Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

16 Best Steve Martin Movies Ranked

Actor, comedian, playwright, musician, screenwriter, art collector. How do all of these identities fit within just one human being? Well, somehow, Steve Martin makes it look effortless, navigating mediums and genres and artistic sensibilities with such ease and confidence that it'll drive you utterly mad. In an absolutely illustrious career, Steve Martin has more than proved himself to be an anchor of the entertainment industry.

But the world mainly grew to love Martin through his feature film roles, and just like his many talents, his on-screen roles have spanned a variety of genres. There's been comedy, drama, musicals, and science fiction. He's even starred alongside some Muppets every now and then. But which Martin films are the best of the best? Here, for your reading pleasure, are Steven Martin's greatest films, ranked in all their glory and providing just a dose of the absolute comedic wit he's brought to the silver screen for decades now.

16. The Jerk

What better way to start off this list than with Steve Martin's very first starring role in a feature film? In 1979's "The Jerk," directed by the legendary Carl Reiner, Martin stars as Navin R. Johnson, the adopted son of Black sharecroppers, just trying to find a sense of purpose in this crazy world of ours. With no sense of rhythm — and pretty much no sense of anything, really — Johnson goes off on a journey to find himself, whoever that may be.

A madcap journey through Hollywood, stardom, fame, fortune, and a hatred of cans — with just as unhinged supporting performances from Bernadette Peters, M. Emmett Walsh, and even director Carl Reiner as himself — "The Jerk" is undoubtedly one of the more absurdist pieces in Martin's cinematic oeuvre. But this insane comedy unquestionably kicked off Martin's long-and-storied career, and it's still heralded today as one of his finest performances.

15. The Man with Two Brains

After breaking into Hollywood with "The Jerk," Martin continued collaborating with comedy legend Carl Reiner, and together, the two produced some hysterical genre parodies. For example, the duo took aim at the world of science fiction in 1983's "The Man with Two Brains," a hilarious spoof that further proved Martin as the master of comedic idiocy.

Here, Martin plays the eloquently named Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, a neurosurgeon who discovers his knowledge of the mind extends to being able to communicate with a woman's brain trapped in a jar (voiced by the oddly uncredited Sissy Spacek). What follows — in the grand tradition of Reiner/Martin collaborations — are enough hijinks to keep you absolutely hooked through such an undeniably bonkers piece of filmmaking. The genius of "The Man with Two Brains" is seeing just how far through the world of genre-pastiche Martin's comedy is able to stretch.

14. Shopgirl

Steve Martin is truly a renaissance man in the best way possible. Outside of the performances featured on this list, Martin's work includes various screenplays, stage plays, novels, bluegrass albums, musical theater compositions, and so much more. One of these extraneous efforts, his 2000 novella "Shopgirl," eventually made its way into the cinematic fold, and Martin found himself not only adapting his original text but starring in the film himself.

Like much of his later work, "Shopgirl" ditches much of the inane absurd comic antics of Martin's earlier career, settling for a subtler, more sophisticated sense of storytelling. And even this pivot in style is still able to land with grace under Martin's illustrious umbrella. Telling the story of a young artist (Claire Danes) trapped between two aspiring men (Martin and the equally dashing Jason Schwartzman), "Shopgirl" captures the late career wit of Steve Martin in all its splendor.

13. Father of the Bride

One of Martin's most enduring, and commercially successful, comedic triumphs, 1991's "Father of the Bride" — a remake of the 1950 Vincente Minnelli classic — updates this story of a father unable to let go of his daughter before a big day for a new generation. Directed by Charles Shyer and co-written by Nancy Meyers, Martin brings his straight-man A-game to the table as he navigates the hurdles that go into wedding planning, with all the nerve and chaos you can imagine.

With eccentric and memorable supporting performances from Diane Keaton, George Newbern, and Martin Short as the most bananas wedding coordinator you'll ever meet, it's no wonder this matrimonial comedy became such a smash sensation. Proving so successful to create a sequel four years later, "Father of the Bride" provided a perfect point in Martin's career to pivot into starring in more paternal roles that gave him a new lease on comedic life.

12. Grand Canyon

Lawrence Kasdan — the prolific screenwriter behind films like "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi," and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" – has only hopped into the directing chair on a handful of occasions. But unlike many of his franchise writing credits, his directorial efforts are usually focused on more intimate, personal stories of human connection, friendship, and romance. This manifested itself in films like "The Big Chill," "Mumford," and especially in 1991's "Grand Canyon." 

