For over fifty years, Steve Martin has delighted audiences. From his beginnings as a stand-up comedian to his status as one of the best comedic actors of all time, Martin's films generate some massive laughs.
Today, we will review the best Steve Martin movies and why we love them.
The Muppet Movie
While fresh amid his record-breaking hosting stints on SNL, Steve Martin made a cameo appearance in The Muppet Movie. Playing a disgruntled waiter, Martin’s character bears witness to history, Kermit and Miss Piggy’s very first big-screen date in his restaurant. Martin had appeared opposite the Muppets before. He hosted one episode of The Muppet Show in 1977.
The Muppets have a long history of bringing celebrities to cameo in their films. Generally, these celebrities are people that the parents and older viewers in the audience will recognize, even if the children don’t. When The Muppet Movie came out in 1979, Martin was already a household name, having hosted Saturday Night Live seven times – not bad for a show only in its third season.
All of Me (1984)
Body-swap comedy All of Me features Martin as a lawyer and aspiring jazz musician, Roger, who, on the morning of his 38th birthday, decides to set aside his musical ambitions to take his law career seriously. To secure a promotion to partner, his boss tasks him to finalize the will of eccentric, terminally ill heiress Edwina (played by Lily Tomlin).
Edwina doesn’t see her imminent death as the end, though. Instead, she intends to have her soul removed from her body and migrated into that of her stablehand's young, healthy daughter. But the best-laid plans of the wealthy and eccentric go awry, and her soul winds up sharing space with Roger’s, the two of them now in control of his body and mind.
We should point out that, as was common at the time, All of Me does contain depictions that weren’t OK then and aren’t OK now. However, this movie still deserves a watch because of the dynamic between Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. Their back-and-forth banter is a true highlight, as is any scene where Edwina has control of Roger’s body, and the audience sees Steve Martin doing his best Lily Tomlin impersonation.
In Roxanne, Steve Martin plays Charlie, a fire chief with an extraordinarily large nose and an extraordinary way with words. When the beautiful Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) moves to town and takes an interest in fellow firefighter Chris, Charlie is roped into a ruse to make Chris sound more intelligent than he is, against his own self-interest.
While in the original play, Cyrano believes until the very end that his large nose renders him too ugly to be worthy of love, Roxanne mostly does away with this. Charlie is self-conscious, of course, but the idea of seeing value in someone, regardless of looks, shines through by the end. The film also has a more conventional – and perhaps satisfying – ending than the self-sacrificial one offered by Edmond Rostand’s play.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Suppose there’s one thing we can compare to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Who hasn't had the recurring nightmare of needing to be in a certain place by a certain time and everything consistently going wrong and keeping you from your destination? Steve Martin’s Neal Page tries to get home in time for Thanksgiving, and Dell Griffith, played by John Candy, is the traveling shower curtain salesman trying to get him there on time.
If any part of their travels can do wrong, they do, as the two men take the world’s most indirect route back to Neal’s family, learning more about each other on the way. Putting Steve Martin opposite John Candy is a brilliant move, playing on of SNL’s finest against a legend from Canada’s Second City theatre. There aren’t many Thanksgiving movies, but Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a classic rewatch for that time of year.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
How about a nice vacation to the French Rivera? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, shot and set in southern France, stars Steve Martin and Michael Caine as rival con artists. To settle a dispute over territory, they come to an agreement: the first to fleece a soap heiress out of $50,000 is allowed to remain in the area to con the wealthy, while the other needs to back off. Glenne Headly as the soap heiress, rounds out the dynamic cast.
The great thing about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is it’s the kind of heist comedy that keeps a first-time audience guessing and lays out a trail for repeat viewers to try and pick up. Fun fact: the movie was remade in 2019 as The Hustle starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. Another aside: the trailer for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels deserves a watch all by itself–it features a hilarious scene not found in the movie.
Three Amigos reunites Steve Martin with fellow SNL legends Chevy Chase and Martin Short. Together, the three of them star as the Three Amigos, a trio of actors in 1916 Hollywood who their studio fires. They receive what they believe to be a job offer from the village of Santo Poco, Mexico, and head south of the border. Rather than any interest in their dancing and singing ability, Carmen, the villager who contacted them, hopes they will be able to stop the notorious bandit El Guapo.
The premise of Three Amigos makes it a perfect watch for fans of Galaxy Quest, which came out about a decade later. Both are riffs on pulpy, popular film genres, but done with rather than mockery. They both feature the premise of a group of entertainers mistaken for the characters they portray and asked to save the day.
