Total Recall: Steve Martin's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed films of the noted actor, writer, director, and wild and crazy guy.

by |

It isn't the most highly anticipated sequel of the year, but The Pink Panther 2 opens this weekend, and in honor of Steve Martin's second turn as the successful-in-spite-of-himself Inspector Clouseau, we decided this would be a great time to look back at the best-reviewed movies of his career.

Over the last three decades, Martin has done it all: starred in classic comedies (The Jerk), critically lauded dramas (The Spanish Prisoner), and even a musical (Pennies from Heaven). He's written books, plays, and is currently promoting his first album of original banjo music alongside Pink Panther 2; clearly, even in the collection of larger-than-life personalities known as Hollywood, Steve Martin is in a class of his own. So let's spin the dials on the Tomatometer and relive the 10 freshest films in the Martin filmography -- and when we're done, have a look at the rest of his releases, including all your favorites that missed the cut!


10. Pennies from Heaven (83 percent)

Worried about being typecast as a buffoon, Martin used the career capital he'd earned with The Jerk to make his dramatic debut in the American remake of the 1978 BBC series Pennies from Heaven. Having loved the source material -- he publicly proclaimed it "the greatest thing I've ever seen" -- Martin went all out for the role of Depression-era sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker, taking six months of tap-dancing lessons in preparation for what ended up being one of the more critically well-received flops of the first half of the decade. Although audiences ignored Pennies, bringing in a paltry $9 million return on its $22 million budget -- and Fred Astaire bitterly bemoaned the use of his old footage in a film he derided as "cheap and vulgar...froth" -- many critics appreciated the script's cynical update on the classic musicals of the 1930s; Roger Ebert captured the mood of many of his peers when he termed it "dazzling and disappointing in equal measure."


9. The Jerk (83 percent)

Martin's first role in a feature film came in 1978's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the less said about that, the better; for all intents and purposes, his movie career kicked off with his appearance as the simpleminded Navin R. Johnson in the rags-to-riches-and-back-again story The Jerk. While it certainly isn't for everyone -- if you require your comedies to have brains to go along with their hearts, or even to make complete sense from start to finish, then you may not find it all that funny -- but it's full of classic bits, and Martin's willingness to get dumb helped blaze a trail for everyone from Adam Sandler to Jim Carrey. (Don't thank him all at once.) Not all critics appreciated The Jerk when it was released, but it's aged well, moving into the pop-culture consciousness and inspiring fond memories in scribes like Channel 4 Film's Richard Luck, who wistfully remarked, "if only he could have satisfied himself with this area of expertise, people would still talk of Steve Martin as one of the kings of comic cinema."

Comments