Saturday Night Live is the high water mark of improv comedy. Since it's inception in 1975, the TV staple has ushered in countless pop culture personalities, many of whom have gone on to become legendary performers in their own right. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy -- the list of power players goes on and on. Granted, the show has had it's ups and downs in the decades since, but there remains a startling success rate for comedians crossing over to the big time.
Numerous SNL sketches have been propped up on the silver screen, from Coneheads (1993) and It’s Pat (1994) to A Night At The Roxbury (1998) and Superstar (1999) -- projects that, while classic in their own cult way, left much to be desired in terms of actual quality. Thankfully, these comprise only the tip of the SNL iceberg, while the majority of this silly mass makes up some of modern cinema’s best comedy. Spanning the realms of rom-coms to supernatural farces, these witty men and women have made their alma mater more than proud.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Best Comedies Starring SNL Alumni.
Produced by SNL mastermind Lorne Michaels, Mean Girls (2004) is the high school comedy everyone wishes they could make. Ripe with mockery and closet sincerity, co-writer Tina Fey flips the classic tale of a good girl (Lindsay Lohan) who sells her soul to the Queen Bee (Rachel McAdams) for popularity. As blasé as plots can come, though Fey and director Mark Waters use this cliche to compose a hilarious send-up of the teenage struggle. Star-making turns from Lohan, McAdams, and Amanda Seyfried only fuel the film’s verbal barbs, dumping a load of quotables into the pop culture stream that we will never fully recover from.
And if that wasn’t sweet enough, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, and Fey pop up to play middle-aged equivalents; grown adults who aren’t any more mature than the students they try to corral. Especially Amy Poehler, who’s “fetch” performance as Mrs. George will forever be linked with milkshakes and unsettling hugs. A rarity on the list through it's lack of starring alumni, Mean Girls still rocks that SNL spirit like a sexy Santa suit.
Selecting a single Will Ferrell entry is tough, especially with gems like Elf (2003) and Anchorman (2005) up for contention. But for a capsule of all that's right with the comedian’s happy-go-lucky schtick, Step Brothers (2008) is the way to go. Starring Ferrell and frequent collaborator John C. Reilly as thirtysomething losers-turned-siblings, this screwloose outing provides ample space for the duo to do their riled-up thing. Long gone is the naive fluff that drove Roxbury, and in it's place stands a pair of tuxedoed guys so committed to immaturity it's almost admirable.
Ferrell and Reilly have a blast building bunk beds and destroying boats, while the raunchier elements manage to burrow below typical SNL standards. Fortunately, the skilled eye of director Adam McKay keeps things afloat, whether it be through drumset debacles or the most vulgar love affair of our time. Step Brothers fills a pillowcase full of jokes and beats the viewer down for 98 minutes, but by the time it's over, it's proven as majestic as a vocal mashup of Fergie and Jesus. Just don’t say anything about shoulder pain.
Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) took their garage band to the big screen in 1992, and subsequently jump started the second golden age of SNL. Pulling it's setup from the show’s recurring sketch, the film tracked the grungy duo as they partnered with Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) to take over the airwaves. In the process, these excellent dudes find time to rock "Bohemian Rhapsody" and spit unworthy game to Tia Carrere and company. Myers and Carvey bustle with cartoony energy in the roles that made them famous, while their bro-ed out chemistry keeps lesser (or nonexistent) plot points to a minimum.
Expanding upon the “shwing” stylings of the show, World still holds up as a comedy perfectly catered to the MTV crowd. Catchphrases and corny pickup lines are second only to the charming bravado of the group, amply supported by Chris Farley and iconic rockers Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, and Jimmy DeGrasso. By the time Robert Patrick pops in to spoof his year old turn in T2: Judgement Day, Wayne’s World solidifies its status as the “Babraham Lincoln” of '90s comedy.
Bridesmaids took the movie world by storm in 2011, a perfect marriage of feminine wiles and knockdown hilarity. With two SNL mainstays at the helm in Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph, the film posed a grand opportunity for female comedians to strike big -- and strike, they did. Led by co-writer Wiig and director Paul Feig, Bridesmaids is an movie that gets everything right, from fresh humor to the sincerity of each impending dilemma. Granted, most of us (hopefully) haven’t had explosive bowels in the middle of a New York street, but the concerns of being left behind by old friends and underachieving are more than enough reason to get hammered and badger a flight attendant.
Wiig and Rudolph slay their Wilson Phillips friendship, while Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, and Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy spark up more laughs than a campfire at a clown convention. Feig’s spirited direction rounds things out beautifully, and by the time this pre-wedding debacle comes to a close, there’s nothing left to do but take three seconds, return to your seat, and enjoy it all over again.
The production of The Blues Brothers (1980) was notoriously rough, noted for its set pieces, scripting concerns, and John Belushi’s hardcore partying, each of which drove the release date back and budget costs up. Completed after both Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had departed SNL, it was a gamble that could’ve folded up but quick. Obviously, tragedy was soon averted upon release, and Blues has taken it's rightful place among the greatest comedies of its time, complete with top-notch chemistry and ADD direction from John Landis.
