Saturday Night Live is like a breeding ground for comedy talent. Actually, for the past few months, it’s been more of a secondary news source that’s more satirical than CNN and stars Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump. But historically, it’s been a boot camp for the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood to cut their teeth. Producer Lorne Michaels has an eye for talent. He can look at a fledgling standup or newcomer on the improv circuit and see their potential for superstardom. And with SNL, he’s created the perfect platform to get them there. Whether they simply became supporting cast mainstays of Judd Apatow productions or went on to rule the world as enormous movie stars, here are fifteen excellent performers who went from performing sketches live from New York on Saturday night to raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office as Hollywood royalty.
15. Bill Hader
Bill Hader is without a doubt one of the funniest cast members in Saturday Night Live history. He would often break character due to laughing and try to cover it up, but the audience would never mind because the guy looked like he was having so much damn fun. He appeared in the “Hollywood Dish” sketches alongside Kristen Wiig and that weird yet hysterical parody of The O.C. with Andy Samberg and Shia Labeouf. He also became the go-to impressions guy with spot-on impersonations of Vincent Price, Charlie Rose, Al Pacino, Alan Alda, Rick Perry, John Malkovich, Julian Assange, Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, and many, many more. He hasn’t yet starred in a movie of his own (but someone should make it), but he’s been hilarious and a scene-stealer as a supporting player in countless other people’s starring vehicles: Superbad, Knocked Up, Hot Rod, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and more. He’s a dynamo. Would someone please fund that Bill Hader starring vehicle already?
14. Kate McKinnon
Okay, technically she’s still on the show (and hopefully it stays that way, because Baldwin notwithstanding, she’s the show’s MVP), but she’s also been stealing scenes all over movie comedy. She was the funniest cast member of the new Ghostbusters, (which wasn’t a tremendous financial success but was still a good movie), even though she was up against the likes of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. She was also the funniest thing in Office Christmas Party, which was a bigger success, and Masterminds. She also saved the new black comedy Rough Night, which could’ve been disastrously unfunny, as she plays the tag-along friend. No one could steal Sisters from the double act of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but McKinnon makes a good go of it. It’s no wonder she’s making ripples in the movie world – her work on SNL is virtually unparalleled. She reduced Ryan Gosling to tears of laughter during a sketch about alien abduction. And her impressions on SNL are priceless: from Hillary Clinton to Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres to Kristen Stewart, she nails them all.
13. Andy Samberg
Andy Samberg was a great addition to the SNL cast because he and his Lonely Island cohorts, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, completely revolutionized the way the show gets made. Until they came along with dozens of viral digital shorts under their belt, the show was totally live, with live sketches, monologues, and musical performances. But since it was their strong suit, Samberg and his buddies introduced “SNL Digital Shorts,” which have become a staple of the show. These are pre-recorded short films, and it’s opened SNL up to whole new types of comedy. Now they can feature funny music videos, long-winded narratives, or pretty much anything since they’re not limited by the live stage performance setup. Now, Samberg hasn’t necessarily found huge box office success as a movie star. While great movies, Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping were financial bombs. Even That’s My Boy, when Samberg teamed up with Adam Sandler, was a box office failure. However, he’s found big box office success in animation with movies like Storks and the Hotel Transylvania franchise, and he currently stars in one of the top-rated comedies on network television, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
12. Jason Sudeikis
Jason Sudeikis brought a likable charm to Saturday Night Live. He was probably the coolest member of the cast when he joined. He has this quality of a high school jock, and yet it’s not threatening. He played many recurring characters on SNL: the male A-hole alongside Kristen Wiig, the cop who used Kenan Thompson’s Lorenzo McIntosh to scare kids straight, the ESPN guy who covered obscure sports, and the Devil on Weekend Update. Then he moved on to the movies, starring opposite Jason Bateman and Charlie Day (with whom he memorably guest starred in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as the lost member of the Gang, “Schmitty”) in Horrible Bosses and its sequel, which were both box office smashes. And, of course, he starred in We’re the Millers, the weed-smuggling Mexican road trip comedy that grossed $270 million in its theatrical run and is still remembered by audiences to this day, because its humor has staying power. Now Sudeikis is moving on to drama – suffice it to say, he’s come a long way since kissing Jon Hamm on the back of a motorcycle in front of a green screen.
11. Amy Poehler
With her latest movie The House, in which she stars alongside Will Ferrell as a married couple who open an illegal underground casino in their house, Amy Poehler is proving she is far from being irrelevant. For seven glorious seasons, she starred as Leslie Knope on the wildly successful NBC mockumentary series Parks and Recreation, but she’s enjoyed a lucrative career in movies, too. Poehler spent 2001 (her first episode was the first episode produced after 9/11) until 2008 on SNL, co-anchoring Weekend Update with Seth Meyers and doing a raft of celebrity impressions, from Avril Lavigne to Michael Jackson to Kim Jong-il to Dolly Parton to Sharon Osbourne. And then, she became a great movie star, especially when she stars alongside her sister from another mister, Tina Fey. Baby Mama survived on the strength of their chemistry, and Sisters was even better – who other than the combination of Fey and Poehler could take on Star Wars Episode VII and still achieve box office success? She was also fantastic in Wet Hot American Summer and its Netflix prequel, Mean Girls, Blades of Glory, They Came Together – and who could forget Inside Out, in which Poehler’s endearing performance as the lovable Joy brought tears to the eyes of even the most cold-hearted viewer? Amy Poehler has that effect – she’s electric, and so adorable.
