Dan Aykroyd turns 64 today! He was hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live, but ended up as one of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” creating characters like Beldar of the Coneheads, Irwin Mainway, someone you wouldn’t want giving toys to your kids, and Fred Garvin, male prostitute. He also coined the phrase “Jane, you ignorant slut” during his season as the co-host of SNL’s Weekend Update, referring to co-star Jane Curtain. Anyone remember his “Super Bass-O-Matic ’76” segment? You really need to look that up! He may not have been ready for prime time, but he certainly went on to portray some iconic characters in a number of films. Here’s our list of his best work. Which ones would you include? (Please don’t say East of Eden.) (Fun fact: That Crystal Head Vodka you’re drinking this weekend? He’s the co-founder of the company.) We’ll see Aykroyd next when he appears in the upcoming version of Ghostbusters this summer.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: The Blues Brothers (1980)
“We’re on a mission from God.” This film came out of characters and sketches created for Saturday Night Live. John Belushi and Aykroyd played “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues respectively, and the film was written by Aykroyd and John Landis. This one is a musical set in Detroit and has performances from musical greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown and John Lee Hooker. The cast was filled out by John Candy and Carrie Fisher. The guys, raised in a Catholic orphanage, have to raise $5000 by getting their band back together and outrunning the law. The not-so-great sequel Blues Brothers 2000 appeared in 1998.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
This anthology movie based on the television show of the same name featured a lot of great performances, but the prologue set the tone. In it, Aykroyd is the passenger in a car driven by Albert Brooks, who freaks him out by driving with the lights off. We won’t spoil how Aykroyd gets him back, but it opens the movie on a super creepy note. The film is also known, sadly, for a helicopter accident that killed actors Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 9), spawning a lawsuit.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Trading Places (1983)
This one is sort of a Prince and the Pauper tale, featuring Aykroyd as a successful business man and Eddie Murphy as a poor street hustler. Two commodity-trading brothers played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche debating nature vs. nurture decide to experiment by getting these two guys to unknowingly switch lives by having Aykroyd’s’ Winthorpe framed as a criminal and bailing Murphy’s Valentine out of jail and giving him access to Winthorpe’s old life. The guys figure out the scheme and turn the tables with a plan that involves a gorilla.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Ghostbusters (1984)
Aykroyd was the lovable and kind of dopey Ray in this iconic film. Aykryod wrote the script alongside fellow Ghostbuster Harold Ramis. Ray, along with Egon (Ramis), Peter (Bill Murray) and Winston (Ernie Hudson), battled the supernatural in New York City, crossing the streams to save the world. The guys returned along with Annie Potts as Janine, Rick Moraines as Louis and Sigourney Weaver as Dana in Ghostbusters II in 1989. The film was less well-loved, but still funny, of course. Aykroyd also wrote for the animated series The Real Ghost Busters and Extreme Ghostbusters in 1986-1991 and 1997, respectively.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Dragnet (1987)
This buddy cop crime drama, starring Aykroyd as Sgt. Joe Friday and Tom Hanks as Det. Pep Streebek, is a very loving parody of the television series of the same name. These mismatched cop partners are hunting down a cult known as P.A.G.A.N (People Against Goodness And Normalcy). After a series of very strange thefts, including that of an anaconda, they disguise themselves to join the cult ritual, saving a virgin who was about to be sacrificed (Alexandra Paul) and winning the day.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Spies Like Us (1988)
Aykroyd wrote this one with Dave Thomas and starred as Austin Millbarge, a codebreaker for the Pentagon who wants to be a secret agent. He meets Emmett Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase), the son of a foreign envoy during a foreign service test, which they both pass with varying degrees of success, to act as decoys for a more well qualified team. They’re barely trained and sent to Soviet Central Asia, while the real agents try to solve a crime—and fail miserably. This is a goofy one, but it’s hard to beat this comedy team-up.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Aykroyd was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his work in this film. Driving Miss Daisy itself won four Oscars, including Best Picture. Jessica Tandy plays elderly, wealthy Jewish woman Daisy Werthan, racist and difficult to deal with. Morgan Freeman plays Hoke Colburn, her driver whom she grows to appreciate, especially after dealing with anti-Semitism in her town. Aykroyd plays her son Boolie, who brings them together.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: My Girl (1991)
This film about a young girl named Vada (Anna Chlumsky) dealing with a distant father (Aykroyd) and the loss of her mother when she was a baby still has the power to bring one to tears. While Vada tries to deal with her hypochondria and her father’s distance and later, his engagement, she loses her very best friend Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin) to an allergic reaction to bees. Don’t kick the beehive, Thomas J.! We’ll never recover!
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Sneakers (1992)
Aykroyd played a small but memorable role in this film starring Robert Redford, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, Ben Kingsley, David Strathaim and Sidney Poitier. He plays Darren “Mother” Roskow, a conspiracy theorist and tech guy in a tiger team of security specialists run by Martin Bishop (Redford). Despite sour reviews, this is one of those pizza and beer films that fans can watch a dozen times over.
Dan Aykroyd Movies Spotlight: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Aykroyd plays a contract killer named Grocer in George Armitage’s hit-man film, starring John Cusack, Minnie Driver and Alan Arkin. Grocer is the rival to Cusack’s professional assassin Martin Blank. Blank attends his high school reunion and, distracted by his high school sweetheart (Driver), he realizes it’s time to change his life. Grocer comes to a very bad end.
Which Dan Aykroyd film is your favorite? What did we leave off the list that you miss? What’s your favorite SNL skit that he did? Let us know in the comments. Ghostbusters, starring Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, opens in theaters on July 15, 2016.