The film’s agenda is riddled with Illinois Nazis, rabid police, and a killer Carrie Fisher, who simply refuses to quit -- or stop shooting. Car pileups of epic proportions and musical performances (Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles) line the rest of this wacky narrative, while Jake and Elwood southern fry their way through slick odds with even slicker Ray Bans to boot. To be fair, they were on a mission from God, so it's not like failure was ever part of the plan.
While Belushi and Aykroyd were busy destroying Neo-Nazis in the Midwest, SNL alum Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were hitting the green in 1980’s Caddyshack. An ensemble of eccentrics who frequent the Bushwood Country Club, the film marked the directorial debut of Harold Ramis, who had previously written for National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Meatballs (1979). Ramis understood the new wave of comedy like few other filmmakers, and this talent serves Brian Doyle-Murray’s script with scatterbrained clarity.
A lot goes on in Caddyshack, whether dealing in the subplot of teen caddies or the slurred nonsense of Carl Spackler (Murray), the patron saint of groundskeepers. His gopher vendetta is only matched in oddity by rambling womanizer Ty Webb (Chase), who respects the sport of golf far more than gregarious millionaire Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield). All three men, with the added prissiness of Ted Knight, keep Caddyshack alive as a film with more classic moments than actual plot points to sustain them. But when floating Baby Ruth bars and Kenny Loggins theme songs are involved, there’s little than can be done to mess things up.
Which is the better golf comedy: Caddyshack or Happy Gilmore (1996)? It is the eternal question, and one that’ll never be agreed upon, as it speaks to both the quality of the films and the loyalty of differing generations. Either way, both deserve to be siddled nearby, as they excel in the same shenanigans that are typically shut out of otherwise calming events. Adam Sandler plays Happy, a hotheaded hockey player who discovers a gift for driving on the range. In desperate need of money, the uncouth athlete becomes a national phenomenon, and shenanigans involving Kiss, Carl Weathers, and Mr. Larson soon follow.
Happy Gilmore is Sandler in his prime, a barely functioning basket case with a bizarre blend of charm and comedic timing. His outbursts in the film are classic, whether towards Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) an unlucky alligator, or a particularly pissed off Bob Barker. Where more recent Sandler projects have collapsed on their own laziness, Gilmore sports more than enough fun to steal the show, or Grizzly Adams doesn’t has a beard.
Steve Martin was the rock star of SNL during the '70s, selling out arenas on the strength of his absurdist standup comedy. His persona as a happening dork with blissful ignorance was captured perfectly through The Jerk (1979) and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), both of which lay claim to cracking an expansionary version of the list. But for peak Steve Martin, and the role that makes best use of his frazzled comedy chops, one needn’t look further than Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987). Directed by '80s icon John Hughes, the film presents a classic pairing in the guise of Neal Page (Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy), two mismatched scragglers struggling to get home for Christmas.
Though far more stiff than prior screen portrayals, Martin’s performance perfectly bounces off his comedic counterpart, who dismantles his manicured life in the matter of a few days. From confusing pillows and setting a car on fire to the obscenity that makes up the greatest airline exchange in history, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is not only the best Martin movie, but one of the best ever road flicks, period.
Take The Twilight Zone, add a dash of Bill Murray, and the result is 1993’s spectacular Groundhog Day. Reteaming Murray with partner-in-crime and writer/director Harold Ramis, the film follows Phil Connors as he's sent to cover the findings of another Phil, the famous groundhog from Punxsutawney. All is kosher until the next morning, when the smug reporter realizes he’s stuck in the same day, doomed to repeat things indefinitely. A potentially limiting set-up, though Murray and Ramis masterfully construct this comedy to reflect more than the perks of inconsequential results.
Whether sculpting ice, playing piano, or seducing newswoman Rita (Andie MacDowell), Murray provides one of his best performances, a part perfectly catered to his grouchy slouch persona. Bonus points for including SNL alum Chris Elliott as a smarmy cameraman, but either way, the picture is a gem of ingenious sight gags and heartfelt reflections. As such, Groundhog Day is one of the few films that gets to have its cake and eat it too. All in one bite, just like Bill.
Eddie Murphy was the man in the early '80s. Hot off 48 Hrs. (1982), Trading Places (1983), and standup special Delirious (1983), it seemed as though the clown prince of comedy couldn’t get any bigger. And then Beverly Hills Cop arrived, showing everyone what superstardom truly was. Released in 1984, the film starred Murphy as Axel Foley, a Detroit cop who follows a personal case to the glitzy streets of Beverly Hills. Originally intended as a Sylvester Stallone action flick, Paramount instead rolled the dice on this rising talent, and the results were massively successful.