10. John Belushi
If only John Belushi were still alive. According to Rolling Stone, “Belushi was the ‘live’ in Saturday Night Live.” The fact that he was taken from us at the age of 33 is a tragedy comedy fans will never be able to wrap their heads around. Belushi was one of just seven original cast members of Saturday Night Live – he was there for season 1! He and his creative partner Dan Aykroyd created the Blues Brothers characters for SNL. They didn’t just go on to movie stardom after their stints on Saturday Night Live; they used their most popular SNL characters to propel them to movie stardom. The Blues Brothers is a cult hit and it has grossed $115 million. Belushi also starred in Animal House and Steven Spielberg’s 1941. At one time, Belushi struck some rare lightning by starring in the top-grossing movie, the top-rated TV show, and the chart-topping album. He was a huge star, and still would be today. He paved the way by taking all the risks and, well, simply being John Belushi.
9. Tina Fey
As I mentioned before, Tina Fey starred alongside Amy Poehler in Baby Mama and Sisters, which, it needs to be mentioned again, became a box office success despite opening on the exact same day as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the movie that brought Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia back together on the big screen for the first time in thirty years. Fey was not originally going to perform in SNL. She was really just a writer – she started out submitting scripts while performing with Second City and ended up being the show’s first female head writer when Adam McKay stepped down. But boy, are fans glad she did become a performer, otherwise we wouldn’t have her impression of Sarah Palin. The editors of Rolling Stone have credited Fey with single-handedly “slapping SNL out of its late-nineties coma.” And then, of course, she went on to create and star in 30 Rock based on her SNL experiences, which led her to an astounding career in film. She starred alongside Steve Carell in Date Night, Paul Rudd in Admission, Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying, and Kermit the Frog in Muppets Most Wanted. And if you think she’s stopping any time soon, you’d better think again.
8. Dan Aykroyd
Now 64 years old and still going strong, Dan Aykroyd’s original claim to fame was The Blues Brothers with John Belushi, which they originated on Saturday Night Live and took to the big screen and to vinyl. But, unlike most of the SNL stars from his era, Aykroyd is still regularly appearing in big box office hits and still regularly knocking it out of the park. He came up with the initial idea for Ghostbusters and developed it right to the final stage, and then did the same thing with the sequel. He even had a cameo in the new reboot as a cab driver. But Aykroyd’s movie career still extends beyond nostalgic cameo appearances that make the audience go, “Hey, look, it’s him!” He’s been keeping up with the current comedy landscape – he starred alongside Adam Sandler and Kevin James in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, acted with Melissa McCarthy in Tammy, and played the title role in Yogi Bear with Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo. You wouldn’t think he was 64, would you?
7. Chevy Chase
Despite heavy criticism that he’s extremely difficult to work with and has become a bitter old man with age, there’s no denying that Chevy Chase is an extremely talented comedian. His cynical, no-holds-barred style carried him from the National Lampoon straight to Saturday Night Live. He brought the edge to the show – he played cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in one light-hearted sketch. And then he became the biggest comedy movie star in the world for a few years, with a string of hits from the Vacation movies to Spies Like Us to the Fletch movies to Caddyshack to Three Amigos. And then his success kind of petered out until he got a sort-of comeback with NBC’s Community. Many fans considered him their favorite character. But he stopped showing up for work and show creator Dan Harmon sadly had to let him go/he quit. But still, there’s no denying he’s a huge star with incredible comedic talent. And he came back to play Clark Griswold with his old warm charm in the Vacation reboot, showing he can still be a good sport and he hasn’t completely lost it yet.
6. Bill Murray
“Cheeseburger!” Bill Murray brought the much-needed silliness to Saturday Night Live during his tenure, which was pretty short as he was quickly snapped up in the Hollywood beast’s jaws. He’s the star of Meatballs, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Tootsie, Scrooged, What About Bob?, and Groundhog Day. But the thing is, Murray has never really been sucked up by the Hollywood beast. He doesn’t have an agent and he’s not in it for the money – he only does the movies he really wants to do. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s a philosophy all movie stars should have, but sadly, few of them do. He always appears in Wes Anderson’s weird little indie-type movies. They’re not huge movies, but Murray clearly loves working with Anderson and playing the strange characters his mind conjures up. He’s also an accomplished dramatic actor, with an Oscar nomination under his belt from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and an Emmy Award win thanks to his role in HBO’s miniseries adaptation of Olive Kitteridge. Murray is a pretty low-key and miserable guy in real life, but on-screen, he puts it all out there like a wildfire.
