Steve Martin's 20 best movies, ranked by critics

tlakritz@insider.com (Talia Lakritz)
·11 mins read
Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in "Bowfinger."
Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in "Bowfinger."

Universal Pictures

  • Steve Martin is a comedy legend who has starred in hilarious movies for decades.

  • His highest-rated film by critics is his 2018 Netflix comedy special, "Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life," according to Rotten Tomatoes' scores.

  • It's followed by "L.A. Story" from 1991 and "Parenthood" from 1989.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Steve Martin's acting career began in the 1960s, and he's been cracking us up ever since. The comedy legend is also a Grammy Award-winning musician, screenwriter, director, and producer who has both hosted the Oscars and won an honorary award in 2013.

In honor of his 75th birthday this month, here are Martin's 20 highest-rated movies, ranked according to critics' scores on Rotten Tomatoes.

20. The 1991 film "Father of the Bride" is a classic.

Steve Martin with Kimberly Williams in "Father Of The Bride" in 1991.
Steve Martin with Kimberly Williams in "Father Of The Bride" in 1991.

Touchstone/Getty Images

Rotten Tomatoes score: 70%

Synopsis: Steve Martin plays a protective father who struggles to let go when his daughter comes back from a semester abroad engaged to an "independent communications consultant."

"This is a movie with heart, and there are little moments in it when Martin is deeply moved by the fact that this perfect creature he brought into the world is now going to start a family of her own," wrote Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun Times.

 

19. Martin sported a memorable hairstyle in 1990's "My Blue Heaven."

Steve Martin in "My Blue Heaven" in 1990.
Steve Martin in "My Blue Heaven" in 1990.

Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 71%

Synopsis: Written by Nora Ephron, "My Blue Heaven" stars Martin as mobster Vinnie Antonelli, who is forced to move to a small town as part of a witness protection program. FBI agent Barney Coopersmith, played by Rick Moranis, is assigned to help Martin's character adjust, but Antonelli ends up helping him even more.

"The movie itself, with the exception of a few scenes, doesn't really have the wit it's aiming for, and among Steve Martin vehicles it's middle-drawer, at best," writes Owen Gleiberman, of Entertainment Weekly. "Yet that mood of silly exuberance reigns through most of the picture."

18. "The Man with Two Brains" came out in 1983.

Steve Martin in "The Man with Two Brains" in 1983.
Steve Martin in "The Man with Two Brains" in 1983.

Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 76%

Synopsis: Brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Martin) marries a woman who turns out to just be after his money. He then begins to fall in love with Brain #21 from another surgeons's laboratory, but must transplant the woman's brain to a body before it's too late.

"Even if this isn't Steve Martin's best role or his best film, it holds up pretty well, offering a glimpse of a comic genius at a wonderfully experimental stage of his career," wrote film critic Mike McGranaghan of Aisle Seat.

17. Martin starred in "Grand Canyon" in 1991.

Steve Martin in "Grand Canyon" in 1991.
Steve Martin in "Grand Canyon" in 1991.

20th Century Fox/Getty Images

Rotten Tomatoes score: 77%

Synopsis: "Grand Canyon" follows the intertwining lives of six strangers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie's title is symbolic, "referring to the class-imposed chasms which would normally separate the characters."

"For long stretches of this offbeat and innovative film, the viewer truly has no idea what will happen next and many reasons to care," wrote The New York Times film critic Janet Maslin.

16. "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," a film noir parody, was released in 1982.

Steve Martin in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" in 1982.
Steve Martin in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" in 1982.

Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%

Synopsis: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" pays homage to crime dramas, with Martin starring as a detective investigating a cheesemaker's death. The twist: Martin's character interacts with actual film noir stars from the 1940s with a bit of movie magic.

"This territory has been spoofed before, but Reiner-Martin and co-author George Gipe have sprung a new gimmick," wrote Bob Thomas of the Associated Press. "The novelty value wears thin, and attention wanders as the plot turns grow more obscure. But there are enough outrageous gags to please the faithful."

