Saturday Night Live’s relationship with motion pictures hasn’t always been pretty. Just because a character captures a late-night following during a five minute sketch doesn’t mean they can sustain an entire feature. With the spotty history of SNL movies, it’s understandable that fans these days tend to eye releases like the upcoming MacGruber with skepticism. After all, for every Wayne’s World and Blues Brothers, turkeys like It’s Pat, Ladies Man and Blues Brothers 2000 seem to be waiting around the corner to gobble up the cash of unsuspecting comedy fans.
Thankfully, early buzz on MacGruber, the first SNL movie in a decade, is quite positive so far. To help get you into the spirit and avoid any missteps until its May 21st release, we’ve put together a handy dandy guide to the best and worst SNL movies.
Top 5 Best SNL Movies
1. The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Candy, Cab Calloway
The Gist: Brothers Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) Blues are on a mission from God. After being released from prison, the Brothers Blues learn that the nun-run home where they grew up is in danger of closing unless they can raise the $5,000 owed in property taxes. The brothers set out to get the old band back together and raise the money to save their home.
The Verdict: Directed by John Landis, Blues Brothers is arguably the greatest of all the SNL features, for whatever that’s worth. And like Orson Welles struggled to top Citizen Kane, SNL producer Lorne Michaels has never quite been able to reach such a high note again.
Why It Worked: Along with the classic comedy duo of Aykroyd and Belushi, Landis was riding a comedy hot streak coming off Kentucky Fried Movie and Animal House. And if the terrific comic talent wasn’t enough, Blues had exceptional music courtesy of an endless barrage of musical legends popping in for musical numbers that put Broadway to shame.
2. Wayne’s World (1992)
The Cast: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere, Lara Flynn Boyle
The Gist: Wayne (Myers) and Garth (Carvey) run a public access show that is starting to get some attention. A local station decides to produce the show professionally and turn Wayne and Garth into stars, but the metal heads soon learn life in the limelight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The Verdict: Never taking itself too seriously, Wayne’s World is plain old dumb fun. Opting for simplicity with a twist, Wayne expands on the simple concept of the sketch, tacks on a slightly bigger plot and throws in Rob Lowe, who is smart enough to know he’s the butt of the joke and just roll with it.
Why It Worked: There’s something about the mixture of comedy and great music that seems to fuel the best SNL movies. Like Blues, Wayne’s World features a comic teaming with undeniable chemistry. Though it came out years later that Carvey and Myers weren’t each other’s biggest fans, you never would have known it watching this one. They look like they’re having a blast and audiences were happy to come along for the ride.
3. Wayne’s World 2 (1993)
The Cast: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tia Carrere, Kevin Pollack, Kim Basinger
The Gist: Wayne (Myers) and Garth (Carvey) return to organize a rock show with the aid of Jim Morrison’s ghost. Meanwhile, Wayne’s hottie rock star girlfriend Cassandra (Carrere) is being wooed by a sleazy producer (Walken) who has eyes for more than her musical talents.
The Verdict: There are moments here where the joke is wearing a bit thin, but the talent of Carvey and Myers combined with another strong supporting cast keep audiences laughing at (and with) this goofy long-haired duo for another few hours.
Why It Worked: Again, casting is king. WW2 adds the incomparable Christopher Walken (and unofficial SNL cast member) as well as Kim Basinger, who plays a blonde seductress named Honey Hornee, a name that puts anything in Austin Powers to shame. The scene with Hornee seducing Garth is worth the price of admission alone.
4. Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
The Cast: Al Franken, Laura San Giacomo, Vincent D’Onofrio
The Gist: Like Wayne and Garth, 12-stepper Stuart Smalley (Franken) has gained a small following from his cable access show. But when the show gets the boot, Smalley must return to his old office job and come to the rescue of his wildly dysfunctional family.
The Verdict: Coupled with a credible, albeit inconsistent, director in Harold Ramis, Franken’s lovable loser is hard to hate. Sure, his schtick gets a little tiresome by the end of this one, but he’s mostly good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it, likable enough not to wear out his welcome too early. Stuart found its supporters and has even garnered a cult following over the years.
Why It Worked: We all know Franken’s creation is poking fun at the whole 12-step motivational speaker phenomenon and yet, we can’t help but feel a bit of empahty for this grinning simpleton. Franken dives into the character head first and never relents, eventually forcing out the laughs like that drunk friend who won’t stop telling the same joke until you can’t help but utter a chuckle.
5. A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
The Cast: Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Dan Hedaya, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jennifer Coolidge
The Gist: So how do you make a whole movie out of two vaguely European club-hoppers who drive around bopping their heads to “What Is Love” and driving away every female they come into contact with? Well, you focus on the characters and worry about the plot later. This razor thin story involves something about getting into the hottest club and possibly opening their own club one day. Whatever.
The Verdict: Admittedly, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit to even come up with 5 “Best” SNL movies. Laughter-wise, the hits run about even with the misses here, but Roxbury is harmlessly silly enough to keep audiences from feeling too duped.
