Saturday Night Live Movies from Best to Worst

In preparation for MacGruber, we actually watched The Ladies Man.

MacGruber

By Phil Nugent

With the new MacGruber, we enter our third decade of movies based on Saturday Night Live characters. Using characters meant to sustain a five-minute sketch (and coast on audience goodwill forever after) as the basis for a feature film is a tricky business, trickier than some of the people who've tried it may have realized when they signed the contract. Here are the SNL films from best to worst.

1. A MIGHTY WIND (2003)

SNL was struggling in the early '80s. For the 1984-85 season, instead of taking a risk on completely unknown new talent, producer Dick Ebersol plugged the holes in his cast with proven veterans of the comedy scene. Two of the new hires who came to be known as "Dick's all-stars" were Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, both of whom had appeared in This Is Spinal Tap, the cult hit of the year. During their time on the show, Guest and Shearer (along with their Spinal Tap teammate Michael McKean, who would do his own stint as an SNL cast member ten years later) introduced the Folksmen, a hoary musical trio who would later anchor A Mighty Wind, Guest's parody of the folk scene. Since the Folksmen only made one appearance on SNL, a lot of people probably don't consider A Mighty Wind a "real" SNL movie, but it's also a lot funnier than most of the "real" SNL movies.

2. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had already spun off their white-soul-men routine into a hit album and a touring act before John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House) directed this $27-million movie. The original SNL players liked to go on about how they were revolutionary figures clearing away generations of show-business hacks; Blues Brothers revealed that their notion of hip wasn't significantly different from that of Frank, Dean, Sammy, and maybe even Joey Bishop. This is essentially a Rat Pack movie, albeit one for people who prefer blunts to martoonies. Overall, it's not too unpleasant, provided you don't mind spending what feels like half your life watching car crashes. The closest it comes to greatness are the sequences featuring guests musical (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway) and comedic (John Candy, Henry Gibson). Belushi and Aykroyd only really connect in those fleeting moments when they lower their sunglasses and drop their "characters."

3. WAYNE'S WORLD (1992)

Most of the SNL films would never have even occurred to anybody, if not for the blockbuster success of this massively hyped vehicle. In addition to launching Mike Myers into the stratosphere, Wayne's World also made a celebrity of Tia Carrere, allowed Rob Lowe to redefine himself as in on the joke, and created a new generation of Queen fans — mixed accomplishments all. Any movie about teens that people saw when they were teens (and subsequently watched a hundred times on VHS) will always be regarded by them as a timeless classic, so I expect to catch hell for pointing out that Wayne's World isn't very good. Most of the point of Wayne and Garth is lost by taking them out of Mom's basement, and the movie comes closer to celebrating mullethead stupidity than satirizing it. To his immense credit, Myers later scandalized the industry by refusing to do a Sprockets movie because he couldn't get the script to work. (Although that does make you wonder how it could have been worse than his script for The Love Guru.)

4. CONEHEADS (1993)

In their original TV incarnation, the Coneheads were the stuff of midnight movies: surreal, grotesque, and mean-spirited. (In the context of late-'70s SNL, they were also walking drug references. When they gorged themselves on beer and snack food, it was as if they'd gotten contact-high munchies from the viewers.) Revived more than a dozen years after their last TV appearance and reconceived for a family audience, they became cute, lovable, and implicitly anti-drug. The movie was a big commercial disappointment, and to add insult to injury, Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith used his newspaper strip to accuse creator Dan Aykroyd of ripping him off. That said, Coneheads is about as good as a movie version of a played-out TV skit could be. Parts of it are funny, the parts that aren't funny aren't unduly painful, and many of the guest stars, including Dave Thomas as an alien warlord and a dashingly toupeed Jason Alexander, really strut their stuff. I actually like it more than Wayne's World, but in anticipation of negative public reaction, have chosen to rank it beneath the smash hit, which is just my way of saying, hey, I care about your feelings, please don't stuff dead cats inside my mailbox.

