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Saturday Night Live was such a tour-de-force for comedy that in the late 1970s, the sketch comedy show took its exploits to the silver screen. In the 30 years since Blues Brothers became the first great comedy of the ’80s, SNL has tried again and again to turn a profit on some relatively low-budget films.
With the ability to see which sketches work on their late-night show as a trial-run, it’s interesting to note that they’ve had a good degree of failure, especially in the ’90s, which presumably is what prompted them to call it quits in 2000.
On Friday, SNL — now with a completely new cast since its last effort The Ladies Man — makes a big-screen comeback with MacGruber. Spoofing TV’s MacGyver, MacGruber’s an oddball action hero who refuses to use traditional weaponry. Film festival debuts have given somewhat positive feedback, but time will tell if this is the beginning of another era for SNL at the movies.
In the meantime, I’ve compiled all the SNL films and categorized them into either “good,” “bad,” or “ugly.” Enjoy.
The Blues Brothers (1980) – A classic buddy comedy, Jake and Elwood Blues got things started in a big way for SNL adaptations. John Landis’ follow-up collaboration with John Belushi after Animal House, this film might have been predestined to find success. It still remains SNL’s highest-grossing feature film that’s not the next film on our list. Co-starring Dan Ackyroyd with gospel and blues legends James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin in tow, it’s hard to compare The Blues Brothers to anything else.
Wayne’s World (1992) – SNL’s appeal to the young generation of ’80s kids began with the duo of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as two dudes running a television show from their basement in a Chicago suburb (holla). Fame gets to their heads when their show is picked up. Wayne and Garth epitomized the slacker mentality that was totally in at the time. They’re representative of an era, which says a lot. Mike Myers made his jump from TV comedian to movie star with this role. Wanye’s World took in an unprecedented $121 million plus.
Office Space (1999) – Not often remembered as an SNL adaptation, Mike Judge’s sketch with Milton and the stapler became expanded into a feature film in 1999. Despite going virtually unnoticed at the box office, Office Space became a cult hit on video and DVD, capturing perfectly the sentiment of the agitated middle-class cubicle-confined worker.
Wayne’s World 2 (1993) – After Wayne’s World made a killing at the box office for a movie that cost just $20 million, the sequel was rushed into production and released 22 months later. It cost twice as much as the first and made nearly three times as less. It was one of many examples of rushed ’90s sequels that never should have been done the way they were.
Coneheads (1993) – SNL’s multi-generational feature film relied on cast veterans Dan Akyroyd and Jane Curtin, while small roles and cameos went to the likes of Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Farley, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman and Tim Meadows. Coneheads was only bound to go so far with its bizarre mix of growing-up/trying to fit in and science fiction alienness.
A Night at the Roxbury (1998) – SNL hoped that Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan could be the representatives of the late ’90s SNL cast that would go on to find success at the movies. Doug and Steve Butabi were more ridiculous than funny and critics booed it to pieces (it has the second lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating of any SNL movie with 10%), but for those born in the late ’80s such as myself, this was the cast we remember most. Ferrell obviously was just beginning his career and “Roxbury” was in fact one of his first big movie roles.
Superstar (1999) – Late ’90s star Molly Shannon was asked to step up when A Night at the Roxbury only reached $30 million and all films in between (including Office Space) were flops. The character of Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher seemed to resonate well with a younger audience. The film only managed to make a tad bit more than “Roxbury,” however. Shannon has since proved that she is not a strong enough comedian to hoist a film up on her shoulders.
It’s Pat (1994) - The androgynous character Pat was a hysterical SNL sketch. Surrounding characters would try really hard to convince Pat to reveal his/her gender without outright asking, but there was always some way for Pat to skirt around it (and unintentionally). A terrible idea, however, for a movie. That kind of story doesn’t have the long-term potential, not that they didn’t butcher the character anyway. It’s Pat has a 2.4/10 on imdb, placing it inside the site’s 100 worst films of all time. I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, but when you suck, you suck.
Stuart Saves His Family (1995) – I don’t even know what this one’s about. What’s it doing in between Wayne’s World and A Night at the Roxbury? What’s more of a joke is that the star and writer of this film, Al Franken, is currently known as U.S. Senator Al Franken. In a cinematic sense, that makes Arnold look like a totally normal choice. The movie is about SNL character Stuart Smalley, an advocate of the “12 steps” program, but that’s where you and I stop caring.
Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) – Nothing annoyed me more back in the late ’90s than businesses and products (and movies) jumping the gun on the Millennium thing. But that’s not the crime with regards to this film. It’s that Akyroyd and Landis had the balls to make this film despite the passing of John Belushi. He was not replaced in any way despite being the pulse of the sketch and the original film. Nothing else really needs to be said.
The Ladies Man (2000) – Who had the bright idea to give Tim Meadows a starring vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, he’s hysterical in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but he’s not star material and his blaxploitation ladies man character stuck in the ’70s was not going to go over with anyone. After making this movie for $28 million and only getting back $14, it’s no wonder SNL boxed up the movie cameras after this one.