Even now, thirty years later, the sheer electricity of Murphy’s presence is infectious. Every line, delivery, and game that Axel plays is bursting off the screen with excitement, whether it be chatting with Serge (Bronson Pinchot), screwing with the cops (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton), or harassing villain Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff) at a local luncheon. As good as he was on SNL, Beverly Hills Cop remains the perfect sampling of Murphy's talents, a fit more snug than a banana stuffed in the tailpipe.
Billy Crystal’s run on SNL was brief, spanning only the 1984-85 season. Blessed with an ability to appear both optimistic and pessimistic, it was a talent that eventually nabbed him the layered lead in the romantic classic When Harry Met Sally… (1989). Working with director Rob Reiner for the third time, the film tackled the age old myth of men and women being unable to remain friends without romantic involvement. Offered the chance to flash some real acting chops, the witty comedian is sincere perfection in the title role.
Playing opposite Meg Ryan in her feathered heyday, Crystal evokes a guy who so badly wants to love and be loved in return that he would rather shut people out than experience rejection. Luckily, this provides a chance for both performers to charm each other silly, a proven breeze given the palpable chemistry present when discussing Casablanca (1942) or simulating the effect of female erm… acting. Whichever way you order it, heated or not, this slice of rom-com pie always hits the spot.
Clark Griswold is the definitive Chevy Chase role. The poster child for failed family men, he’s the kind of guy who couldn’t put out fire in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A klutz, a charmer, and all around goof, the character reeked of Chase’s persona, who so memorably made his mark as the smooth-talking yutz on SNL. As such, 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation marked the perfect storm of comedic success. Director Harold Ramis once again takes the reins, pushing and pulling his onscreen family to the brink of insanity, only to recede and start anew with the next detour.
Adapted from a short story by John Hughes, Vacation also stands out through it's gutsy brew of family values and raunchy tactics. For every good lesson thrown in, there’s a murdered dog, a dead grandma, or an adulterous possibility that keeps things quick and nimble. But Chase is the real hero here, playing just the right amount of schmuck-ness before he snaps in the film’s final act. He promises fun as if some sadistic goal that must be fulfilled. Fortunately, for the viewer, any such results are completely by choice.
Unless you happened upon the sequel-ish reboot. There wasn't much fun to be had there.
For all the wondrous dialogue that’s made it's way into SNL movies over the years, perhaps none come as quotable as 1995’s Tommy Boy. The lines that emanate from this thing are simply functioning on a different level, whether it be about fat guys in little coats or the expected graduation rate of doctors. Bonnie and Terry Turner, the writing duo behind Wayne’s World, craft their grandest script to date, and the efforts of Chris Farley and David Spade only highlight this hilarious achievement. The skit savvy duo, worlds apart in physique and performing style, come together to maximize talent while bringing out the best in their respective craft.
Knockout visual gags and snarky comebacks aside, Tommy Boy is incredibly consistent, rarely dipping and always staying five steps ahead of studio muck like Stuart Saves His Family (1995). Dan Aykroyd pops up to lend his motor-mouthed antics, but it's quite obvious the film belongs to the lead duo, as they avoid DUI’s and pedal brake pads like no one’s business. A comedy this perfect can only be summed up in two ecstatic words: “Holy Shnikes!”
For anyone critical of late era Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer (1998) is typically the example that sells their case. Set amidst the neon curls of 1985, the film follows titularly-employed Robbie (Sandler) as he tries to keep waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore) from marrying a Miami Vice moron. A departure for the typically immature comedian, Singer was a move that tackled romance and laughs in equal measure, and the results were cooler than Michael Jackson red leather. Sandler nails the role of the manic former rocker, waxing his explosive outbreaks in perfect harmony with a new and improved leading man persona.
It doesn’t hurt that he and Barrymore also have adorable chemistry, quirking their way through wedding arrangements and Barmitzvah bottom-grabbing. And let’s be real for a minute: has there ever been a better use of Billy Idol or rapping grandmas? We didn’t think so.
The Wedding Singer is a staple of '90s comedy, and a benchmark for the quality of SNL alum. Love may stink, but we can’t help but fall for this nostalgic laughfest.
Ghostbusters (1984) is The Avengers (2012) of SNL. Pairing Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and close collaborator Harold Ramis, the film compresses ghostly fun, supernatural terror, and a radiant Sigourney Weaver into a smooth wheeling adventure of slimers and streams. It was a brash gimmick to cast this quartet (hey Ernie Hudson!) as paranormal exterminators, but director Ivan Reitman adapts Ramis and Aykroyd’s story into the rare concept comedy that actually works.
The banter between stars is top-notch, with Murray’s sardonic team captain leading the way through gatekeepers, keymasters, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Reworked from a failed SNL skit intended for Aykroyd and Belushi, the film allows each eccentric personality to shine, from eggheaded Egon (Ramis) to breakdancing expert Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). A defining smash of the decade, this pop culture masterpiece is still the only one to call when there's something strange in the neighborhood. This summer’s reboot has got some big backpacks to take over.
What's your favorite comedy headlined by an SNL alum? Let us know in the comments.