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A Brief History of the ‘Saturday Night Live’ Movies

Live from New York … it’s more movies than you might expect.

John Belushi Dan Aykroyd Blues Brothers
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in Blues Brothers.

Having run nonstop since 1975, “Saturday Night Live” is the best known and most successful sketch comedy show in existence. The program has spawned countless memes, from the one about the cowbells, to “go make me a sandwich,” to the recent remarkably close castings of political figures. Another thing the show has produced over its decades-long tenure is more contentious: a series of movies based on some of the show’s most popular sketches.

A while back, my roommates and I were listening to music while we made dinner, and the song “What is Love” by Haddaway came on. All of us started bobbing out heads in unison and laughing about it. That’s when my roommate, an SNL superfan, told me about where that had originated: with “SNL’s” “A Night at the Roxbury.” He was so appalled that I’d never seen it that he sat us down to watch it there and then.

“Roxbury” wasn’t the first film to spawn from a sketch filmed live in New York. “Blues Brothers” was originally an “SNL” bit featuring comedic legends John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and “Wayne’s World” first came around on the show featuring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey. Both these movies were huge successes that still have major fanbases today.

An additional yet lesser-known fun fact is that Mike Judge’s 1999 cult comedy “Office Space” can–at least in part–also trace its origins to Studio 8H. After the mainstream popularity of “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “SNL” teamed up with MTV and Judge to re-air some of his old animated sketches. The animated “Office Space” short made its broadcast TV debut in the 19th season premiere of “SNL” hosted by Charles Barkley featuring musical guest Nirvana.

Another “Office Space” animated short titled “Billable Hours” (embedded below) was supposed to air during the 9th episode of the 19th season, but was cut due to time constraints.

Recently, however, the show’s talent have shied away from turning their sketches into films. 2010’s “MacGruber” is the only graduate of the show to see the big screen since 2000’s “The Ladies Man.” While it has a cult following today, the film flopped on release, which is probably the reason why the Not Ready for Prime Time Players have largely avoided the practice of late.

Instead, some of the show’s alums have turned to making what many consider “SNL”-adjacent movies, such as Andy Samberg starring in the raucous comedy-music film “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” The movie was well received, though it failed to live up to the hype at the box office.

Ultimately, while taking a short sketch for TV and making it into a feature film doesn’t always work out, there have been enough classics to come from the show over the years to believe that a resurgence of SNL-originated movies could once again become vogue. Until then, we always have Saturday night.

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