15. Martin voiced the Egyptian magician Hotep in "The Prince of Egypt" in 1998.

Steve Martin's character Hotep in "The Prince of Egypt" in 1998.
Steve Martin's character Hotep in "The Prince of Egypt" in 1998.

DreamWorks Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 80%

Synopsis: "The Prince of Egypt" is an animated musical retelling of parts of the Biblical book of Exodus, detailing the Jewish leader Moses' birth, upbringing, and confrontations with the Egyptian Pharoah to free the Jewish people from slavery.

Stephen Hunter of  The Washington Post wrote that "the movie's proudest accomplishment is that it revises our version of Moses toward something more immediate and believable, more humanly knowable."

14. He co-wrote and starred in "The Jerk" in 1979.

Steve Martin in "The Jerk" in 1979.
Steve Martin in "The Jerk" in 1979.

Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 81%

Synopsis: When Navin R. Johnson (Martin) realizes that he's not, in fact, Black, he strikes out on his own to find himself. Shenanigans ensue. 

"An oddball odyssey so strange, filled with non-sequiturs so funny, and decorated by a romance so sweet, it was an inevitable star-maker," wrote Simon Miraudo of Quickflix.

13. He narrated Fantasia 2000, which premiered in 1999.

Steve Martin in Fantasia 2000 in 1999.
Steve Martin in Fantasia 2000 in 1999.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 81%

Synopsis: Classical music pieces by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Respighi, Gershwin, Dukas, Saint-Saens, Elgar, and Stravinsky are brought to life with dynamic animated scenes in this remake of Disney's original "Fantasia" from 1940.

Richard Corliss wrote in Time magazine, "It provides some fine artists the chance to stretch and frolic, even as it reminds today's audiences of animation's limitless borders."

12. Martin teamed up with Eddie Murphy in "Bowfinger" in 1999.

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in "Bowfinger" in 1999.
Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in "Bowfinger" in 1999.

Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 81%

Synopsis: When a movie producer (Martin) can't get a famous actor (Murphy) to sign onto his film, he surreptitiously shoots the movie around him while he's living his life and hires a lookalike, also played by Murphy.

 "The best thing about 'Bowfinger' is the way the script by Steve Martin is tooled to his own and Murphy's comic strengths," wrote Richard Schickel of Time.

11. Martin showed off his musical skills in "Pennies from Heaven" in 1981.

Steve Martin in "Pennies from Heaven" in 1981.
Steve Martin in "Pennies from Heaven" in 1981.

Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 82%

Synopsis: "Pennies from Heaven" was adapted from a British TV miniseries and set in the US during the Great Depression. It follows sheet music salesman Arthur Parker (Martin) who has an affair with a teacher (Bernadette Peters).

"Literal-minded moviegoers will find it easy to hate 'Pennies from Heaven,'" wrote Bob Thomas of the Associated Press. "But those willing to go along with the device will find the film a source of constant surprise and delight."

10. "All of Me" came out in 1984.

Steve Martin in "All of Me" in 1984.
Steve Martin in "All of Me" in 1984.

Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 85%

Synopsis: A dying millionaire tries to transfer her soul into a younger woman, but ends up sharing a lawyer's body instead. Martin's physical comedy skills shine as he portrays two people battling for control of his limbs.

Richard Corliss of Time wrote that "Martin vaults to the top of the class with his brazen, precise performance. This one goes in the time capsule." 

9. Martin played the role of "Insolent Waiter" in "The Muppet Movie" in 1979.

Steve Martin in "The Muppet Movie" in 1979.
Steve Martin in "The Muppet Movie" in 1979.

ITC Entertainment

Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%

Synopsis: Kermit and his fellow Muppets set out to find fame in Hollywood, with a frog leg merchant in hot pursuit.

"If you can figure out how they were able to show Kermit pedaling across the screen, then you are less a romantic than I am: I prefer to believe he did it himself," wrote Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times.

8. Martin starred in "The Spanish Prisoner" in 1997.

Steve Martin in "The Spanish Prisoner" in 1997.
Steve Martin in "The Spanish Prisoner" in 1997.