5. STUART SAVES HIS FAMILY (1995)

Stuart, starring Al Franken as the self-disintegrating public-access self-help guru Stuart Smalley, sat on the shelf for a while before being giving a flyspeck of a theatrical release. It did badly enough to send Franken himself into a reported shame spiral, but it has its defenders. With the vulnerable Stuart trying to reconnect with his awful family at the same time he's coping with the cancellation of his TV show, it's as genuinely dark as SNL movies get. There are funny moments throughout, but it has trouble achieving sustained liftoff, maybe because it's hard to make a movie seem fully alive when its hero keeps taking to his bed for six days at a stretch.

6. THE LADIES MAN (2000)

Tim Meadows stood out among SNL cast members of the '90s by being generally pretty easy to take. If anything, his light touch may have held him back in a field that rewards obnoxious overkill. Where someone like Adam Sandler threw anything at the wall to see if it would stick (Opera Man, Cajun Man, Unfunny Horrible Man Whom Somebody Should Have Taken A Hammer To Before He Got Rich Enough To Hire Bodyguards), Meadows was slow to acquire a recurring character. He eventually arrived at Leon Phelps, an ingenuously gauche love expert with a retro-'70s style and — a recurring curse in these movies — a funny voice that's amusing for five minutes at a time but can really get on your nerves over the course of a feature film. Meadows's likability is a major asset here, but the film itself is dispiritingly half-assed, partly because no one figured out how "real" people should react to this sexed-up goofball; anyone who responds favorably to his come-ons seems deranged, but if nobody responds to them, there's no movie. (His most satisfying run-in is with Julianne Moore, unrecognizable in full clown makeup.)

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Commentarium (39 Comments)

Apr 16 10 - 10:10am
Dan

The amazing thing about this list: I figured it had to stop after reading number five. Then again after number six. I figured it couldn't further than number 8. How could a movie possibly be worse than number 10. Yet at each turn, this was a new movie to set the bar for terrible. How could SNL make so many terrible, terrible movies and not have Lorne Michaels indicted for crimes against humanity in the interim.

Apr 16 10 - 10:39am
Google

Night at the Roxbury? Hello?

Dec 18 11 - 4:23am
,...

its number 11.

Apr 16 10 - 10:49am
Runyon

I can't thank SNL enough for giving us Wayne's World. What am I gonna do with a gun rack? I don't even own A gun, let alone many, to necessitate the use of a gun rack. What am I gonna do...with a gun rack?

Apr 16 10 - 6:35pm
rat

@google # 11? hello?

Apr 16 10 - 7:47pm
greg

'Gilda Live' wasn't entirely buried. I managed to see it in Toronto theatres twice when it came out, and there was a soundtrack album that remained in print for decades (even coming out on CD awhile back)

Apr 17 10 - 3:53am
AB

I love A Night at the Roxbury, no matter what you say.

Apr 17 10 - 9:13am
:)

I agree AB, that movie is hilarious EVERY TIME.

Apr 17 10 - 2:27pm
Ry

This writer is a dumb-ass.

Apr 17 10 - 10:04pm
Lawston Found

"Waiting for Guffman". Isn't Chris Guest doing Corky St. Clair @ 1:13 in this SNL skit from 1984?

Apr 17 10 - 10:12pm
Lawston Found

Okay embed doesn't work: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4122944961711350389#

Apr 18 10 - 3:09am
bc

how come the writer is such a grouchmonster

Apr 18 10 - 9:49pm
kcc

I've always wondered why they don't make an SNL-universe movie. One character from a 3 minute skit can't sustain a whole movie, but what about 50? Use movie tricks like have characters played by the same person interact with each other, or 3D render dead castmembers into cameos, and I guarantee it will be a hit.

Apr 22 10 - 10:21am
harry krishna

i'll spare you the specifics - this just sux

Apr 23 10 - 12:01am
Phil

At Conehead's gave us one of my favorite Chili Peppers songs "Soul to Squeeze" For that, I am grateful.

Apr 23 10 - 11:55am
Yawn

Wow--I never knew that so many bad movies were spun from SNL! Thank you for writing such an insightful and original article. The quality of the content on Nerve keeps getting better.

