Steve Martin at the 2016 ACE Eddie Awards

Steve Martin at the 2016 ACE Eddie Awards (Photo by Tinseltown on Shutterstock)

Steve Martin is one of the funniest comedians of his generation. From performing as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live to writing comedic novels to starring in some of the best comedy movies, Steve Martin has done it all in the world of comedy. So, to honor the legendary funnyman, we’re compiling a list of his most legendary work as an actor. One thing is for sure, the best Steve Martin movies will have you falling out of your seat with laughter. 

And speaking of laughter, a recent study found a reliable way to tell if your kid has psychopathic tendencies, and it all starts with a laugh. Researchers at University College London recruited 92 boys between ages 11 and 16 for a study on how social reactions as an adolescent could predict later behavior. About two-thirds of the participants had been diagnosed with disruptive behaviors or callous and unemotional (CU) traits. Researchers used fMRI scans to measure the brain activity of participants as they listened to sounds of both fake and real laughter, occasionally interspersed with crying. 

While listening to these noises, participants were asked to rate on a seven-point scale the degree to which they believed the laughs they heard were genuine. They also noted the extent to which they were emotionally affected. Adolescents who demonstrated both risk factors for psychopathy reported less of an urge to laugh in conjunction with others than those who were believed to have one or neither. This finding was supported by the results of the fMRI scans, which showed reduced brain activity in regions associated with emotional reasoning. 

Obviously, laughter can tell us a lot about certain social-emotional character traits. But, laughter can also help us remember important events and newsworthy topics. Another recent study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania says young people remember more about what they hear on the news when it’s mixed with humor. The study also shows that young people experience more brain activity when they’re watching humorous newscasts, such as “The Daily Show” or “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. The study examined a group of 18-34-year-olds and showed them news clips where some of them ended with jokes and others did not. The results showed that participants remember more about government and politics when the news is presented in a humorous manner. Simply put, adding some humor to serious topics helps us remember important facts. 

Speaking of comedy, what are some of Steve Martin’s most famous films that leave us chuckling? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 pop culture and movie critic websites in an effort to bring you the consensus top five best Steve Martin movies. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed movies from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your opinions with us in the comments section below! 

Steve Martin at the 2006 "Pink Panther" premiere
Steve Martin at the 2006 “Pink Panther” premiere (Photo by Everett Collection on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Steve Martin Movies, According to Film Experts


1. “The Jerk” (1979)

His first Hollywood movie, “The Jerk” was Steve Martin’s coming out party and this iconic comedy helped set the stage for what would be one of the best comedic careers in history. The Jerk was Martin’s debut feature screenplay and breakout starring role. Co-written by Martin, Carl Gottlieb, and Michael Elias and directed by Carl Reiner, The Jerk follows Navin Johnson (Martin, at his absolute silliest). Navin is a gullible and somewhat unintelligent man who leaves home on a journey to find himself. While the basic premise doesn’t age super well under modern standards — Navin was adopted by a Black family and believes he was ‘born a poor Black child in the south’ — The Jerk exemplifies what made Martin a star,” writes Slash Film

"The Jerk" (1979)
“The Jerk” (1979)

True, “The Jerk” with Steve Martin is not politically correct, and it does contain themes that probably wouldn’t be received well by mainstream society, but it’s funny. The Jerk is Steve Martin’s first movie and he doesn’t hold back on his absurd sense of humor“Martin had a couple of minor roles in films previously, but his movie career really began with The Jerk. It’s a starring role for Martin — and 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,” adds Yardbarker

Steve Martin is really good at playing goofy, absurd characters that jump off the screen, and that all started with “The Jerk”. By comedic standards, the movie tells a good story without being profane or dirty, which is in line with Steve Martin’s brand of humor. 

“In the late 1970s, when Martin had become a huge name in standup comedy, he plotted a transition to the big screen. He teamed up with screenwriters Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias and director Carl Reiner to translate the delightfully offbeat tone of his standup act into a feature film. Hailed as one of the funniest movies ever made, The Jerk tells the epic saga of simpleton Navin R. Johnson, who moves to St. Louis to follow his dreams, works odd jobs like gas station attendant and carnival weight guesser, and eventually earns fame and fortune with his ludicrous invention of the ‘Opti-Grab’ (a handle that keeps eyeglasses from slipping down their wearers’ noses),” adds Game Rant

2. “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (1987)

The second spot on the list of the best Steve Martin movies belongs to the holiday classic “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. In this one, Steve Martin teamed up with comedy legend John Candy and struck comedy gold in the process. It’s rare for a movie to check so many boxes but “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” does just that – it’s a holiday movie, a classic buddy comedy, and a little bit of a heartfelt tearjerker all in one. Combine these elements with the comedic genius of Steve Martin and John Candy and you’ve got one of the best Steve Martin movies ever. 