5. Mike Myers
Like Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers first achieved Hollywood success with a theatrical feature film (and its sequel) based on his most popular recurring character from Saturday Night Live: Wayne Campbell. In Wayne’s World and its less successful but still quite successful sequel Wayne’s World 2, Myers starred alongside his SNL co-star ,Dana Carvey, as two dumb but lovable metal-heads who make their own public access cable TV show. Myers went on to play two other beloved and often quoted characters in cinematic history: Austin Powers and Shrek. In fact, Mike Myers might just be the most quoted actor of all time: “Yeah, baby!” “Get in mah belly!” “Ogres are like onions,” “EXTREME CLOSEUP!!!” “Donkey, you’re going the right way for a smacked bottom,” “GET OUT OF MAH SWAMP!!!” “One million dollars,” “Schwing!” – the list is endless! Okay, The Love Guru was far less successful and kind of killed his career, but he’s left behind an incredible body of work.
4. Kristen Wiig
Hey, you know how the last few years have seen a huge spike in women in comedy? And you’ve seen Amy Schumer become a megastar just by being herself and not being ashamed of it; Girls was a hit for HBO with Lena Dunham doing the exact same thing. Movies like Pitch Perfect, Bad Moms, and How to Be Single were huge box office hits, and all the Ghostbusters became women? Do you know who you have to thank for that? Kristen Wiig. Bridesmaids came out in 2011 and was branded “the female answer to The Hangover.” But then, what’s this? Audiences were shocked to discover it was so much more than that, and women actually had something to offer to movie comedy. Bridesmaids grossed $280 million with an all-female cast. The old white conservative suits of Hollywood were shocked! She’s since appeared in the Despicable Me sequels, the new Ghostbusters, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2, Sausage Party, and Darren Aronofsky’s weird new movie Mother. But before all that, she played such unforgettable characters as Judy Grimes, Target Lady, Kathie Lee Gifford, Gilly, Shana, and Aunt Linda on SNL.
3. Eddie Murphy
Okay, so he hasn’t had a great movie in a while – or even a good one – but Eddie Murphy used to be one of the biggest draws at the box office. His fame and popularity made huge strides for black people in the entertainment industry, paving the way for Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Kevin Hart. And from 1980 until 1984, he appeared on Saturday Night Live in a wide range of roles, from Buckwheat to Gumby to Mr. Robinson, and all were hilarious. According to Rolling Stone, “Eddie Murphy is the only reason SNL survived the five-year wilderness without Lorne Michaels.” After he left the show, he became one of the first true comedy superstars. He starred in all kinds of box office hits: 48 Hrs, Trading Places, Coming to America, The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle, Daddy Day Care, and Norbit, not to mention voice roles in the Shrek franchise and Mulan, and of course, the crème de la crème, Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy’s movie stardom lasted for decades, because he’s versatile, he’s talented, he’s full of energy, and he can make laugh-out-loud comedy come out of almost any situation. He made the romantic comedy Boomerang, which isn’t just one of the best romcoms ever made, but also features an almost entirely black cast. Hollywood tends to feature as few people of color in its movies as possible, because it thinks that only white people sell. Well, Boomerang made $131 million worldwide and there’s hardly a white person in sight.
2. Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell joined the Saturday Night Live cast in 1995 and spent seven years there. He started by telling his kids to “GET OFF THE SHED!!!” but as his SNL tenure progressed, Ferrell paved the way for Alec Baldwin with his wildly popular impression of George W. Bush. Ferrell blazed a trail of SNL history-making with the “More cowbell” sketch, his portrayal of Alex Trebek in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, and hot-button parts like Saddam Hussein and Ted Kaczynski. A poll in 2014 crowned Ferrell the greatest SNL cast member of all time. But his success didn’t end there. Pretty much as soon as he left SNL, Will Ferrell became one of the biggest comedy movie stars in the world. He’s starred in Elf, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Get Hard, Daddy’s Home, and the upcoming The House alongside Amy Poehler. He’s on fire. Everybody loves him. And the rewards are obvious: his movies have grossed over $3 billion combined.
1. Adam Sandler
There is simply no bigger comedy star at the box office than Adam Sandler. Kevin Hart is on a trajectory to rival him, but right now, Adam Sandler has pretty much been the biggest box office draw in comedy movies ever since he left Saturday Night Live. His movies have made over $4.6 billion at the box office and they’re not even at the box office anymore since his switch to Netflix with the likes of The Ridiculous Six and this year’s wonderful Sandy Wexler. The critics hate him, but audiences flock to Adam Sandler’s movies. His whole career has just been hit after hit: Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, The Waterboy, the Grown Ups movies, the Hotel Transylvania movies, Click, Big Daddy, Anger Management, Mr. Deeds, 50 First Dates – the list is endless. All he has to do is come up with a high concept premise – i.e. two men get married to reap the life insurance benefits, or Satan’s son comes to Earth to save the world, or a grown man goes back to elementary school (basically in the vein of AWESOM-O’s pitches from South Park) – and throw in some Adam Sandler charm and it’s guaranteed to crack that lucrative $100 million at the box office. And despite the critics’ hatred of him, he’s not showing any signs of decline: Netflix reports that his movies are the most-watched on there, and they’ve just signed him on to make four more!