The conception of SNL started a year before it came to air in 1975. NBC president Herbert Schlosser approached his vice president, Dick Ebersol, and asked him to fill the Saturday night time slot. Ebersol sought out Lorne Michaels, developing the idea of a variety show featuring comedy sketches, political satire and musical performances, aimed for 18 to 34 year olds.

It would change late time entertainment forever.

Michaels was assigned assembling the next comedy Avengers – Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O’Donoghue, Gilda Radner and George Coe. Bill Murray would eventually join a season later to replace Chase. Originally the genius of the comedians involved meant they eventually grew out of the show into greater things. But now, due to SNL’s reputation being so stellar 46 seasons later, many comedians since have used SNL as a basis to jump from comedy acts to films. That’s why I’ll be answering the question:

Who are the most successful Saturday Night Live comedians who conquered film?

Obviously, there are a lot of them who have attempted films, but I’ll only be choosing the best among the rest. So, to start off, lets go with…

The Originals

John Belushi

And what an original he was. John Belushi. A talent and a tragedy. One of the first for SNL alongside Aykroyd, Belushi was a charismatic machine with a certain gravitas to his personality. He stars in The Blues Brothers and Animal House as his big successes.

Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd is an underrated gem. He has attributes that don’t correlate with being a comedian – he’s hard working, immersive, a good guy… but yet he’s still up there with the best. After SNL, he made The Blue’s Brothers, Ghostbusters, Trading Places and Coneheads, to name a few. Aykroyd also was nominated for best supporting actor in Driving Ms Daisy.

Gilda Radner

No list of the original SNL troop would be complete without Gilda Radner. An epic performer who contributed to the development of all the male performers on this list – especially Belushi and Aykroyd, with whom she had a special bond. Tragically she didn’t make a bigger mark on the film industry, dying young at 43, but is remembered as well for The Woman in Red and The Last Detail.

Chevy Chase

Although he was only on the show for a season, Chevy Chase is one of the most underrated SNL comedians. He went on to make such films as the National Lampoon series, Caddyshack and Vegas Vacation.

The Newbies

Bill Murray

I love Bill Murray, but he wasn’t one of the originals, joining after Chevy Chase left after the first season. It’s hard to say the man isn’t a genius. Aykroyd was writing Ghostbusters for Belushi, but his unfortunate death meant Murray was the correct man to take the role. Whether it be comedy or even straight acting, he’s featured in classics such as Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, What About Bob?, Lost in Translation and St. Vincent.

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy. I mean, Eddie Murphy. What more needs to be said? His skits are hilarious, and after launching his film career with Trading Places, he went on to make Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, The Nutty Professor and Shrek. And do you want a fun fact? He has 10 children!

Will Ferrell

Love him or loath him, Ferrell is undeniably one of the most successful products of SNL – his films are countless: Elf, Daddy’s Home, Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers, Zoolander, Megamind, The Lego Movie and so many more. And even if you haven’t seen SNL, everybody knows Ron Burgundy.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Admittedly not as many films, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the best female comedians of all time, and has made many brilliant series – Seinfeld, Veep, The New Adventures of Old Christine, as well as playing guest roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development. I certainly wouldn’t mind that CV. In terms of films, she’s played leading roles in Enough Said, alongside the great James Gandolfini, and Downhill with Will Ferrell.

Mike Myers

Mike Myers, made famous by SNL, has disappeared in recent years, but remains unforgettable due to Wayne’s World, Shrek, (criminally underrated) Cat in the Hat and Austin Powers.

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller is far more famous for his array of classic films, such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Zoolander, Meet the Parents, Night at the Museum and Little Fockers, than SNL, but it’s hard to say it didn’t play a part in his success. And, obviously, he’s son of comedy legend Jerry Stiller, star of Seinfeld and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig is one of the most successful actors to be produced from SNL – she’s taken advantage to star in comedies like Ghostbusters, Despicable Me and MacGruber to dramas like The Martian, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and How To Train Your Dragon. Perhaps even a better drama actor than comedy, Kristen Wiig’s good choices (as well as some terrible ones) means she’s on the list.

Adam Sandler

Films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore means Sandler just eeks himself onto the list. From all his films combined he’s created more than $2 billion at the box office but his comedy persona grated, and despite a large contract with Netflix, popularity dwindled. But recent dark neo noir Uncut Gems means his career has been reignited.

9 Comments

  1. And you could probably come up with another ten who maybe didn’t become quite so huge, but went on to decent careers…Bill Hader for one…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very true. It’s quite incredible how many people used the show to make a career for themselves. What they did after SNL, well that’s a debate for another day.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    I’m 54 so I was just a small kid when the originals were on but that is the group I identify with. I do think Belushi and Radner may have done much more if time would have allowed… I’m surprised Jane Curtain didn’t do more.

    I read where the other members were hardly ever jealous of Aykroyd and his skits because they were so unusual that they would not have thought of them…like the Bassomatic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Belushi and Radner are tragedies, especially considering how talented they were. You can only imagine what they would of gone on to do.

      Ha! Yep, Aykroyd’s a little quirky to say the least. I reckon it could get pretty toxic and competitive when you’ve got a bunch of the best comedians in the country cramped into the same show, so it’s probably nice to have someone like Aykroyd in the group.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. badfinger20 (Max) says:

        The had some pretty good writers also…like the black humor writer Michael Donahue. Even when a skit didn’t work they were going for broke and I have to respect that.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Unlike now, where it just seems like pointless (but most importantly) unfunny political mocking. Back in the day, it was truly subversive, and even a little bit dark. They were all mavericks, and it created, for a time, a brilliant show.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

          Yes I agree… when Lorne left in 80 with the original cast it became just another show to me…a sometimes funny one but it didn’t challenge itself anymore.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Exactly. Certain skits were definitely funny, but it had lost that special something.

          Liked by 2 people

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