“One of the best buddy movies of all time, Planes, Trains and Automobiles pairs Steve Martin with the great John Candy, and the results are as good as you might expect. Martin stars as uptight advertising executive Neal Page who endures two days of Hell en route to a Thanksgiving feast alongside Candy’s well-meaning, ultimately bumbling Del Griffith. Naturally, the pair bond during their tumultuous journey, leading to a surprisingly emotional conclusion that wraps this one up in a nice holiday bow,” explains ComingSoon

The premise of the movie is simple, two family-oriented businessmen are trying to get home to their families for Thanksgiving and their journeys become intertwined with one another. The zany, comedic adventure that ensues is legendary. “In this film, Martin and John Candy star as Neal Page and Del Griffith, a marketing executive and a [shower] curtain [ring] salesman who are quite different from one another. When Griffith makes Page miss his flight back to Chicago for stealing his cab, they both must embark on a three-day odyssey by air and land in order to get home in time for Thanksgiving Day. On this journey they will not only go on the craziest adventures, but they will also learn many lessons from each other. As the chemistry between the lead actors went beyond the screen, the movie became a success with critics and audiences alike,” adds MovieWeb

One can only imagine the amount of fun Steve Martin and John Candy had on set while filming “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. The legendary comedians teamed up with director John Hughes to make this Thanksgiving classic. John Hughes also directed classic comedies such as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, and “Uncle Buck” (also starring John Candy). 

“1987’s ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ is one of the few Thanksgiving movies to exist and is also the best. Written and directed by John Hughes, the film follows cranky advertising executive Neal (Martin in prime know-it-all mode) trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving… Opposite Candy’s exceedingly kind and well-meaning Del, Martin is placed in a difficult position as the straight man. Yet Martin is the rare comedian who can find the humor in clever and stupid moments, all due to his grounded reactions. Together, Martin and Candy are comedic magic as they bring out the emotional truth behind the slapstick jokes in one of Hughes’ most accomplished films,” writes Slash Film

3. “Roxanne” (1987)

This movie is a take on the classic play “Cyrano De Bergerac,” hence Steve Martin sporting the big nose look in this movie. Regardless of this movie’s take, Roxanne is one of Steve Martin’s best movies and one of his most acclaimed performances. 

"Roxanne" (1987)
“Roxanne” (1987)

Martin’s role in this hit? “Charlie Bates, the fire chief of a small town in British Columbia who is known for having a large nose. He’s attracted to newcomer Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah), and as much as Roxanne likes him, she is more attracted to dim bulb Chris (Rick Rossovich). Charlie agrees to help the socially awkward Chris win the heart of Roxanne while pining for her himself. For his performance as Charlie, Martin was nominated for his third Golden Globe Award,” explains Gold Derby

Steve Martin is flat-out talented, and he can play a range of roles with flawless execution. Roxanne is the perfect example of Steve Martin’s acting range. “Charlie speaks on Chris’s behalf and brings him closer to Roxanne. But when Roxanne figures out who she’s fallen in love with, conflict and comedic turns ensue. Charlie is a strong performance from Martin, as the character is vulnerable and self-conscious yet never self-pitying. The film is also a testament to Martin’s storytelling ability as a writer and performer, earning him a Golden Globe nomination for his performance and a Writers Guild Association nomination for his script,” explains Slash Film

Steve Martin is also a brilliant comedy writer, and Roxanne is a glaring example of his creativity. Martin takes a classic play and turns it into comedy gold while still maintaining the story’s central themes and characters. Still, Roxanne was the first time movie lovers got a chance to see Steve Martin play a romantic on screen. 

“This was the start of the more serious Martin on screen: Roxanne is very much a comedy, of course, but it’s more mature and less bizarre than his earlier work. Roxanne also found Martin convincingly play a love interest, revealing a tenderness his initial comedies had shied away from… Not to worry: Martin gave the character a quiet dignity, paving the way for later films like L.A. Story in which the comic further explored his melancholic/romantic side,” furthers Cracked

4. “Parenthood” (1989)

This movie was directed by the great Ron Howard, who you might best remember as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show”, and it features Steve Martin playing Gil Buckman, a family man who’s doing everything he can to be a good dad and make his kids’ childhoods better than his own. The result is a classic tale about family, fatherhood, and the everyday stressors that make a seemingly good life difficult. 

