Steve Martin movies: 15 greatest films ranked from worst to best

Steve Martin movies: 15 greatest films ranked from worst to best

This ranking covers the broad range of Steve Martin's filmography, highlighting his unique talents for physical comedy, verbal witticisms, and balancing humor with heartfelt performances. While widely known as a zany funnyman, critical successes like Pennies from Heaven and All of Me demonstrated Martin's underlying versatility and range of comedic talents that elevated his best roles.



In 1982, Steve Martin teamed up with director Carl Reiner for the comedy spoof Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. The film pays homage to film noir classics from the 1940s and 50s by incorporating footage from vintage films into new scenes featuring Martin. He stars as private investigator Rigby Reardon, who becomes embroiled in a case involving Nazis, a femme fatale, and a secret list. The film's gimmick of splicing old footage into a new storyline makes for plenty of laughs, with Martin interacting with legends like Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Burt Lancaster. However, the reliance on old footage means the actual new material in the film is quite brief. The thin plot exists mainly as an excuse to string together the clips, making it more a nostalgic novelty than a fully fleshed-out comedy. Still, it captures Martin at the height of his physical comedy prime, inserting his zany energy into classic noir scenes. For fans of both Steve Martin and Hollywood's golden age, it's a enjoyable trip down memory lane.

14. BOWFINGER (1999)


In the late 90s, Steve Martin teamed up with Eddie Murphy for the comedy Bowfinger. Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, a hapless movie producer who decides to secretly film a major star (Murphy) without his consent in order to produce a blockbuster on a shoestring budget. To accomplish this, he has his ragtag crew follow the star around and chase him into scenes of an alien invasion film unfolding in real-life Los Angeles. Murphy is hilarious in a dual role as action star Kit Ramsey and his nerdy lookalike, showcasing his talent for physical comedy and impressions. The plot is an amusing jab at Hollywood excess, with desperate producers going to absurd lengths to make a winning film. With its clever satire and witty performances, Bowfinger proves to be an insightful parody of the Hollywood machine.

13. THREE AMIGOS (1986)


Steve Martin joined forces with comedy legends Chevy Chase and Martin Short for the 1986 western spoof Three Amigos. The trio star as silent film actors who get mistaken for real gunfighters and must save a Mexican village from an outlaw gang. The fish-out-of-water premise provides plenty of fodder for comedic culture clashes, as the clueless actors bumble their way through staged shootouts. Martin is especially hilarious as the smug, shallow Lucky Day, providing a perfect contrast to Chase’s dashing hero and Short’s hyperactive sidekick. While it doesn't quite meet the laugh-a-minute promise of its cast, Three Amigos is still an enjoyable romp that pokes fun at Westerns and show business. The three leads play off each other beautifully, and their combined charisma is often enough to lift even the silliest gags. Though not a comedy classic, it gave audiences a delightful dose of Martin’s trademark absurdist humor in the midst of his hot streak in the 1980s.


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In 2003, Martin starred opposite Queen Latifah in the comedy Bringing Down the House. He plays Peter, a divorced tax attorney who finds his orderly life upended when an ex-con (Latifah) shows up at his door claiming he's her pen pal. Peter doesn't remember her, but she ingratiates herself into his household anyway, intent on getting him to help prove her innocence. The odd couple pairing allows for plenty of fish-out-of-water humor as buttoned-up Peter gets entangled with the brash con artist. Martin is skilled at playing flustered and frenzied, diving into physical comedy bits with grace. However, the humor leans heavily into silly culture clash gags that don't always land. The premise is also stretched pretty thin to sustain the entire movie. While the lead duo exhibits solid chemistry, ultimately Bringing Down the House relies too heavily on cringey jokes that fail to pay off the promising comedic pairing. It captures Martin's talents but wastes them on mediocre material.



In this 1988 crime caper, Steve Martin stars alongside Michael Caine as competing con artists bent on swindling rich women on the French Riviera. Caine plays refined trickster Lawrence Jamieson, who crosses paths with Martin's crude small-time hustler Freddy Benson. Their rivalry escalates into an uproarious game of one-upmanship, each trying to con an American soap queen out of $50,000. Martin is in his element slipping into the uncouth, brazen Freddy, playing up his garish clothes and exaggerated accent for maximum absurdity. The movie provides plenty of twists and laughs as the dueling scammers attempt increasingly outrageous deceptions, amplified by Caine's smooth sophistication. While the set-up doesn't lend itself to deep character development, the script is packed with hilarious barbs and ridiculous scenarios set against the lush backdrop of the French coastline. Martin and Caine's infectious chemistry, bountiful one-liners, and escalating cons make Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a classic caper comedy.



