Nearly 40 years ago, the actor John Belushi died tragically. Given a combination of cocaine and heroin, he passed from a drug overdose. However, his major impact on the world of entertainment remains. He’s best known as one of the seven original SNL cast members. Today, we celebrate the life of the master of physical humor and comic energy. Here’s a list of the best John Belushi movies and some dramatic roles you may not have expected.
Most Famous Movie: The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers is an early example of a popular Saturday Night Live character launching an actor into film. It is also the most famous of John Belushi movies. The story is about two Chicago brothers trying to save the orphanage that raised them. They set out with their band to raise the money the orphanage needs. To complicate things, they are on the run. A crew of rivals is in pursuit.
Most people don’t remember The Blues Brothers for its plot. In fact, the film is known for almost every other aspect. The production was notoriously delayed. And it became one of the most expensive comedies ever produced. The cameos by music industry giants like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Chaka Khan were iconic. Belushi’s performance defined his career. Today, it’s a cult favorite. Additionally, it was selected for the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. For those trying to get into John Belushi, it’s an absolute must to watch.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
This film is an origin point for pop culture’s view of fraternities as hotbeds of debauchery. National Lampoon’s Animal House is a classic example of the type of dirty, physical comedy that made John Belushi an iconic comedic actor. Based on true stories published in National Lampoon magazine, Belushi leads fraternity members against the dean of their college. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.
National Lampoon’s Animal House was Belushi’s first breakout role after building star power on Saturday Night Live. The impact of his performance and the film, in general, is major. It is the highest-grossing comedy movie of its time. It’s also the prototype of the gross-out film genre. It is yet another entry in the National Film Registry. By today’s standards, it may be too offensive. However, National Lampoon’s Animal House is a tour de force showcase of Belushi’s comedic abilities.
John Belushi Movies: A dramatic turn for the comedic genius
Continental Divide (1981)
John Belushi’s surprises us as a dramatic actor in this role. He plays a newspaper reporter in this romantic comedy produced by Steven Spielberg is genuinely moving. A tough Chicago newsman falls in-love with an American bald eagle researcher while working on a story about her research.
For audiences who love his physical comedy and gags, this is an opportunity to see Belushi in a serious role. He offers a more subtle performance. It’s worth the watch even if just to see what else Belushi could offer other than wild comedy.
This Spielberg period piece is about the panicked response to the Pearl Harbor attack. It has an impressive cast including actors like Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Candy, and, of course, John Belushi. Having been released after Spielberg’s successful hits Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, expectations were high. Alas, the reception varied. 1941 didn’t see the same critical or commercial success as Spielberg was used to. Critics called it overinflated with too many actors, too many spectacles and gags, and poor timing.
Yet, as often happens with critically-panned movies, it has come to be a cult favorite in the years since. Belushi’s performance in it sees him at his most unhinged and out-of-control. For many, this also reflected how he was known to be off-screen, as well.
A sudden death and the last of John Belushi’s movies
Neighbors was John Belushi’s last film, as he died only ten weeks after it was released in theaters. The movie is about a rift between two couples who live next door to each other. If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it was a film adaptation for a Zac Efron and Seth Rogen comedy in 2014. Like most of his films, Belushi co-stars with Dan Aykroyd. This time they swapped their usual types, with Akyroyd playing the wild one and Belushi taking the straight man role.
Audiences found it weird seeing Belushi playing a quiet, suburban nerd. As a result, this film received a mixed reaction from fans of Belushi and Akyroyd. Yet famed film critic, Roger Ebert actually liked this unexpected twist. He wrote, “Neighbors is a truly interesting comedy, an offbeat experiment in hallucinatory black humor. It grows on you [with its]… brilliant casting, especially since they divided the roles somewhat against our expectations.”
Like Continental Divide, this film is highly recommended for fans who want to see Belushi outside of his expected type. Indeed, this performance that would come to be his last. We see Belushi at his best, bringing both the comedy and the acting chops.
What do you think, have John Belushi movies stood the test of time? Does his film legacy live on?