Whether you know him as a sunglasses-wearing Blues Brother, or (unfortunately) as a picnic basket-stealing bear in Jellystone, you are definitely aware that Dan Aykroyd is a cinematic legend.
As an original member of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” on Saturday Night Live, Aykroyd has been in the public eye for over four decades.
The Canadian actor, comedian, musician, and filmmaker has remained relevant and starred in some of the most culturally recognized comedies of all time. Many of them have spawned sequels, reboots, spin-offs, and cartoons. Some of his films have even been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
We Present the Best and Worst of Dan Akroyd
Aykroyd has the accolades to prove he’s good at what he does, too. He received an Emmy Award in 1977, for his Outstanding Writing on SNL. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1999, and in 2017, he was made a member of the Order of Ontario for being “one of the world’s most popular entertainers.”
Of course, even the best of the best can’t win them all. Even with as much success as Aykroyd has seen, he’s also had his fair share of flops, too. I mean, who could forget his work in movies like Unconditional Love? Well, apparently everyone can, because it was so bad it never saw a theatrical release in the states. Not to mention, Aykroyd is also the proud owner of not one, but two, Golden Raspberry Awards!
Dan Aykroyd’s latest project, Ghostbusters: Afterlife officially hits theaters this week. Will it rank among Aykroyd’s top performances? Only time will tell, but I’d like to think so. So, in honor of his reprising his legendary role as Dr. Raymond Stantz for the new Ghostbusters flick, let’s take a look at some of Aykroyd’s best comedic roles — along with some of his absolute worst!
Up first, we’ll look at the SNL alum’s best:
Best #5. The Great Outdoors (1988)
The Great Outdoors is a great John Candy film, but it wouldn’t have been successful without the juxtaposition of Dan Aykroyd here. He’s ditched his normal charming funny guy role for the very dislikable, arrogant, and greedy Roman Craig.
This certainly isn’t the kind of film to analyze for deeper meaning or anything, but it’s an enjoyable romp that features a great performance from Aykroyd. It’s definitely a classic ’80s flick that brings some laughs.
Best #4. Trading Places (1983)
What happens when you pair comedic legends — and SNL alumni — Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy? An outlandish flick that both revived the screwball comedy genre and examined the socio-political landscape of the time.
Obviously, the film has its problematic moments when looked at through the modern lens — Akyroyd in blackface, blatant stereotyping, and unacceptable language — so does it really deserve a spot on Aykroyd’s best list? It’s definitely something to think about, especially with the comedian himself saying offensive comedy should be cancelled.
Even still, there are few movies that use comedy to tackle institutional racism in America quite like this one does. And that’s why I think Trading Places still deserves a watch, even if we criticize the problematic stuff. At least we can rest assured that Aykroyd has learned over the years, and won’t be donning blackface anymore.
Best #3. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Although Dan Aykroyd saw most of his successes in the ’80s, Grosse Pointe Blank was a bright spot in the ’90s (which is ironic, considering it’s a black comedy). Sure, it’s John Cusack’s movie. But Aykroyd is great here, as the chief rival and antithesis to Cusack’s depressed hitman, Martin Blank.
We often see Aykroyd as the regular funny guy, but Grosse Pointe Blank proves that villany suits him well. The Jack Nicholson-esque eyebrows help, too.
Best #2. The Blues Brothers (1980)
By now, we’ve seen plenty of Saturday Night Live skits turned into full-length movies for the big screen. But in 1980, it happened for the very first time with The Blues Brothers — and I’m not sure anyone knew quite what to expect.
It probably shouldn’t have worked, but it really did. In fact, it’s one of the most epic musical comedies in cinematic history. This masterpiece is supremely weird, surprisingly successful, and legitimately funny.
Best #1. Ghostbusters (1984)
It’s hard to argue against Ghostbusters. With the talents of Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Rick Moranis, this 1984 film goes down as one of the greatest American comedies of all time.
