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times gave the film a positive review and praised the Kevin Griswold character, saying, "The kid with the potty mouth may cost Warner Bros. some business at the box office, but in a strange way he elevates Vacation, a very funny R-rated movie with a PG-13 heart." Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B-" rating and wrote, "The new Vacation is both better than I'd feared and not as hilarious as I'd hoped. It's intermittently funny and instantly forgettable." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "It's a vile, odious disaster populated with unlikable, dopey characters bumbling through mean-spirited set pieces that rely heavily on slapstick fight scenes, scatological sight gags and serial vomiting." Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers gave it 1.5 out of five stars, saying: "Leslie Mann and wild-card Chris Hemsworth, as her cock-flashing hubby, get the heartiest hoots. The rest is comic history warmed over."