From Eddie Murphy to Will Ferrell and Tim Meadows, ‘SNL’ has a checkered record of minting movie stars.
By Gil Kaufman
Since its debut 37 years ago, “Saturday Night Live” has done two things incredibly well: skewer the day’s headlines with a twisted, acid perspective and serve as a launching pad for some of the biggest careers in movie comedy history.
And following her tearful final spin on Saturday night’s season finale, it appears clear that the show’s ace player, “Bridesmaids” star Kristen Wiig, will be the latest breakout player to make a permanent leap from the stage at Studio 8H to movie stardom. Wiig has already tasted success with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for “Bridesmaids,” and she has at least half a dozen features in various stages of shooting and development. We thought it was worth taking a look at how other “SNL” alums have handled the transition.
For some “SNL”ers, leaving the show was a case of never looking back. Among the most successful recent stars to pull off the difficult maneuver are Adam Sandler, who parlayed a five-year stint (1991-95) on the show into one of the biggest box-office comedy careers of all time. Though critics often turn their nose up at his predictable story lines, starting with 1995’s “Billy Madison” and continuing through “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy,” “Grown Ups” and Razzie favorite “Jack and Jill,” Sandler has starred in, written and produced films that have grossed more than $3.4 billion internationally.
From 1995-2002, Will Ferrell was the go-to guy on “SNL,” and ever since his breakthrough role in 2003’s “Old School,” Ferrell has been on a (unique) tear, posting hits with “Elf,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Blades of Glory,” “The Other Guys” and “Step Brothers,” along with co-founding the Funny or Die website and putting out such vanity projects as the recent all-Spanish flick “Casa de Mi Padre.”
Though their careers have cooled off considerably over the years, many of the old-school “SNL” cast members have also killed it on the big screen, including Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, the late John Belushi and Chris Farley, Bill Murray, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Martin Short and Mike Myers.
While some “SNL” actors make it huge, others carve out unique character niches in movies with the occasional hit but never quite grab the brass ring of stardom. Rob Schneider is the perfect example. He was hilarious in “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” but has been better in running-gag cameos in buddy Sandler’s films, including “Little Nicky,” “50 First Dates” and “The Longest Yard.” (See also: David Spade.)
Andy Samberg, who is also rumored to be leaving the cast, has not proven a box-office draw yet, with little-seen films such as “Hot Rod” and “I Love You, Man” to his credit, along with an upcoming role in the Sandler movie “That’s My Boy.” He’s also got a side music career going as part of the Lonely Island with his writing buddies from “SNL.”
Though it’s too early to tell, Maya Rudolph could be the stealth alum to have a long, varied movie career. She’s appeared in so-so flicks like “Duplex” and “Duets,” but also the underrated “Away We Go” and alongside pal Wiig in “Bridesmaids.” She’s currently on the hit TV sitcom “Up All Night.”
She’s killing it on TV’s “Parks and Recreation” at the moment, but Amy Poehler has also been great in “Baby Mama” and in voice-over work in “Megamind,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Still one of the greatest stand-ups of all time, Chris Rock has struggled to sustain a big movie career, alternating between memorable roles in “New Jack City” and “Madagascar,” stage work, voice-over, stand-up and overseeing the TV series “Everybody Hates Chris.”
Though long-running “SNL” cast member Tim Meadows was hilarious on the show, his movie career peaked with such sketch-worthy flops as “The Ladies Man,” “It’s Pat” and “The Cookout.”
Molly Shannon has also been stuck in bad sketch-based movies like “Superstar” and small roles in non-starters such as “Evan Almighty.” Same goes for once-promising Jon Lovitz, who was great in “A League of Their Own” but has had to settle for bit parts in “The Benchwarmers” and “Southland Tales” lately.
Given her versatility, writing chops and, let’s face it, movie star looks, Wiig seems a lock for The Sandler. But then again, that’s what they all think.
Do you think Kristen Wiig will be a major movie star? Let us know in comments below.