While Aykroyd’s Dr. Raymond Stantz doesn’t have the scene-stealing wit of Bill Murray, he’s still absolutely hilarious. He’s the everyman who accidentally summons a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man monster, and you can’t forget how excited he got when Venkman got slimed: “That’s Great! Actual physical contact!”
Luckily for fans, Aykroyd reprises his role as Stantz in the sequel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. He also made an appearance in the reboot, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, and served as an executive producer.
Of course, not all of Dan Aykroyd’s comedic roles can be as good as Ghostbusters. With how many roles he’s played over the years, there are bound to be some bad ones in the bunch. Here are the worst of the worst!
Worst #5. Loser (2000)
Do you remember 2000’s Loser? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t; it was probably one of the most unremarkable, least memorable teen comedies of the decade. The movie tried to capitalize on the popularity of American Pie’s Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, but at the height of the teen flick genre, it’s just predictable, underwritten, and tedious.
If you need any indication of how “well” written it is, Dan Aykroyd plays the dad that Biggs’ character takes advice from in the movie, but that’s all he is. No really, “Dad” is the character he’s billed as. The main character’s father doesn’t even have a name.
It’s kind of a shock to learn that the writer and director of Loser is Amy Heckerling. This was her first movie after 1995’s Clueless. Can’t win them all, I guess.
Worst #4. Unconditional Love (2002 UK, 2003 USA)
On the surface, this movie sounds like it could have been interesting. A repressed homemaker (Kathy Bates) learns her husband (Dan Aykroyd) is leaving her, finds out her son is leaving his wife, and then learns that her favorite singer has been murdered. She meets the closeted singer’s former lover, and they plot to secretly change the singer’s burial clothing to his beloved pink bathrobe. She then convinces the same former lover to travel back to Chicago with her so they can solve the murder.
Unfortunately, it was sloppy and disastrous. Aykroyd was wasted on an uninteresting, unfunny role. The studio knew it was a flop, too. While the film was released in the UK in 2002, New Line Cinema continually postponed the American release until finally dropping it into direct-to-DVD land, to never be heard from again.
Worst #3. Loose Cannons! (1990)
Oh look, a buddy cop movie that pairs two very different guys together. They’ll have to work through their own conflicts before they can catch the bad guys. That’s never been done before, right?
Rehashing the buddy cop thing probably wouldn’t be so offensive if it didn’t spiral beyond ridiculous. Dan Aykroyd’s character blacks out and does impersonations when he gets uncomfortable. Considering the plot revolves around uncovering a long-lost Nazi sex tape featuring Hitler, you can imagine how often Aykroyd assumes the personalities of Popeye, Captain Kirk, and the Road Runner.
The whole thing must have made audiences as uncomfortable as Aykroyd’s character in the movie, too. It was a critical and financial disaster, pulling in only a third of what it cost to make. These days, it has a big fat 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch.
Worst #2. Blues Brothers 2000
I like John Goodman and all, but Blues Brothers 2000 was ill-fated from the beginning. I know it had the original director John Landis on board, but you just can’t get the band back together when John Belushi has long since passed. It was missing some of the magic the original had.
Who invited the kid? How can you make a flop with such a good soundtrack? And why was it even called Blues Brothers 2000, if it limped into theaters two years prior?
It was a sequel that didn’t need to happen, and it was paired with a Super Bowl halftime performance the year before that also didn’t need to happen. Both go down in history as some of the worst we’ve seen.
Worst #1. Yogi Bear (2010)
Oh, you thought Blues Brothers 2000 was Dan Aykroyd’s worst big-screen offense? Trying to resurrect the Blues Brothers without Belushi pales in comparison to whatever this was.
It’s aggressively mediocre, with lazy writing and a lack of laughable humor. To make matters worse, they matched the awful script with an all-star cast, to really highlight how bad it really was.
The movie grossed plenty worldwide but picked up basically nothing but negative reviews. Critics and audiences alike agreed that while it remained faithful to the original Yogi Bear we know and love, there was a lack of originality, poor writing, and an absence of humor. In other words, don’t bother with this movie. Just revisit the old cartoons instead.