While Saturday Night Live’s cinematic record is spotty at best when sketches make the jump to the silver screen, the show does have a knack for producing comedic movie superstars. Cineplex.com columnist Shane McNeil looks at how it all began in the 1980s.
There’s a certain type of film that immediately springs to mind with mention of “Saturday Night Live” movies.
For those that choose to take the charitable approach, the best ones spring to mind: Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers. However, for many, it’s the less successful ones that have come to typify the late night institution’s contribution to the silver screen … Coneheads, MacGruber, Superstar, It’s Pat … and so on.
However, there’s a third category of “SNL” movies that the show doesn’t get nearly enough credit for. Regular cast members and alumni have gone on to become huge stars during and oftentimes after their respective runs on the show have finished. These films are often byproducts of the experience and confidence comedians hone over their years on the program and sometimes are even borne out of ideas from the cast members themselves.
The 1980s saw a wave of such films dominate the comedy genre, one that started in 1978 with John Belushi’s manic turn in 1978’s Animal House and continued throughout the following 10 years.
Two such movies are returning to the big screen as part of Cineplex’s Great Digital Film Festival, which runs Feb. 5-11: Ghostbustersand Beverly Hills Cop. Click here to read more about the Festival’s Kurt Russell and Clint Eastwood programming.
Ghostbusters represents a sort of all-star team of sketch comedy. Dan Aykroyd, five years removed from “SNL” and earning his first writing credit since The Blues Brothers in 1980 teamed with former “SCTV” head writer Harold Ramis who was on a roll of his own in the early part of the 80s. Ramis’ success – including writing Caddyshack and Stripes – came with another “SNL” alum, Bill Murray. The trio converged on Ghostbusters to create one of the funniest and best-loved comedies of the 1980s.
Smart with some incredibly funny action sequences, Ghostbusters helped make all three viable movie box office draws and created some of the most memorable scenes in comedic history. The film is as loved for its amazing one-liners (“The flowers are still standing!”) as it is for the creation of ghouls like Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
When Murray and Aykroyd left “SNL” at the end of the 1970s along with show-creator Lorne Michaels, they left a sizable talent chasm. Luckily, there was a whirlwind waiting to take over in the form of Eddie Murphy.
Murphy was largely credited with helping the program survive through the early 80s, but he also was one of the first to leverage serious movie stardom while remaining an “SNL” cast member. While contributing characters like Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson to the show, he earned big-screen acclaim for 48 Hrs. and Trading Places – the latter alongside Aykroyd.
However, in 1984 – the same year as Ghostbusters – Murphy’s star skyrocketed with the release of Beverly Hills Cop. A new kind of action film, it put as much emphasis on Murphy’s wise-cracks as it did its elaborate chase sequences.
Together with Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop paved the way for a new blockbuster template: The action-comedy. Without them, it’s much harder to imagine the likes of Lethal Weapon, Men in Black or Rush Hour. What’s more, the movies help prove that “SNL” was a factory for potential movie stars paving the way for Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell and more to become huge Hollywood draws.