Why It Worked: Unlike some of the movies below, Roxbury has enough charm to avoid full-on irritation. Some of the jokes don’t gel and there’s only so much head-bobbing to Haddaway anyone can take, but even bad Ferrell is still pretty good and the ending sequence, which parodies Say Anything..., is pretty damn funny.
Bottom 5 Worst SNL Movies
1. It’s Pat (1994)
The Cast: Julia Sweeney, Dave Foley, Charles Rocket, Kathy Griffin
The Gist: The androgynous “it” gets its very own movie. In this loose, loose plot line, Pat falls for another sexual mystery case named Chris (Foley) while neighbor Kyle (Rocket) becomes obsessed with revealing Pat’s sexual identity.
The Verdict: Arguably the very worst of all the SNL movies, which is really saying something. After the one-two punch of Wayne’s World and its sequel, Michaels felt compelled to cash in on every vaguely popular SNL character, past or present, releasing Coneheads, It’s Pat and Stuart Saves His Family in successive years.
Why It Didn’t Work: This occasionally funny sketch is the definition of a one-note joke. There just isn’t much to Pat. Unlike the more successful SNL movies, Pat doesn’t even bother with a high concept plot, instead lifting scenarios straight from the original sketches. As the old adage goes, why buy the cow... Well, you know.
2. Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
The Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Dr. John, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes
The Gist: Elwood (Aykroyd) is released from jail only to learn that his brother Jake has passed away and that he has a sort of brother, Cabel Chamberlain (Morton). Jake recruits bartender buddy Mighty Mac (Goodman) in a repeat mission to put the band back together and win a battle of the bands competition.
The Verdict: Sometimes it’s best to let a good thing rest in piece. The laughs of the original came with natural, furious abandon. In 2000, they feel forced and obvious. Yes, there’s still some good music, but even that doesn’t have the same soulful flow.
Why It Didn’t Work: Take your pick. Belushi’s death gives this one an inappropriate feeling to begin with, even 18 years later. Landis was at his peak when he directed the first film, but here comes off the turkey double header of Beverly Hills Cop III and The Stupids. Likewise, Aykroyd, though still a respectable actor, is long past his glory days as one of comedy’s kings. Even the always likable Goodman looks like he isn’t sure what he got himself into. 2000 just wreaks of desperation on all fronts.
The Cast: Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Mark McKinney
The Gist: Catholic high school misfit Mary Katherine Gallagher (Shannon) struggles to fit in and achieve her dreams of love and superstardom.
The Verdict: Like Pat, this is a character that has the tendency grind on the nerves in too heavy a dosage, even at this relatively svelte 81-minute run time. Unlike Pat, though, Superstar has its defenders and has even managed to garner a cult following over the years.
Why It Didn’t Work: At $34 million in box office (4th all time for an SNL movie) it can’t be denied that this one somehow struck a nerve with some audience members. Still, the scope feels limited and the thin plot doesn’t do much to justify an entire feature. Shannon and Ferrell are talented comedians to be sure, but here their skills feel underutilized and dulled.
4. Ladies Man (2000)
The Cast: Tim Meadows, Karyn Parsons, John Witherspoon, Billy Dee Williams, Will Ferrell, Tiffany Thiessen
The Gist: Late night love guru Leon Phelps (Meadows) is fired from his radio show along with his producer Julie (Parsons). When a wealthy former lover sends a letter offering to take care of Phelps, the perennial Don Juan can’t figure out which of his many conquests sent the note. Also a group of scorned husbands has banded together to put an end to the Ladies Man.
The Verdict: Poor Tim Meadows never really did get his due on SNL and Ladies Man feels kind of like a pity party to thank the underrated comic for his years of servitude to King Lorne. There are a few strong moments, such as Ferrell’s band of not-so-merry husbands leading a West Side Story-esque musical number, but nowhere near enough to make this one worth a full viewing.
Why It Didn’t Work: Like so many to come before, Ladies Man has a limited scope that struggles to hold audience interest, even at 84 minutes. The laughs are sprinkled throughout, but are all too often generated by the supporting players rather than by Meadows himself. It’s not the worst of the SNL movies, but it did mercifully end the SNL movie genre, at least for the next decade.
5. Coneheads (1993)
The Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Phil Hartman, David Spade, Chris Farley
The Gist: Michaels mines the vaults, this time returning to the oddball alien family first popularized in the mid-‘70s by original SNL cast members Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin. The feature version finds these “French” aliens attempting assimilation while avoiding those ever-pesky INS agents and their attempts to reveal the Coneheads’ true origin.
The Verdict: Smack dab in the middle of the SNL releases quality-wise, this one is not without its redemptive qualities. With a massive cast and cameos from just about every SNL alumni of the past decade, there are bound to be a few laughs here and there. But as a whole, Coneheads is wildly uneven and ultimately unsatisfying.
Why It Didn’t Work: For one, the target moviegoing audience of 1993 was completely unfamiliar with the original sketch. Michaels and crew tried to go big, throwing in a huge cast and dazzling special effects, but the blockbuster approach only takes Coneheads further away from its origins, becoming some kind of weird sci-fi high concept Frankenstein of the old sketch.
What’s your favorite (or least) SNL movie? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.