In honor of Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary, I have decided to recognize the impact the show has had cinematically by listing the top SNL films. In terms of criteria for this list, I will consider films that include at least 2 actors and/or writers who can owe their success to the show. That means no Martin Short, no Christopher Guest, no Billy Crystal, and no Robert Downey Jr. Almost 50 films fit my criteria, but only 11 films have been made that are truly based on an SNL skit, and honestly most of them are terrible. Therefore, I have prepared a Top 11 list to replace that one and here they are!
11. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – Clearly some of you are already calling shenanigans on this pick, but hear me out. Yes, this is a Mike Myers vehicle all the way and you have to go pretty deep to make this film fit my criteria but a relatively unknown Will Ferrell does play the scene stealing Mustafa, henchman to Dr. Evil. However, what really makes this film deserving of this list is the fact that Myers admits that his portrayal of Dr. Evil is directly based on an exaggerated version of SNL creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels. Groovy, baby!
10. Happy Gilmore – Adam Sandler films, on the whole, are relatively unremarkable, and at times they are downright insulting and offensive. However, as you’ll see later on this list, when SNL and golf get together, sometimes lightening strikes twice. Adam Sandler plays a hockey player turned golfer with a knack for the tee shot but that’s about it. Sandler’s buddy and cast-mate Kevin Nealon plays the zen-like foil to Sandler’s temperamental Happy and SNL writer Robert Smigel shows up for a moment to put the SNL stamp on this one.
9. Spies Like Us – This one may not have aged as well as the previous two, but it is the first one you can’t deny belongs on the list. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are two dopey government employees who get chosen by the CIA for a mission as decoys for two other real spies who are working to take down Soviet defenses. The Paul McCartney theme song alone is worth it, but the film works in the style of the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road movies.
8. Bridesmaids – Don’t worry ladies, SNL is not just for the boys (although, this list does lean heavily in that direction). Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph craft a real crowd pleaser with Bridesmaids. Sometimes discussed as the female Hangover, this film is undeserving of such derivative talk. There’s real magic in the comedy of this film and it has everything to do with the chemistry of the stars and Wiig’s clever script, which earned an Oscar nomination, rare for SNL films.
7. The Blues Brothers – Oddly, as “SNL” as these characters are, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and James Brown are the reason to watch this film. Still the “getting the band back together” plotline to complete a “mission from God” is a lot of fun. Whether they’re leading 100 cops on a car chase through a mall or taking down the Illinois Nazi party, Jake and Elwood and their sunglasses are always on!
6. Trading Places – Based on a rather high-brow social experiment, Trading Places finds the lives of socialite Dan Aykroyd and street-bum Eddie Murphy suddenly switched as part of a wager between two rich CEOs. The nature vs. nurture wager revolves around whether Aykroyd will resort to crime when he loses everything and whether Murphy will become a responsible executive when given opportunity. As serious as this may sound, the movie is a triumph of the comedy legends.
5. Tommy Boy – Spade and Farley were a great team on SNL, so it was only a matter of time for the two to hit the big screen. Tommy Boy is a road movie with loads of quotable lines and some real smart supporting characters, including Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe. It’s definitely a film that can be viewed over and over and still be funny, of course it helps if “your brain…has a shell on it.”
4. Caddyshack – This is one of those movies that is beloved by everyone. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase may have had a cantankerous relationship on the set of SNL, so much so that this film nearly did not contain a scene between the two of them, but there’s much more comedy to go around thanks to Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. The sequel should be avoided at all costs, but Caddyshack may be the film that proved that the not-ready-for-prime-time players may just be ready!
3. Wayne’s World – “It’s Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World!” Mike Myers and Dana Carvey take Wayne and Garth’s public access show out of Wayne’s basement and onto the big screen in clearly SNL’s most successful skit-to-screen film ever. The key to its success is how smart this dumb movie ended up being. Chris Farley and Brian Doyle Murray make this the SNL-iest film on my list, and resident sleazebag, Rob Lowe is at his smarmy best. It really is excellent, party on!
2. Groundhog Day – While Groundhog Day may just be my favorite film of all time, I reserved spot two for it on this list as its SNL ties are not quite has strong as my number one pick. Chris Elliot and Robin Duke, along with Brian Doyle Murray (of course) are all SNL alums, but unlike most of the films listed prior, there is not a strong second SNL acting presence as this film is all about Bill Murray as Phil Connors who is trapped in a time warp, forcing him to relive that peculiar title holiday over and over. This film is by far the best overall film on this list and is genius writer/director Harold Ramis’s masterpiece, but as for SNL films, if there’s one Bill Murray and Harold Ramis film worth mentioning…who you gonna call?
1. Ghostbusters – Murray and Aykroyd along with Ramis play university scientists in New York City who strap proton accelerators on their backs and start busting ghosts. Originally written for John Belushi, the film was rewritten and turned out to be a real solid hit. And the legacy continues as SNL cast alums Kristin Wiig and Kate McKinnon will head up the all female Ghostbusters reboot, to be released in 2016 and co-written by Dan Aykroyd. Ghostbusters represents what the best of SNL films all strive for, to touch the pulse of pop culture in a way that kids, teens, and adults can all appreciate.