In a change of pace from his over-the-top comedies, Martin took a more restrained role in David Mamet's thriller The Spanish Prisoner. He stars as corporate engineer Joe Ross, who invents a top-secret process and becomes embroiled in an intricate plot to swindle it from him. With his mild-mannered sincerity and guileless nature, Martin proves he can disappear into a more subtle character role anchored by intelligence and moral integrity. He deftly balances naivety and perceptiveness, keeping the audience guessing as the elaborate mystery unfolds. While not relying on his usual slapstick talents, Martin brings nuance, empathy, and quiet wit to the enigmatic Joe Ross. The Spanish Prisoner showcases Martin's range outside his typical comedic fare, proving his versatility as a leading man in an intricate, slow-burning thriller. His understated yet impactful performance sticks with you long after the credits roll.

9. THE JERK (1979)

THE JERK (1979)

Martin made his first splash as a leading man in 1979's The Jerk, playing hapless simpleton Navin Johnson on a zany rise to riches rags-to-riches tale. As a novice comedic actor, Martin fully embraces the film's slapstick tone and gives himself over to the foolery required to sell Navin's buffoonish ignorance. He delivers an animated, go-for-broke performance without a shred of self-consciousness, willing to look as ridiculous as necessary to garner laughs. Whether he's excitedly discovering the joys of phone books or improvising absurd non-sequiturs, Martin combines childlike wonder and enthusiastic wackiness to create an endearing, larger-than-life character. While thin on plot, The Jerk moves briskly thanks to its constant barrage of gags and silly scenarios. As the endearing doofus at the center of it all, Martin announced himself as a comedic force to be reckoned with and set the mold for the inspired kooks he'd bring to life throughout his career.


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Pairing Martin's madcap energy with John Candy's lovable oafishness, 1987's Planes, Trains and Automobiles became an instant Thanksgiving classic. Martin plays Neal, an uptight marketing executive trying to get home for Thanksgiving, who ends up stuck with annoying shower curtain ring salesman Del, played to perfection by Candy. Forced together by circumstance, the mismatched duo must overcome calamity after calamity on their disaster-prone journey home. The comic chemistry between Martin and Candy fuels nonstop laughs through escalating mishaps. Martin gets to flex his exasperation muscles reacting to the clumsy, chatty Del, wearing down his last nerve. Yet the laughs come with genuine warmth, as Neal and Del slowly bond amid their misadventures. Showcasing Martin's versatility, Neal moves convincingly from smug and impatient to flawed but sympathetic, while still squeezing in sharp barbs and perfectly timed freak-outs. Full of heart and hilarity, Planes, Trains and Automobiles captures Martin at his frustrated straight man best.



Proving his talents extend to middle-aged romance, Martin starred opposite Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in 2009's It's Complicated. He plays Adam, an architect who rekindles an affair with his remarried ex-wife Jane (Streep) during their son's college graduation. The former spouses grapple with post-divorce desire and confusion, amid Jane's current stable marriage to Baldwin's character. Martin brings his signature awkward humor to the complicated role, juggling Adam's conflicted feelings with endearing goofiness. Though billed as a romantic comedy, It's Complicated gives Martin the chance to reveal his range within an ensemble of dramatic heavyweights. His unique comedic talents elevate the more grounded material.

6. L.A. STORY (1991)

L.A. STORY (1991)

In this romantic comedy penned by Martin, he plays Harris, a zany L.A. weatherman who finds romance with a British reporter played by Victoria Tennant. The role lets Martin lean into the more eccentric side of his comedic persona, as Harris deals with boredom via oddball monologues and seeking advice from a talking freeway sign. The self-referential script packs plenty of winking jokes at Hollywood's expense through Harris's eyes, made literal by his wacky weather forecasts. L.A. Story thrives on Martin's quirky charm and the city's sun-drenched surrealism, crafting a romantic fantasy that feels breezy despite grappling with midlife ennui. Though Harris's eventual relationship feels somewhat undercooked, Tennant and Martin share enough oddball chemistry to make their courtship a joy to watch. With an endlessly inventive lead performance at its core, L.A. Story shows Martin at his absurdist best.



