Programmed by Tori Borengasser
Essay by Tori Borengasser
As much as Saturday Night Live has had its ups and downs—good seasons and bad seasons, great casts and mediocre casts—it is undeniable that the show has become a cultural touchstone for comedy. The show has remained on-air in one form or another since its premiere in 1975 and has aired more than 700 episodes of skits parodying pop culture and politics. The Saturday Night Live vehicle itself has only produced two films based on sketches that have seen real commercial and critical success—The Blues Brothers in 1980 and Wayne's World in 1992—but SNL's real impact on feature film comedies comes from its skilled cast members and writers who, in breaking away from television, created memorable laughs on the big screen.
The series opens with one of SNL's original "Not Ready For Prime Time Players," John Belushi, in Animal House. The film became one of the most profitable films of all time, and defined the gross-out genre, which became a Hollywood comedy staple.
Belushi's style was influential for Chris Farley, another star of this series. His loud and physical comedic style was the heart and soul of his successful roles as motivational speaker Matt Foley and a misfit Chippendale's dancer, and translated well to the cinema as the hapless Tommy Boy. Farley's peers from the '90s era of SNL also went on to be huge film stars. Adam Sandler, whose name in conjunction with film today is typically met with an eye roll, made a number of financially successful films during this era. Similarly, Mike Myers reigned over the late nineties with his Austin Powers series, showing off his ability to create bizarre but memorable characters and his willingness to use puns so bad they're good.
As the new millennium approached, SNL finally became a jumping off point for showcasing women in comedy. Women had always been featured on SNL (Larraine Newman, Gilda Radner, and Jane Curtin were three of the seven main original cast members), but Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, and Cheri Oteri really ruled the airwaves at the end of the '90s. This paved the way for the likes of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and eventually head writer Tina Fey, who all went on to showcase the best and the worst of female friendships in films like Mean Girls and Bridesmaids.
With this year marking the show's 40th anniversary, Saturday Night Live's impact on the culture of comedy in both film and television is unmistakable. According to Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of the sketch comedy show, SNL was intended to be "a show for the generation that grew up on television."
This film series is for the generations that grew up on SNL.
(John Landis, 1978) · Animal House was the first film produced by National Lampoon, the most popular collegiate humor magazine in the mid-1970s. Writer Harold Ramis reportedly drew from his own fraternity experiences as a member of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University. It became a classic role for one of SNL's original 1975 cast members, John Belushi, as the Jack Daniels-swigging John "Bluto" Blutarsky, a Delta Tau Chi fraternity member at Faber College.
runtime: 109 min format: 35mm
(Ivan Reitman, 1981) · "Now, are either of you homosexuals?" "No, we're not homosexual, but we are willing to learn." With the film originally green-lit as "Cheech and Chong Join the Army," Reitman cast Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in the lead roles after Cheech and Chong wanted too much creative control. Much of what we see onscreen from Murray and Ramis is improvised, and as a result, the film manages to capture a gleeful innocence that's practically infectious.
runtime: 106 min format: 35mm
(John Landis, 1988) · On the morning of his 21st birthday, Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy), crown prince of the wealthy nation of Zamunda, is expected to select his bride-to-be. However, he finds himself overwhelmingly unsatisfied with his pampered life and lack of independence. With his best friend and personal aide, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), he arranges a plan to travel to Queens, New York to find an intelligent bride who will love him for who he is rather than his wealth.
runtime: 116 min format: 35mm
(Peter Segal, 1995) · Fresh out of college, the incompetent Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) returns to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, to assist his father at their family's auto part plant, Callahan Auto. When his widower father remarries and promptly dies, financial problems set in for Callahan Auto. In order to keep the company alive, Tommy goes on a cross-country sales trip with his father's assistant Richard Hayden (David Spade), who tries desperately to keep Tommy in line.
runtime: 97 min format: 35mm
(Dennis Dugan, 1996) · In his second starring role after the release of Billy Madison, Adam Sandler stars as Happy Gilmore, an aspiring ice hockey player who possesses a powerful slapshot. His grandmother, who raised him, has not paid her taxes for years and has three months to pay back the $275,000 she owes to the IRS. After discovering that his slapshot can be translated into a driver golf swing, Happy decides to earn the money by competing in golf tournaments.
runtime: 92 min format: 35mm
(Jay Roach, 1997) · A clever parody of psychedelic pop culture of the late '60s and the James Bond series, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was an instantly quotable and critically acclaimed comedy upon its release. Mike Myers plays a womanizing English mod and spy for the Ministry of Defence. He and his nemesis, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), are both cryogenically frozen in 1967, and then unfrozen thirty years later as Dr. Evil plots world domination.
runtime: 94 min format: 35mm
(Mark Waters, 2004) · Recent Evanston transplant Cady Heron must navigate the vicious "animal kingdom" of high school cliques, as she joins the pink-clad Plastics with the intention of taking down queen bee, Regina George. Screenwriter and star Tina Fey brought much of her SNL sensiblity to this high school satire along with Amy Poehler as Regina's "cool mom," Ana Gasteyer as Cady's not-so-cool mom (But you LOVE Ladysmith Black Mambazo!"), and Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall.
runtime: 97 min format: 35mm
(Adam McKay, 2004) · During his tenure on SNL from 1995 to 2002, Will Ferrell had a number of amusing roles in films like Superstar, Zoolander, and the Austin Powers series. However, it was 2004's Anchorman that truly established him as an unforgettable comedic powerhouse. Featuring memorable performances from Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, the film chronicles a group of bumbling news anchors in the '70s as they adapt to a changing workplace. You stay classy, San Diego.
runtime: 94 min format: 35mm
(Akiva Schaffer, 2007) · Famous for popularizing the Digital Shorts on SNL, comedy trio The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) set out to make their first feature film with 2007's Hot Rod. Samberg is Rod Kimble: an aspiring, albeit terrible, stuntman whose stepfather, Frank, mocks and disrespects him. When Frank falls ill, Rod comes up with a plan to execute his biggest stunt yet to raise money for an operation and win Frank's respect.
runtime: 88 min format: 35mm
(Paul Feig, 2011) · Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph play best friends Annie and Lillian, whose friendship is put to the ultimate test as Lillian prepares for her upcoming wedding. After the failure of her bakery, Annie loses both her savings and her boyfriend, and her status as maid of honor is challenged by the wife of Lillian's fiancé's boss. Surpassing Knocked Up as the top-grossing Judd Apatow production of all time, Bridesmaids is both heartwarming and hilarious.
runtime: 125 min format: 35mm