Amongst a wonderful ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Mary-Louise Parker, and Mary McDonnell, Steve Martin finds himself as an action movie director who, after finding himself the victim of a violent shooting, vows to rid violence from cinema. Culminating in a glorious final trip to the titular nature site, "Grand Canyon" uses the shared stories of disparate souls to touch at our interconnected beauty and tragedy in wonderfully moving ways.

11. Pennies from Heaven

In what can be considered his first foray into solely dramatic material, 1981's "Pennies from Heaven" was an absolute sharp departure for Steve Martin. After all, the movie took a figure who was, up until this point, a lightning rod for absurd, comedic slapstick and planted him smack-dab in the middle of a fantastically earnest piece of dramatic musical filmmaking that audiences just didn't know what to do with. An outright box-office bomb if there ever was one, people were flummoxed by this outlier of a film, one where Martin and company were obviously and intentionally lip-synching to classic tunes from the 1930s.

But history has been much kinder to "Pennies from Heaven," now with the vantage point of hindsight and being able to see the film — a Depression-era love story filled with twists, turns, and fantastically hummable tunes — for the charming and sweet piece of filmmaking that Martin and his team were hoping for back in the '80s. Plus, it's got a dancing Christopher Walken

10. L.A. Story

In his ultimate tribute and/or takedown of Los Angeles, the efficiently titled "L.A. Story" — both starring and written by Steve Martin – finds the lovable goofball back in the romantic comedy genre, navigating the City of Angels while looking for love, joy, and any sense of purpose in his miserable life as a TV weatherman.

Through his trademark mix of absurdism, satire, and outright slapstick, Martin takes on Los Angeles in all it's artificial, pretentious glory, using the city as the perfect backdrop to mirror his story of trying to find perfection in a place that maybe isn't as perfect as you think it is. Some may say it's a fool's errand to write and star in as many films as Steve Martin has (the total is over 10), but "L.A. Story" is further proof that this recipe for comedic success has no sense of going stale any time soon.

9. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Reuniting with "The Jerk" director Carl Reiner, Steve Martin set to create a comedy built upon a premise so ambitious, so daring, so unabashed in its tribute to classic Hollywood, it's a surprise it isn't talked about more in the pantheon of great comedic blank checks. With 1982's "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," Reiner and Martin set out to tell a film noir story cobbled together with new footage mixed with old clips from classic detective flicks to create a collage of comedic gold.

Alongside the wonderfully fun new footage paying homage to the classic noir era, the real joy of "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is following with the game of how clips from such films as "The Killers," "The Big Sleep," and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" will be remixed and thrown together for the sake of Martin's comedic exploits. If nothing else, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is a testament to the absolute comic ambition that Steve Martin would go to just to get a laugh.

8. All of Me

The body-swap comedy is almost too well-worn these days, but there's something about 1984's "All of Me" that takes the idea to whole new levels of comic mayhem. Once again directed by frequent collaborator Carl Reiner, Lily Tomlin stars as Edwina Cutwater, a millionaire who goes through extreme and paranormal measures to ensure she stays on this planet after death. Unfortunately, her plans go awry, and she finds herself sharing a body with, who else, our good buddy Steve Martin.

If the premise of "Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin share the same body for 90 minutes" isn't enough to convince you of the comic potential of this wonderful comedy, then who knows what can persuade you. Honestly, it's a spectacular act to see, all racing towards a thrilling conclusion of world-shattering proportions. In another of his early comedic works, "All of Me" cemented the exact kind of comic antics Martin was more than capable of commanding.

7. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Steve Martin has a natural huckster personality, so it's no surprise that he's able to absolutely dominate the screen in 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," a delirious and mischievous work of con-artist comedy, directed with absolute flair by the great Frank Oz (yep, the same Frank Oz of "Star Wars" and "Muppets" fame). Co-starring alongside Michael Caine as Lawrence Jamieson — a more sophisticated species of trickster — Martin's Freddy Benson hatches a bet with Jamieson to see who will be the first con artist to swindle U.S. soap magnate Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly).

Through a series of escalating cons, disguises, false identities, and manic comic set pieces, Martin and Caine deliver tour de force performances that continue to one-up each other in the most delicious and chaotic of ways. An enduring piece of late '80's greed-based comedy, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is easily one of Martin's most enduring films, and that's surely no trick.

6. The Spanish Prisoner

Steve Martin's forays into dramatic territory are few and far between. But when he does go down the dramatic route, it can sometimes lead to some of the most interesting choices in his career. Case in point — the oft-forgotten film from the mind of David Mamet, 1997's "The Spanish Prisoner," with Martin playing the part of Jimmy Dell, a man with a lot of money ... and a lot of mystery waiting to be unraveled.

