Robert Downey Jr. is the First ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Member to Win an Oscar. Here’s Why It’s Never Happened Before

Sometimes all you need, conceptually, for a Cast Reunion SNL movie is a buddy-comedy setup (Tommy Boy, Trading Places.) But the possibilities for expansion are endless. This is Spinal Tap (which actually predates Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest’s SNL stints, but we’re counting it anyway) is a Cast Reunion where the cast plays a rock band. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, with Chase, Randy Quaid (season 11, 1985-86), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (1982-85) and Brian Doyle-Murray (1980-82) is a Cast Reunion where the cast plays a family. Here again, Adam Sandler takes the concept to its logical endpoint, with the Grown Ups movies; by the time you get to Grown Ups 2, you’re walking around a virtual world populated by Sandler and (deep breath; Don Pardo voice) Chris Rock, David Spade, Maya Rudolph, Jon Lovitz, Tim Meadows, Colin Quinn, Cheri Oteri, Ellen Cleghorne, the entire Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer), Bobby Moynihan, Will Forte, Taran Killam, Paul Brittain, and Melanie Hutsell. (Norm Macdonald and Rob Schneider are also in the first film.) The Grown Ups universe feels like a kind of idealized Sandler afterlife, where everyone he’s ever goofed around with can ascend into nirvana, like the better world he conjures in his stand-up act when he sings about wishing he and Chris Farley were getting on a plane to make Grown Ups 3.

This category is also where Robert Downey Jr. gets sucked back into the SNL orbit despite not being particularly associated with the show: Tropic Thunder is very much a Cast Reunion comedy in spirit, despite gathering a disparate group of SNL players (Downey, with his single ill-regarded season; Stiller, who was on the show for about a month; and Bill Hader, still a relatively green cast member at the time.) It even begins with a series of three parody trailers, and its all-star stylings (Jack Black and Danny McBride also have major roles, to say nothing of Tom Cruise under SNL-host-style makeup) harken back to movies like Ghostbusters. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Downey landed his second Oscar nomination for this, playing a performer who insists on performing some dicey race-bending for maximum stunt-acting grit. With further distance, it seems increasingly likely that it was exactly that stunt-acting that allowed voters to recognize such a broadly comedic performance alongside designated comedians like Stiller and Black.

The “Whole Sensibility Vehicle” SNL Movie

Perhaps the trickiest category of the bunch, and the one most open to creative expansion, is the Whole Sensibility Vehicle. This is distinct from the Whole Persona Vehicle because it’s more focused on a type of joke than a type of character, and distinct from the Cast Reunion because it’s typically more particular and often more peculiar than a simple fusion of a few different comic styles. One of the earliest SNL examples is Nothing But Trouble, Dan Akroyd’s sole directorial effort, a kind of nightmare-hellscape B-side to the A-side of Ghostbusters. Though it’s a grotesque sideshow of a movie with a gruesomely made-up Aykroyd opposite a Chevy Chase who is either treating the movie with contempt or simply disassociating, Nothing But Trouble does indicate how the Whole Sensibility Vehicle can take the SNL connection in a more experimental direction, something reflected in the most recent variations.

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