The Coneheads kept SNL viewers laughing throughout the 1970s, but 15 years later the movie version featuring the alien bombed at the box office.
conical heads was easily one of the most popular sketches during the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live, making it more of a giant head-scratcher why these iconic characters bombarded on the big screen. Satirical in nature, the premise of the sketches featured a family of stranded aliens talking strangely from the planet Remulak, who fail to fit in with suburban life. On the show, Canadian comedian Dan Aykroyd played father, Beldar, Jane Curtin as mother Prymaat, and Laraine Newman as their daughter, Connie. From lighting up an entire carton of cigarettes at once to indulging in fuzzy rings that slide off their massive skulls, the alien family has become an integral part of the cultural zeitgeist of the late 1970s. However, despite the Coneheads’ enduring popularity, the characters’ transition to the big screen was a surprising disappointment, thanks in large part to the film’s release.
The characters appeared in a total of 11 sketches between 1977 and 1979 with hosts from Steve Martin to the banned Frank Zappa appearing in them, eventually leading to an unsold animated television pilot in 1983. Ten years later the film was released on the big screen, which used much of the same plot from that cartoon. Newman was replaced by the much younger Michelle Burke to portray their teenage daughter, although the SNL the actress appears in a small role. The film features the family trying to settle into earthly life while being chased away by an immigration officer. The film is filled to the brim with sight gags, references to the original sketches and SNL cast members including Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Michael McKean, Jon Lovitz and Garret Morris.
In 1990, Lorne Michaels apparently planned a sketch anthology film titled The Saturday Night Live Movie, but it was abandoned. So far the only SNL the adaptation was the huge success Blues Brothers movie. When Mike Myers and Dana Carvey exploded with the Wayne’s World sketches and a film adaptation became a runaway comedic success, Michaels was soon inspired by the anthology project with the new idea of bringing more sketches to bring to the big screen. His decision to start with the Conehead characters, however, was nowhere near as successful. Part of the reason for this failure may have been that the family hadn’t appeared since the 1983 cartoon. The characters had ceased to be a SNL a staple since the late ’70s, so by the time the 1993 film was released, much of its core audience had shifted to alternative content. Although the thin story offered plenty of comedic beats, young audiences were understandably unfamiliar with the characters, while their 1970s relevance came across as dusty and dated. Given this questionable timing, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the film failed so spectacularly.
It is unclear why Michaels chose the conical heads as the next adaptation, other than his friendship with Aykroyd and knowledge of their past popularity. But the third SNL-the inspired film set a precedent from which they would never quite recover. If every film has its fans, Wayne’s World 2, It’s Pat, Stuart saves his family, The Blues Brothers 2000, A night at the Roxbury, Super star, The ladies’ man, and MacGruber all failed critically or financially – suggesting the first two attempts, Wayne’s World and The Blues Brotherswere a bit of a fluke.
conical heads won $21 million off a budget of $33 million, classifying it as a flop. It’s since become somewhat of a cult classic, airing frequently on television and attracting comedy fans who want to see the assortment of cameo roles. The clunky movie is enjoyable, but it just came out 15 years too late. If it had been made in 1978 or 1979, being therefore the first Saturday Night Live movie, its reception and quality probably would have been a different story.
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