The best Steve Martin films
Warner Bros.

The best Steve Martin films

Steve Martin is one of the most legendary comedians of all time. Not only was he a huge standup act, but is also perhaps the greatest “Saturday Night Live” host as well. Then, of course, there are the movies. From small roles to starring vehicles, Martin has been in many films. These are the best of the bunch from the wild and crazy guy.

 
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“The Jerk” (1979)

“The Jerk” (1979)
Universal

Martin had a couple of small roles in films previously, but his movie career really began with “The Jerk.” It’s a starring role for Martin, and also a defining role. The movie is goofy and silly in a way films often aren’t these days, but “The Jerk” is a strong example of Martin’s comedic persona at the time.

 
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“Pennies From Heaven” (1981)

“Pennies From Heaven” (1981)
MGM

What a strange second starring role for Martin. After the absurdity of “The Jerk,” Martin next starred in…a romantic musical alongside Bernadette Peters? While it was a flop at the time, critics did like it, and history has been kinder to “Pennies From Heaven.” It definitely has its fans now.

 
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“Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982)

“Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982)
Universal

Martin and Carl Reiner, who had also made “The Jerk” together, reunited for the film noir spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” The movie has a clever trick to it where they have Martin’s character “interact” with characters from classic noir films. They make that happen by splicing in scenes from those movies and having Martin “act” against them. It’s a fun conceit.

 
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“The Man with Two Brains” (1983)

“The Man with Two Brains” (1983)
Warner Bros.

Once again, Martin and Reiner are at it, this time riffing on science fiction films as opposed to film noir. These two guys liked to be spoofy and silly, and that’s the kind of comedies they were making at the time. Nobody was gunning for an Oscar, but they got plenty of laughs.

 
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“All of Me” (1984)

“All of Me” (1984)
Universal

“All of Me” is the last collaboration between Reiner and Martin, though this time not from a script they had written together. Martin and Lily Tomlin star in this fantastical comedy. Tomlin plays a woman who dies but her spirit ends up in Martin’s body. However, Martin’s character doesn’t merely see his body taken over. He and Tomlin are basically fighting over his body. That leads to some impressive physical comedy from Martin.

 
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“Three Amigos” (1986)

“Three Amigos” (1986)
Orion

Steve Martin. Chevy Chase. Martin Short. In 1986, that was quite a trio to have starring in your comedy. “Three Amigos” has a clever premise. Our titular trio are actors who star as brave Western gunslingers in films. In real life, of course, they are dumb, vain actors. However, villagers in Mexico think they are real heroes and ask them to come to save their town. The actors assume they have been offered a gig. Hilarity ensues.

 
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“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)

“Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
Warner Bros.

Martin returns to the world of musicals, but this time it’s a comedy film. A weird adaptation of a Roger Corman horror cheapie, “Little Shop of Horrors” is largely about a man-eating plant. There’s also an evil, sadistic dentist. That dentist is played by Martin, who chews the scenery with gusto.

 
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“Roxanne” (1987)

“Roxanne” (1987)
Columbia

“Roxanne” is a comedy, but it’s less broad and absurd than many of his earlier films. It’s more of a straightforward romantic comedy, or at least as much as it can be given that it’s a modern retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Yes, that means Martin’s character has a giant nose.

 
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“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988)

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988)
MGM

Martin is great at playing a smarmy jerk. Michael Caine excels at playing suave gentleman. They both play to type in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” but they do it with aplomb. Martin and Caine play two con artists who decide to work together, but of course, you can’t ever fully trust a con.

 
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“Parenthood” (1989)

“Parenthood” (1989)
Universal

And now, Martin enters his “family movie” period of his life. While all the projects he would end up choosing in that realm (we’re looking at you “Cheaper by the Dozen”) some of them are worth your while. “Parenthood” is one of those. Part of that is how impressive this cast is. In addition to Martin, there’s Rick Moranis, Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, and young actors Joaquin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.

 
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“My Blue Heaven” (1990)

“My Blue Heaven” (1990)
Warner Bros.

The screenwriter Nora Ephron was married to writer Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi interviewed former mobster Henry Hill for the acclaimed book “Wiseguy.” That book was then the basis for the movie “Goodfellas,” which Pileggi co-wrote. His wife Ephron, meanwhile, turned Hill’s story into the screenplay for “My Blue Heaven.” Martin is in the Hill role, though he’s a much broader (and more Italian) character.

 
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“L.A. Story” (1991)

“L.A. Story” (1991)
TriStar

“L.A. Story” is a fun satire of showbiz and Los Angeles on one hand, and on the other hand, it’s a magical realism romantic comedy. Sometimes those two things bump against each other, but other times they work well in tandem. Both aspects of the movie work, by and large, making “L.A. Story” still feel fresh and kinetic.

 
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“Father of the Bride” (1991)

“Father of the Bride” (1991)
Touchstone

Martin steps into the shoes of Spencer Tracy in this remake of “Father of the Bride.” The movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel or even the original. Martin plays a frazzled father trying to prepare for his daughter’s wedding. He does it well, well enough that the movie got a sequel.

 
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“The Spanish Prisoner” (1997)

“The Spanish Prisoner” (1997)
Sony

Comedic actors like to try their hands at serious drama. Martin plays a villainous character in this twisty David Mamet film. And yet, he proves that he’s more than up to the task. There is no other Martin role quite like this one, making “The Spanish Prisoner” really stand out.

 
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“Bowfinger” (1999)

“Bowfinger” (1999)
Universal

Martin is back in the world of Hollywood satire. He plays Bobby Bowfinger, a struggling director who gets a crazy idea. Bowfinger is going to get the biggest action star in the world – played by Eddie Murphy – to be in his new film by shooting scenes guerilla-style without Murphy knowing. For the scenes, he can’t make that work for, he gets the star’s identical twin to stand in. Yes, Murphy has dual roles in this movie, but it doesn’t descend into “Norbit”-style awfulness.

 
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“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” (2003)

“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” (2003)
Warner Bros.

When you talk about Looney Tunes characters in films, most people are going to mention the “Space Jam” movies. Those movies aren’t any good though, even if they were successful. Meanwhile, “Back in Action” was a flop, but it’s actually good. Director Joe Dante loves Looney Tunes, and it shows. Brendan Fraser is the star, and aren’t we all enjoying his renaissance? Martin, meanwhile, plays the villain.

 
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“It’s Complicated” (2009)

“It’s Complicated” (2009)
Universal

Nancy Myers makes basically one kind of movie: Romantic films about rich middle-aged people. It’s her milieu, and nobody has had as much success in it. “It’s Complicated” is one of those movies. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin all play characters without a lot of hassles in their life, but their romantic entanglements are still breezy fun.

 
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“The Big Year” (2011)

“The Big Year” (2011)
20th Century Fox

“The Big Year” is Martin’s last significant live-action performance in a movie. Hey, he’s gotten older. He mostly seems to just want to hang out with Martin Short these days, and who can blame him? Despite a cast featuring Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, this gentle comedy about bird watching didn’t do great. It’s a good, sweet movie though. And it’s a long way from the comedic sensibilities of “The Jerk.”

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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