Proving his talents extend to family comedies, Martin shines in this 1991 remake as George Banks, the titular father struggling with his daughter's upcoming wedding. As George grapples with the costs, planning, and emotional toll of his only daughter's nuptials, Martin wrings both laughs and wisdom out of the rites of parenthood. He portrays George as a good-natured, clever father being tested by the pains of letting his daughter go. The film laces the comedy with real poignancy thanks to Martin's sincerity. He brings heart to the high jinks as George clutches to memories of his little girl while moving towards acceptance. Alongside a stellar, multi-generational cast, Martin grounds the family hijinks in real affection. Father of the Bride represents one of Martin's biggest departures from his established wacky persona at the time, yet his funny, kind-hearted performance remains quintessentially Steve Martin.


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4. PARENTHOOD (1989)


Reuniting with director Ron Howard after Splash, Martin starred in this 1989 ensemble comedy as Gil, a frazzled father trying to balance career, marriage, and raising three eccentric kids. Rounding out the all-star cast are gripping performances from Mary Steenburgen as Gil's wife Karen, and supporting actors like Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves, and Dianne Wiest as members of the extended family. Martin gets to flex his improv chops opposite so many dynamic scene partners, reacting to each whirlwind parenting crisis with winning exasperation. Yet beneath the domestic chaos lies real heart, as Martin reveals Gil's doubts and deep love for his confusing brood. Though stuffed with Hollywood talent, Martin still shines as the flawed but devoted patriarch holding this chaotic clan together. For his effortless blend of humor and humanity amid the antics, Parenthood represents a hallmark Steve Martin family comedy.

3. ROXANNE (1987)

ROXANNE (1987)

In this clever update of "Cyrano de Bergerac," Martin plays C.D. Bales, a modern version of the large-nosed wordsmith pining for the pretty Roxanne. Martin wrote the script himself, crafting Bales as a firefighter skilled in verbal wordplay to match Cyrano's poetic prowess. He breathes new life into the classic tale through Bales' whip-smart repartee and comedian's timing, making word-based courtship intelligently funny. Underneath the military helmets and fire gear lies a sensitive soul, with Martin conveying both swagger and vulnerability. The period setting makes the verbal exchanges feel fresh and lyrically modern, aided by winsome co-star Daryl Hannah as Roxanne. Their chemistry evokes the tenderness beneath the wit. Though the satirical elements land best, Martin's heartfelt performance gives this Cyrano adaptation its romantic spirit. He ultimately proves that his way with words extends elegantly from poetry to rapid-fire punchlines.



Long before his comedy heyday, Martin gave a stunning dramatic turn in 1981's Pennies from Heaven as Arthur, a sheet music salesman struggling through the Depression. Gripped by romantic and financial despair, Arthur loses himself in elaborate musical fantasies, envisioning himself and those around him bursting into song. Martin disappears into the role with such conviction, you feel his burning desire to escape dreary reality. Though known for causing endless laughter, here Martin provokes tears as his dreams slip further out of reach. His musical numbers radiate joy and passion, making Arthur's daily sufferings all the more poignant. Though a box office bomb on release, Pennies from Heaven featured a revelatory performance from Martin in a haunting drama. His foray into darker territory showed early proof of his wide-ranging skills beyond the jokester.

1. ALL OF ME (1984)

ALL OF ME (1984)

At the peak of his comedic powers in 1984, Martin turned in one of his most acclaimed performances in All of Me, a body-swap comedy that relies entirely on his physical skills. He plays lawyer Roger Cobb, who ends up sharing one body with the soul of a dying heiress played by Lily Tomlin. Her soul takes over the left side of his body, resulting in Martin performing half of the role contorting his limbs and expressions to appear possessed. Martin delivers an astounding feat of physicality and timing, basically acting alongside himself for much of the film. Whether staggering about with two personas in conflict or warping his delivery as Roger's mouth becomes hijacked, his commitment makes the silly concept believable. The outlandish role lets him exercise his improv muscles while showcasing exquisite control of his movements and voice. Though packed with laughs, Martin's tour-de-force performance maintains an undertone of gravitas amid the crazy circumstance. For its balance of technical skill and comedic brilliance, All of Me represents Steve Martin at the height of his powers.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

From broad slapstick farces to nuanced dramedies, Martin consistently crafted memorable characters that introduced his particular comedic spark to iconic stories. Going beyond basic jokes, he brought layers of endearing goofiness, intelligence, and feeling to every role. The result is an enduring body of work where the quality of performance outpaces the individual film, powered by Steve Martin's comedic skills and charisma. No matter the genre or tone, he reliably delivered quintessential Steve Martin.

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