Starring alongside Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, and Felicity Huffman, Martin plays a key part in a thriller that feels a lot like an Alfred Hitchcock film. And his skills as a straight man translate beautifully when thrown into the dramatic territory of "The Spanish Prisoner." Like much of Mamet's work, both on the big screen and on the stage, there's quick wordplay, dense plotting, and characters you love to hate, and it's a wonder to see Martin adapt to this world so naturally.

5. Bowfinger

Maybe the funniest movie about making movies out there, 1999's "Bowfinger" brings Steve Martin together with Eddie Murphy for one of the most cynical yet earnest portrayals of Hollywood and the lengths artists will go to succeed in this rat race of a business. Reuniting once again with director Frank Oz — and once again working from his own screenplay — Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, a wannabe producer/director whose ticket to fame rests on directing a hit sci-fi film starring action superstar sensation Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy).

The only problem? Kit has no interest in starring in this movie, so Bowfinger devises an ingenious plan to film the movie "around" Kit without him even knowing. A comic set piece of a film that only gets more elaborate and ludicrous as time goes on (including Murphy in a dual role as Kit's twin brother, Jiff Ramsey), "Bowfinger" is a masterclass in spoofing Hollywood that acts as a high watermark in both Martin and Murphy's stellar careers.

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Is there a road trip more stressful (or hilarious) than the one captured in John Hughes' comedy classic "Planes, Trains and Automobiles?" In one of Hughes' only non-teenager-centric classics, Martin joins forces with fellow '80s comic titan, John Candy, to star as a couple of misfits thrown together in a journey from New York to Chicago that takes more detours — both physical and comedic — than either character is ready for.

Martin is able to operate on various comic modes, and while he's often able to find comedic success as an absurdist character, it's here where his deadpan straight-man persona might succeed the most in his career, acting as the perfect comic foil for John Candy's overbearing sensibilities. In the ultimate comedy about reconciling differences and discovering unexpected friendships, "Plains, Trains and Automobiles" is, without a doubt, a trip you'll want to go on countless times.

3. Roxanne

Who knew that Steve Martin loved "Cyrano de Bergerac" so much? That love permeates onto the screen in 1987's "Roxanne," where Martin once again performs double duty by penning the screenplay and starring in this contemporary Cyrano update, with Martin playing C.D. Bales, the long-nosed hero of this peculiar love story.

Perhaps it was only natural for Martin to be attracted to a story about a character using wit, charm, and some darn good poetry to win over someone's affections since that's how he's spent most of his career. This translates to a wonderfully winsome starring role, where Martin's C.D. is nothing but full of charm in his attempts to sneakily play the behind-the-scenes poet for the affection of the titular Roxanne (Daryl Hannah in a delightful performance). It's readily apparent that Martin is a romantic at heart, and "Roxanne" is a darling film unafraid to wear that heart on its sleeve for all to see.

2. Little Shop of Horrors

Is there anything more devious than seeing Steve Martin — complete with slick, black hair — crooning his heart out while singing about the joys of being a dentist? Well, that's exactly what you'll get to see in Frank Oz's 1986 adaptation of "Little Shop of Horrors." Even though he's credited with "a special appearance by..." in the credits, Martin makes an undeniably strong impression in the off-Broadway hit brought to the big screen. 

As for the plot, the film chronicles the story of a lowly shopkeep (Rick Moranis) who does all he can to feed his bloodthirsty new plant with a hankering for human flesh. And Martin's Orin Scrivello is the shopkeep's rival for the affections of the lovely Audrey (Ellen Greene) ... as well as being something of a sadist who enjoys his job a little too much. Here, Martin gets to show off his stellar vocal chops, and the role packs his comic sensibilities into a fantastically tight package. With plenty of stellar wordplay, physical comedy, and an extremely memorable scene with Bill Murray as a pain-seeking patient, Martin's delicious performance in "Little Shop of Horrors" makes us scream with excitement every time. Now spit!

1. Parenthood

Throughout his vast and still ongoing career, Steve Martin has shown he can excel in both comedic and dramatic arenas, and that duality is no clearer than his starring role in Ron Howard's dramedy "Parenthood." In this 1989 film, Martin stars as Gil Buckman, a father just trying to figure out day by day what it means to be a parent. Through a series of episodic adventures with his family and friends, Buckman learns the true pains and rewards of being a father in the modern world.

Joined by an utterly stellar supporting cast that includes Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Keanu Reeves, and an incredibly young Joaquin Phoenix, "Parenthood" became a landmark of Martin's oscillating career between comedy and drama. With "Parenthood," you get the whole Steve Martin package — a well of absolute comedic delight, an element of humanity that's undeniable, and an example of the absolutely iconic legacy of Martin's stellar career.