Sony Pictures Classics

Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

Synopsis: In "The Spanish Prisoner," Jimmy Dell (Martin) frames corporate inventor Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) for murder after offering to help him with his invention. The plot is full of twists and turns that keep watchers guessing.

Michael Dequina of  TheMovieReport.com called it "One exceedingly well-crafted piece of manipulation that keeps the audience strung along with every intricate turn of the plot."  

7. Martin starred in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in 1988.

Steve Martin in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in 1988.
Steve Martin in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in 1988.

MGM Home Entertainment

Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

Synopsis: Two con men compete to see who can be the first to swindle an heiress out of $50,000. 

"Martin, the most eloquent of physical clowns — the Baryshnikov of comedy — is at his most inspired here," wrote Hal Hilson of the Washington Post. "He parodies feelings, attitudes, states of mind that one would think were exempt from it, and his caricature of dapper suavity is killingly precise."

6. The romantic comedy "Roxanne" was released in 1987.

Steve Martin in "Roxanne" in 1987.
Steve Martin in "Roxanne" in 1987.

Columbia Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 90%

Synopsis: Fire chief C.D. Bales (Martin) is in love with Roxanne (Darryl Hannah), but is too insecure about his giant nose to do anything about it. He helps another fireman named Chris (Rick Rossovich) woo her instead by feeding him romantic lines, but the effort goes hilariously awry.

"Light and likable, with hearts unabashedly all over its sleeves, 'Roxanne' is a winning romantic comedy whose appeal should cross age barriers and backgrounds — giving it an across-the-board promise," wrote Duane Byrge of the Hollywood Reporter.

5. Martin portrayed a sadistic dentist in "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1986.

Steve Martin in "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1986.
Steve Martin in "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1986.

Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 90%

Synopsis: "Little Shop of Horrors" began as a horror comedy in 1960, and then it became a Broadway musical in 1982 with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The 1986 film adaptation features Martin as Dr. Orin Scrivello, who gives a rousing performance of the song "Dentist!" while yanking out a patient's teeth.

"The best moments in this 1986 release belong to Dr. Steve Martin as a dentist with a professional yen for pain," wrote Pat Graham of the Chicago Reader.

4. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is a Thanksgiving classic from 1987.

Steve Martin and John Candy in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" in 1987.
Steve Martin and John Candy in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" in 1987.

Paramount Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Synopsis: A high-strung businessman and an odd salesman get stranded in Chicago while traveling home for Thanksgiving. While they initially butt heads, their friendship grows in this movie, which is full of hilarity and heart.

"Led by the chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy, John Hughes' 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles' remains a quintessential Thanksgiving classic," wrote Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies.

3. Martin starred in "Parenthood" in 1989.

Steve Martin in "Parenthood" in 1989.
Steve Martin in "Parenthood" in 1989.

Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Synopsis: This comedy follows four sibings in the suburbs as they navigate raising children and their relationships with their own parents.

"'Parenthood' easily could have focused exclusively on yuppie parents and their kids; however, the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel is more sophisticated than that, remembering that every parent is still a child too," wrote Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune.

2. Martin wrote and played an unfulfilled weatherman in "L.A. Story" in 1991.

Steve Martin in "L.A. Story" in 1991.
Steve Martin in "L.A. Story" in 1991.

TriStar Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%

Synopsis: Weatherman Harris K. Telemacher has nothing to report in Los Angeles, so he fills his time with wacky hobbies. When his wife has an affair, he finds love with a British journalist working on a piece about life in Los Angeles.

"Perhaps Steve Martin's hair went white because his brain radiates with such boundless invention that all the pigment withered off the follicles," wrote Phil Villarreal of the Arizona Daily Star.

1. "Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life" is a Netflix comedy special released in 2018.

Steve Martin and Martin Short in 2018.
Steve Martin and Martin Short in 2018.

Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%

Synopsis: With musical sketches, stand-up comedy, and decades of experience in show business between them, the two legendary comedians put together a flawless special. 

"They still got it. And we're lucky to still have 'em," wrote Decider's Sean L. McCarthy.

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