And like Galaxy Quest, Three Amigos balances the absurd with just the right amount of heart.
1979's The Jerk is one of the best Steve Martin movies and one of the funniest films of all time.
Martin stars as Navin R. Johnson, who narrates his life's story throughout the movie. The white son of black sharecroppers in Mississippi, Navin has no idea that he is adopted. The character depends on how well Martin can play how naïve he truly is, and Martin delivers a performance for the ages.
The Jerk still holds up today, thanks to its many quotable lines. “Someone must really hate these cans!”
Father of the Bride
A remake of the 1950 film, Father of the Bride, written by Nancy Meyers, stars Steve Martin as the titular Father, George Banks. When his daughter returns home from a trip to Europe to tell her parents she’s engaged to a man she’s only known for a few months, George completely spirals as he’s not ready to give her away yet. Not helping matters are personality clashes with future in-laws and one very eccentric wedding planner, played by Martin Short.
Playing straight man to Martin’s more eccentric George is Diane Keaton as his wife, Nina. Though she brings her own signature wit to the part, it’s a much-needed balance to Martin’s more chaotic style of comedy. Without it, the tone would become overwhelming and stressful, which perhaps it still does in certain parts, such as when George misses key moments of his daughter's wedding.
The daughter’s fiancé is never portrayed as a bad man, meaning the movie's conflict stems entirely from George’s imagination. Fortunately, the family at the heart of it all is enough to save the day, including an adorable turn by a very young Kieran Culkin in one of his first film roles.
Father of the Bride Part II
Sequels seldom recapture the magic of their predecessors, but Father of the Bride Part II is one exception. A few years after his daughter Annie’s wedding, George Banks gets hit with another doozy: she and her husband Bryan are expecting their first child. Things become even more stressful for George when he learns that his wife, Nina, is now expecting their third child. With the switch flipped from soon-to-be grandparents and empty nesters to the prospect of having to do it all over again, naturally, George once again feels the pressure.
A common element in sequels to popular comedies is the instinct to repeat successful gags from the first movie, reimagined in new contexts. However, even if that does get a little tiresome, it's not enough to detract from the charm of Father of the Bride Part II, which despite double the trouble for George, somehow manages to feel much less stressful than the first film.
The 1999 comedy features Steve Martin starring alongside Eddie Murphy and Heather Graham.
Murphy does some impressive work, as he plays two roles: movie superstar Kit Ramsey and a Ramsey lookalike, Jiff. Martin's performance comes off as a somewhat straight man, but he plays so well with the absurdity around him. In addition, his ability to keep the film's satire grounded is to be commended.
While it may not have enjoyed the same wide recognition as his other films, Bowfinger has developed a cult following over time, making it an easy inclusion on our list of the best Steve Martin movies.
Cheaper by the Dozen
For millennials of a certain age, Cheaper By The Dozen is a family comedy staple. Steve Martin stars as Tom Baker, a college football coach and father of 12 children. A chance to coach a team at a higher division leads him to move his massive brood away from the house and small town they all grew up in and into a larger home but a far less friendly environment.
Though Tom and his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) bear much of the stress of the move, the kids' struggles take center stage, making this a family movie. It’s also the perfect movie to watch for those nostalgic for the early ’00s, not just for the particular fashion choices, but because it stars Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff, and Ashton Kutcher, all at the height of their teen magazine fame.
There’s nothing like a Nancy Meyers movie for comfort watching, is there? Cozy sweaters, kitchens to die for, and the kinds of problems most of us only wish we had. In this case, the film centers around Meryl Streep’s Jane, a woman amid an affair with her ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin. Adding to things is Adam, played by Steve Martin, who is both the architect on Jane’s home remodel and the man she is starting to have feelings for. Naturally, from there, the three of them are swept into a love triangle that is, in a word, complicated.
Romance and romantic hijinx are often seen on screen playing out among younger people. The wonderful thing about It’s Complicated is that it allows many typical rom-com tropes to play out in a group of people old enough to have adult children. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that these people are all big-screen legends in their own right.
Arezou Amin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of Star Wars, romance, fantasy, and all things pop culture. She is the host of Space Waffles, a Star Wars-focused podcast on the Geeky Waffle network, where she also co-hosts the flagship show and writes reviews and recaps for the site.