For the past six decades, Steve Martin has ranked as one of the most beloved comedians of his generation. Taking to the stage in the mid 1960s, Martin merged his musical talents with his energetic brand of surreal humor, ensuring a comedy act the likes of which few people had ever seen before.
Rising in popularity by the late 1960s, Martin soon became one of the most famed comedians of his day, starring in numerous hit movies and hosting such iconic television shows as Saturday Night Live on multiple occasions. To this day, he remains a prolific creator of comedic content, touring with his frequent collaborator Martin Short, producing his own music and written material, and starring in such well-loved TV series as Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building.
For a testament to his talent, find here the best Steve Martin movies and TV shows.
1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
The most famous Thanksgiving movie ever made, Planes, Trains and Automobiles also ranks as the single best film to star either Steve Martin or John Candy. With John Hughes’ strong script guiding them, Martin and Candy make for an ideal pairing opposite one another–the ‘80s equivalent to Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy.
With Martin opting for a more withdrawn performance, Candy receives ample opportunity to shine as the kind-hearted (if annoying) shower curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith. Rather than getting drowned out by Candy’s formidable portrayal, though, Martin still does a fantastic job holding audiences’ attention, with Martin able to show his character’s slow transformation from icy and stand-offish to compassionate and understanding.
2. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Like the aforementioned Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin’s contrasting portrayal opposite Michael Caine accounts for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ supreme success. A classic screwball premise transposed for the 1980s French Riviera, Martin’s loud-mouthed American conman pairs well alongside Caine’s suave, charming con artist, allowing each man to excel in their respective roles.
3. The Jerk (1979)
The first film that Martin starred in, The Jerk also marked the first of several collaborations between Martin and director Carl Reiner (leading to their later reunions on The Man with Two Brains, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and All of Me). Like each of their later films together, The Jerk’s odd, often surreal humor helped define Martin’s career as a comedian, establishing him as a legitimate star to watch out for as the 1980s approached.
4. Parenthood (1989)
One of Martin’s more straight-laced performances came with 1989’s masterful Parenthood. A thought-provoking depiction of how every parent raises their children in their own distinct way, Parenthood also underscores the stresses and anxieties that come with overseeing a household.
Through Martin’s eyes, viewers sympathize with his dramatic plight, witnessing the constant worries in balancing a career with a stable home life, as well as the boundless joys that come with parenting a child.
5. Bowfinger (1999)
Like Martin himself, Eddie Murphy has always done well appearing alongside a notable co-star, handing in inspired performances opposite Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs. and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.
In 1999, Murphy signed on to star with Martin in the satirical comedy Bowfinger. A hilarious take-down of the often pretentious Hollywood film industry, Murphy may get all the best lines in Bowfinger. However, Martin still manages to eke out a stable place for himself as the inventive title character.
6. L.A. Story (1991)
Martin has always maintained a complex outlook on Los Angeles, admitting to feeling an infatuation with and deep hostility towards the city.
Channeling his love and frustrations with life in Los Angeles, L.A. Story also focuses on a hapless weatherman’s attempts to find meaning in his otherwise superficial life. As weighty as that plot might sound, Martin’s grounded humor makes the underlying message subtle and powerful. It also makes L.A. Story one of the best Steve Martin movies.
7. Roxanne (1987)
A contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, Martin’s screenplay for Roxanne captures all the tender eloquence of its source material. Casting himself as a large-nosed yet kind-hearted fire chief who harbors some deep-seated insecurities about his appearance, Martin hands in a performance that alternates between infectious physical comedy and more emotional drama.
8. All of Me (1984)
The final film between Martin and his recurring director Carl Reiner, All of Me allowed the two to conclude their working relationship in grand fashion. Another impressive outing for both comedy icons, All of Me delivers a promising Freaky Friday-type romantic comedy, with Martin handing in a momentous appearance opposite his co-star, Lily Tomlin. Smart, funny, and above all imaginative, the film engages and holds audiences’ interests throughout its rapid 90-minute runtime.
9. Only Murders in the Building (2021-present)
Martin’s long-awaited return to the limelight came with his 2021 Hulu series, Only Murders in the Building. Partnering once again with frequent co-star Martin Short, Martin also brings in next-gen talent, Selena Gomez, as the third lead in the show. Reflecting back on pop culture’s growing obsession with true crime, Only Murders in the Building appeals to every prospective member of the audience through its whodunit plot points, indelible humor, and sensational casting.
10. The Man with Two Brains (1983)
Yet another collaboration between Martin and Carl Reiner, The Man with Two Brains employs a more loose-knit and radical comedic style than the duo’s previous or later films together.
A fast-paced sci-fi romantic comedy, the film’s surreal gags and random jokes seem more at home in Monty Python, Mel Brooks, or Looney Tunes cartoon than in a typical Martin-Reiner movie. Through its bizarre, often animated comedy, though, the movie makes a point of never slowing down or letting up in its rapid-fire delivery of comedic sequences.