Apr 24 10 - 11:33am
marny

doesn't anyone remember the trainwreck that was Superstar?

Apr 26 10 - 12:12pm
stacey

I loved Superstar... where is that on this list?

Apr 29 10 - 5:12pm
tacowagon

Also omitted: "The Rutles: All You Need is Cash," which starred Eric Idle and Neil innes, but also has Bill Murray, Dan Ayckroyd, Al Franken and Tom Davis, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and was executive produced by Lorne Michaels. Greatest Beatles parody ever.

Dec 17 11 - 7:38pm
brutony

This article was about SNL SKETCHES turned into SNL MOVIES- not cast members who appeared in movies, dumbasses!

Jul 05 10 - 10:34am
Name

What do you think?

Jul 24 10 - 8:44am
coolcatdaddy

You forgot "It's Pat: The Movie" - one of the worst films I've ever seen.

Dec 22 11 - 4:57pm
Catman

It's #12 dumbass.

Jul 25 10 - 4:54pm
rox

Night at the Roxbury was freaking fantastic! Agree with other commenters - why was the writer so unhappy?

Jul 30 10 - 6:08pm
Ak907

What about Corky Romano....what that a spin off? Either way, that move was terrible.

Sep 21 10 - 11:54am
Krod

Wow, Ween looks so haggard now, they were so young in that cameo!

Oct 04 10 - 12:31am
moviechik80

I remember watching Gilda Live when I was in Junior high and loving the characters I saw in reruns from the "old" SNL. My favorite moment when she sang a song called "I love being unhappy"

Jan 04 11 - 7:32pm
Davideros

BEST: What about ANIMAL HOUSE? WORST: What about Gary Weis' (who made short films for SNL) WHOLLY MOSES which co-starred Laraine Newman? And "All You Need Is Cash," was actually a spinoff of a short film about The Rutles that was produced by Eric Idle and Neil Innes for the short-lived UK comedy series Rutland Weekend Television...

Jul 29 11 - 9:15pm
Delano

I agree that A Mighty Wind counts- but if it does, so does Bob Roberts- it was originally a short film shown on SNL.Thus, I would rank Bob Roberts as #1.

Dec 17 11 - 7:40pm
brutony

So does Office Space-a classic if ever there was one! That started as an animated bit on SNL.

Dec 22 11 - 7:12pm
Delano

Oh, you're right brutony, I forgot Office Space. That might have to be my #2.

Jan 29 12 - 10:32am
alex

no it didnt, that started as an animated short on liquid television on mtv.

Jan 19 12 - 7:01pm
Greg

I say Stuart Saves his Family is the best SNL movie of all time! I think it's just that most people havn't seen it. It's a comedy/drama actually.

Jan 21 12 - 3:01am
Vinchenzo

Night at the Roxbury? One of the funniest movies ive ever seen! Even after watching it over 30 times. Did you just grab my arse? I know your tricks

Feb 18 12 - 5:48am
Rock

Uh, Blues Brothers is a classic - seriously one of the most entertaining movies of all time. It's just plain out funny with fantastic music through and through. What the heck is the wrtier even thinking?

Mar 23 12 - 1:26am
Umm

Does the blurb about Wayne's World 2 really infer that Jim Morrison was actually in the movie?

Or is an impersonation of a dead man supposed to give 'street cred'?

Apr 11 12 - 12:45am
ml

mcgruber should be last on this list. the worst movie i've ever seen

Aug 13 12 - 3:51pm
tj

A lot of people ask who's that it's pat a lot of people say who is he or she mam or sir accept him or her or whatever it might be it's time for androgyny here comes pat

Sep 09 12 - 3:43pm
some guy

Hey Rock, if you ever come back to read this, the article says in the title "FROM BEST TO WORST." Having Blues Brothers at #2 is implying that it is a good movie. Learn to read before ya open your mouth.

...and yes ml, unfortnately this list came out before McGruber. If the author waited until its release to pen this article it would have ended up in a distant #13, somehow miles beyond the travisty that was It's Pat....