"Parenthood" (1989)
“Parenthood” (1989)

“This 1989 film follows the life of Gil Buckman (Martin), a family man who, confronted with some of his children’s behavioral problems, starts to question his work as a father and his addiction to work. Things get worse when he discovers that his wife is pregnant on the very same day he decides to quit his job. At the same time, Parenthood delves into Gil’s relationship with his father and siblings, illustrating some of the situations that tend to happen in every family,” explains MovieWeb

Although “Parenthood” is funny and audiences are privileged to some of Steve Martin’s goofy humor, this movie is not really a comedy in the truest sense. Parenthood stars Steve Martin alongside some all-time great actors including Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, and Keanu Reeves who all combine to create a truly excellent film about the struggles of life and raising a family. 

“Martin’s Gil is a lovable but neurotic father of three with his wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen). Gil and Karen grapple with their oldest child’s anxieties and learning difficulties, an inherited issue from Gil’s childhood. Meanwhile, Gil’s older sister, Helen (Dianne Wiest), is a single mother of a rebellious teenager. His younger sister’s husband, Nathan (Rick Moranis), becomes more focused on their toddler child’s academic goals than his marriage. Though each family has its difficulties, they help each other. After a string of silly roles in the ’80s, ‘Parenthood’ signaled Martin’s ability to tackle more serious subject matter in films. The film highlights his overall aging maturity in his work, evident in his Golden Globe nomination for the role,” adds Slash Film

Steve Martin’s role in “Parenthood” is a far cry from the characters in his earlier films. Martin dials down the goofy and ramps up the serious and more neurotic behavior that he’s known for. Gil Buckman is the classic overthinker and worrier, and perhaps no other actor could play that role as perfectly as Steve Martin. 

“My favorite Steve Martin film, Parenthood, posits the star atop an incredible ensemble consisting of Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves, and a very young Joaquin Phoenix. Ron Howard’s dramedy explores the joys and pains of, well, parenthood, and gives Martin plenty of opportunities to display his quick wit (‘If she’s so smart, why is she sitting in our neighbor’s car?’) and superb comic timing. He’s aided by the excellent supporting cast, an intelligent script, and Howard’s assured direction, all of which make Parenthood a remarkable (and severely underrated) classic,” furthers Coming Soon

5. “Father of the Bride” (1991)

Rounding out the list of the best Steve Martin movies is “Father of the Bride. This movie stars Steve Martin alongside Diane Keaton and Kimberly Williams Paisley, and it’s one of Martin’s best movies for a few reasons. 

“In a remake of the 1950 Vincente Minnelli comedy that starred Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, Martin stars as George Banks, a shoe company executive who nervously waits for the wedding of his daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams). What distinguishes the film is Martin’s chemistry with his on-screen wife Diane Keaton, which was a major factor in the film’s success, which prompted a 1995 sequel that brought Martin his fifth Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor,” writes Gold Derby

Steve Martin plays an excellent role in “Father of the Bride” as an anxious, worrisome father is spot-on, but the way he plays off of Diane Keaton helps make this movie magical. “Martin stars as George Banks, a family man who has to face his greatest nightmare: his daughter, now grown up, has met a man and is going to marry him. Father of the Bride is a film that delves into a recurring fear that parents tend to have as their children grow up, while also incorporating several clichés and amusing situations to keep the audience entertained. Joining Martin in the cast are Diane Keaton, George Newbern, and Kimberly Williams in her acting debut. This production, inspired by the 1950 classic of the same name, was very well received by audiences, becoming a box-office hit and garnering several nominations and awards,” furthers MovieWeb

Audiences have been able to watch Steve Martin’s on-screen evolution over the years, and Father of the Bride takes that one step further. Although this movie is a remake, Steve Martin and the rest of the cast truly make this movie one of a kind. “Another one of Martin’s classic comedies, the actor is introduced as an overprotective father who is unable to detach from his daughter and nearly destroys her wedding. The film also boasts a star-studded supporting cast, featuring big names like: Diane Keaton, D. Wong, and Martin Short, amongst others. Father of the Bride remains an important highlight in Steve’s filmography, and though a remake, the film stands out for its superb acting, cast chemistry, and impeccably timed jokes,” adds We Got This Covered

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1 Comment

  1. Chris says:

    “The Man With Two Brains” and “The Three Amigos” should’ve been on this list. Steve Martin was at his best when doing adult, subversive comedy. The last thing I wanna see is an aging actor or comedian past their prime selling out and doing a cliche-ridden family comedy. Eddie Murphy/ Bob De Niro ring a bell?