11. Saturday Night Live (1975-present)
The fact that most people assume Steve Martin had joined Saturday Night Live as a regular cast member should tell viewers all they need to know about Martin’s tenure on the show. A recurring host known for appearing in the show’s formative years, Martin’s unique comedic style worked well with SNL’s own idiosyncratic brand of humor.
Whether dancing a horrendous tango with Gilda Radner or hamming it up with Dan Aykroyd as a “wild and crazy guy,” audiences could rest assured they were in for a good time whenever Martin took over hosting duties on the show.
12. The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Abandoning any pretext of a comedic performance, Martin appears in 1997’s The Spanish Prisoner as an enigmatic businessman whose motives remain a mystery.
Without a doubt Martin’s most dramatic performance, his straight-forward portrayal of Jimmy Dell makes The Spanish Prisoner an enticing Hitchcockian thriller, one where (like Campbell Scott’s main protagonist) the viewer never realizes the motivation behind Martin’s character.
13. Pennies from Heaven (1981)
A sweeping homage to the ‘30s musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Pennies from Heaven focuses on the inherent sense of hope espoused in such movies as Top Hat, Swing Time, and Shall We Dance. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the film follows Martin’s idealistic music sheet salesman as he pursues the happiness found within his cherished sheet music. Starring alongside his then-girlfriend Bernadette Peters and a tap-dancing Christopher Walken, the film achieves the same glamorous presentation as the movies it tries so hard to emulate.
14. Grand Canyon (1991)
Dubbing itself “The Big Chill for the 1990s,” Grand Canyon acts as Lawrence Kasdan’s ambitious follow-up to his famed 1983 comedy drama. Tackling larger thematic issues with daring gusto, Kasdan strings together an ensemble cast (Martin, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Alfre Woodard) to explore the intricate topic of race, crime, and the economic divisions of class in Los Angeles.
With respect to Martin, the comedian appears as an existential action filmmaker who gains a renewed stance on life, seeking to remove any sensationalized depictions of violence after a near-death experience.
15. My Blue Heaven (1990)
A hilarious companion piece to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, My Blue Heaven poses the tantalizing question: “What happened to Henry Hill after he settled down into his new life in the suburbs?” Answering that question with constant ingenuity, My Blue Heaven delivers a hailstorm of laugh-out-loud comedic sequences, many of which feature Martin’s Henry Hill stand-in, Vinnie Antonelli.
The best film to star both Martin and the always fantastic Rick Moranis, My Blue Heaven never wastes an opportunity to lob some kind of joke at the audience.
16. Father of the Bride (1991)
One of the more well-known additions to Martin’s filmography, Father of the Bride features plenty of out-and-out hilarity in its classical screwball aesthetic and hammy supporting characters (none more so than Martin Short’s eccentric wedding planner, Franck Eggelhoffer).
Through it all, though, Martin never falls into the same outright hysteria he’d spent a bulk of his career specializing in. Opting for a more dialed-back performance, Martin uses his character to meditate on the crippling anxieties that come with bidding a grown child goodbye as she prepares for marriage.
17. Leap of Faith (1992)
Despite its biting critique of televangelism, Leap of Faith weaves in a sentimental storyline that bears very little bitterness in its plot. Focusing on a Christian faith healer who doctors “miracles” to unsuspecting rural crowds, Martin’s lead character demonstrates an intricate personality who reflects on the harms and benefits of his performances.
Endearing himself to his audiences through his sheer charisma and theatrical showmanship, Martin ropes viewers in just as much as he does the film’s fictional crowds.
18. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
While Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid seldom achieves the same level of popularity as Martin and Carl Reiner’s other lasting collaborations (The Jerk and The Man with Two Brains), the finished film makes for an unique viewing experience. Cobbling together a unique noir mystery with doctored appearances from Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, James Cagney, and Cary Grant, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid’s distinct editing makes this 1982 film a hilarious–if little-known–cult classic among Steve Martin movies.
19. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Yes, Martin’s appearance in Little Shop of Horrors falls into the territory of a mere cameo. However, Martin himself uses every opportunity he can to leave a lasting impression on audiences, hitting it out of the park as the sadistic, gas-huffing dentist, Orin Scrivello, DDS.
With his lacquered Southern accent and propensity for inflicting maximum pain on his patients, Martin’s villainous turn as Scrivello makes Little Shop of Horrors both hilarious and more than a little frightening in some places.
20. Three Amigos (1986)
A long-time passion project of Martin’s, Three Amigos may fall when it comes to its otherwise promising cast list (Martin, Short, and SNL alumnus Chevy Chase). Though perhaps funnier on paper than in practice, the titular leads still demonstrate supreme camaraderie together, charming audiences with their inspired chemistry.