Can “Saturday Night Live” Still Produce a Major Movie Star?

Both the show and the film industry have changed in the last decade

"Big Time Adolescence" New York Premiere
Pete Davidson attends the premiere of "Big Time Adolescence" at Metrograph on March 05, 2020 in New York City.
Dia Dipasupil/WireImage

You probably don’t need to think very hard to recall a Saturday Night Live alumnus who parlayed their presence on the show into stardom. Eddie Murphy comes to mind; so do Bill Murray, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell. The list is long and features some of the most beloved comic actors of the last few decades.

While this summer has seen the release of a few high-profile films starring Saturday Night Live cast members past and present — including Palm Springs (starring Andy Samberg) and The King of Staten Island (starring Pete Davidson) — something seems to have changed with respect to SNL‘s starmaking ability. In a thoughtful look at the show and the entertainment industry, Jesse Hassenger at Polygon looks at the show’s recent history and ponders what it all means.

Hassenger notes that plenty of SNL alumni have gone on to high-profile careers after leaving the show — but solid, acclaimed careers don’t necessarily line up with being a massive box office draw. “[Jason] Sudeikis started performing on SNL around the same time as Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Kristen Wiig, who all went on to substantial movie careers,” Hassenger writes. “None of them reached the heights of Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler.”

The article suggests 2010 as the year when the SNL-to-onscreen-vehicle pipeline seemed to end. Hassenger cites a few reasons for this, including the longer tenure of most SNL cast members. It also seems notable that several cast members and writers in the last decade, including Aidy Bryant, Julio Torres and Fred Armisen, worked on series in tandem with their time on the show.

Another reason fewer Saturday Night Live cast members may be becoming major movie stars is the dearth of new movie stars, at least on the level of Murray or Murphy in their prime. (See also: fewer high-profile comedies being made for theatrical release.) It could be that something’s changed within Saturday Night Live — or it could be something in the film industry as a whole.

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