From Norm Macdonald to Tim Dillon, there are plenty of beloved stand-up comedians who have had only middling or short-lived success in film and television. Then, there are comedians who parlayed their on-stage brilliance into on-screen superstardom.
1. Mel Brooks
Melvin Kaminsky, known to legions of followers as Mel Brooks, is the defining comedy director of his generation. Equally talented as an actor (often appearing in his own films), Brooks has earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (The Producers in 1962), Grammy and Tony Awards for his work on The Producers, the 2024 Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime achievements, and a litany of other formal accolades.
At his core, though, Brooks' boundary-pushing absurdist vision in films like Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, and countless other creative projects makes him a comedic legend.
2. Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey is the pineapple pizza of comedy — immensely popular but just as polarizing. Whether or not you enjoy the style of a comedian who is the human manifestation of caffeine, there is no avoiding Carrey's commercial success.
Long one of the most bankable comedic leading men, Carrey's greatest film hits include Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, The Mask, The Truman Show, Ace Ventura, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His dramatic role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind remains his most critically praised performance (and, for most, his best film).
3. Steve Martin
Few comedic superstars remained more relevant throughout several decades the way that Steve Martin has. He proved his effectiveness as a leading man in movies like The Jerk, Parenthood, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Three Amigos. Martin also shined as the straight-man foil to John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Later, Martin would provide some family-friendly levity in movies like Father of the Bride and Cheaper by the Dozen.
His hit television show Only Murders in the Building proves that Martin (who had his first child at the age of 67) knows something about remaining a potent force in the later stages of life.
4. Richard Pryor
One of the more controversial comedians of his time, Richard Pryor had undeniable comedic skill but turned off some would-be fans by throwing caution or censorship to the wind. However, Pryor was able to contain his raucous brand of comedy for the screen in hit movies like Silver Streak, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Blue Collar.
A battle with addiction taints Pryor's story with an air of “what if.” However, the star's accomplishments on stage and on screen qualify him as one of the greats.
5. Bill Murray
Bill Murray has carried the show in so many legendary movies that it's difficult to keep track. Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and The Grand Budapest Hotel are among Murray's most iconic films.
Somehow, Murray's cultural relevance has rivaled his on-screen prowess. A man famed for popping up in the most random places, Murray has proven himself to be one of the most naturally hilarious funnymen of his generation.
6. Eddie Murphy
From widely distributed stand-up specials like Raw to feature films like Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy has reached levels of marketability and commercial success that few comedians have ever occupied. One of the hardest-working comedic actors in the game, Murphy's filmography has remained bumper-to-bumper despite him being into his sixth decade of life.
7. Leslie Nielsen
For some reason, the name Leslie Nielsen does not ring as familiar as names like Pryor, Murphy, Carlin, and Steve Martin. The lack of name recognition belies Nielsen's hit-packed filmography, which includes movies like Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Spy Hard, and Mr. Magoo.
Surely, Leslie Nielsen ranks among the greatest satirists of his time, and don't call me Shirley.
8. Steve Carell
Steve Carell catapulted into the household-name tier by playing Michael Scott, the buffoonish boss who made The Office the most beloved sitcom of its time. Not content to rest on his laurels as Prison Mike, Carell built an impressive film resume with turns in Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Date Night, and Evan Almighty.
Later in his career, Carell has gravitated towards dramatic roles in movies like Last Flag Flying and Beautiful Boy. To true-blue Carell-heads, though, Steve will always be the clown cooking his foot and making a mockery of diversity day at Dunder Mifflin's Scranton office.
9. Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell was often the comedian that teens and young adults loved, but older fans of Mel Brooks and Steve Martin typically find him overly bombastic. Yet, his cameo as funeral-crashing Chaz in Wedding Crashers won over even Ferrell's most ardent critics.
Ferrell's lengthy comedic resume includes hit films like Old School, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and Zoolander. He has appeared in television shows, including Eastbound & Down and The Office.
10. Robin Williams
Though Robin Williams' frenetic comedic style is not for everyone, virtually everyone has seen a Robin Williams movie they enjoyed at least a little. The comedian ascended from Mork & Mindy to build an impressive catalog of comedy films, including Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Good Morning, Vietnam, and the underrated Man of the Year.
Notably, Williams ventured far outside of his comedy roots to phenomenal success. Hit turns in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society, to many, most define his film career.
11. John Candy
John Candy had a knack for playing the lovable loser everyone could root for. It was an act that got him far in the movie biz, with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Splash, Home Alone, Stripes, The Great Outdoors, and Cool Runnings topping his resume.
12. Tina Fey
Historically, women have not been nearly as prominent in comedy films. However, Tina Fey has broken the mold both on-screen and in the writers' room. Films like Mean Girls and Date Night have established Fey as a reliable leading lady for Hollywood's studios. However, 30 Rock stands as Fey's most hilarious, long-form accomplishment to date.
13. Rodney Dangerfield
The king of the one-liners, Rodney Dangerfield is the consummate scene stealer. A veritable hurricane of a comedian, Dangerfield outshone an all-star cast in Caddyshack.
Though Dangerfield's film catalog is not especially deep and has plenty of movies that critics rolled their eyes at, films like Back to School and Easy Money are Dangerfield at his Dangerfield-est.
14. Chris Farley
Chris Farley is far more than a fat guy in a little coat or a motivational coach living in a van down by the river. He's also Tommy Callahan, the heir to the Callahan Auto empire. Always stealing scenes with outrageous physical comedy (see Billy Madison), Farley was a shooting star who burned hot and fast.
For insight into Farley's on-screen bombast and off-screen struggles, check out the excellent documentary I Am Chris Farley.