Chevy Chase celebrates his 75th birthday on October 8, 2018. Known for his smug, bemused sense of humor, the actor has become famous for a series of highly profitable comedies. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 12 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in New York in 1943, Chase turned to comedy after a series of odd jobs. After a short stint with the “National Lampoon,” he shot to stardom in 1975 as one of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players on “Saturday Night Live.” In its first season, Chase became famous both for his pratfalls and his Gerald Ford impersonation. He was also the initial host of “Weekend Update,” starting each week with the catchphrase, “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.”
After winning Emmys for writing and performing in 1976, Chase left “SNL” after one year to pursue a movie career (he was replaced by Bill Murray). He earned Golden Globe nominations as Best Comedy/Musical Actor and Best Male Debut for the farcical mystery “Foul Play” (1978), in which he played a friendly San Francisco cop helping a shy librarian (Goldie Hawn) evade killers.
Chase hit his stride in the 1980s, with starring roles in such moneymakers as “Caddyshack” (1980), “Fletch” (1985), and “Three Amigos!” (1986). But it was with “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) that Chase became a franchise favorite. As Clark Griswold, who tries and fails to treat his family to a road trip, Chase became a hero to befuddled fathers everywhere. The film spawned three sequels: “European Vacation” (1985), “Christmas Vacation” (1989), and “Vegas Vacation” (1997).
Back on the small screen, Chase won a third Emmy for writing “The Paul Simon Special” in 1978. He also landed a memorable supporting role in the sitcom “Community,” on which he appeared for four seasons (2009-2014).
Take a tour through our photo gallery above of Chase’s 12 best films, including a few comedic gems like “Caddyshack,” “Seems Like Old Times” and “Funny Farm.”
12. UNDER THE RAINBOW (1981)
“Under the Rainbow” is a real curio, a slapstick comedy about Nazi spies, secret agents and midgets converging at a Los Angeles hotel during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz.” Chase stars as a Secret Service agent protecting an Austrian duke (Joseph Maher) who falls in love was a young woman (Carrie Fisher) tasked with looking after the Munchkins.
11. HERO (1992)
This social satire from Stephen Frears stars Dustin Hoffman as a ne’re do well who inadvertently saves the lives of several passengers on a crashed airline, only to have an imposter (Andy Garcia) take credit. Chase has a cameo as a local news director hoping to gain ratings from the story. “Hero” could’ve benefited from some tighter editing in parts (it runs just one minute shy of two hours).
10. FUNNY FARM (1988)
“Funny Farm” stars Chase as a New York sportswriter who moves with his schoolteacher wife (Madolyn Smith) to a small Vermont town to write a novel, and soon discovers that country living isn’t as peaceful as he hopes it’ll be. Oscar-winner George Roy Hill (“The Sting”) mounts a handsome production with the help of cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek and production designer Henry Bumstead, while the script plays off of Chase’s talents for smarmy humor without dipping too far into mean-spiritedness.
9. SPIES LIKE US (1985)
Chase reunited with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Dan Aykroyd for this goofy espionage comedy, modeled after the Hope-Crosby road pictures. They play two bumbling government employees who think they’ve become spies, only to discover they’ve actually been set up as decoys for the Soviet Union.
8. MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992)
You wouldn’t think Chase and horror maestro John Carpenter would make for a winning combination, yet “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” proves otherwise. Chase plays a yuppie stock analyst who turns invisible in a freak accident, then finds himself pursued by the CIA. The eye-popping special effects, which answers the question of what goes on inside a man suddenly turned transparent, are the real star here.
7. SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (1980)
Chase re-teamed with his “Foul Play” costar Goldie Hawn for this charming comic bauble from Neil Simon. A throwback to 1940s screwball classics, “Seems Like Old Times” stars Chase as a writer wrongfully accused of a bank robbery. He seeks out the help of his ex-wife (Hawn), who’s engaged to the soon-to-be California District Attorney (Charles Grodin, who’s best in show here).
6. THREE AMIGOS! (1986)
“Three Amigos!” was savaged by critics when it was released in 1986, with many bemoaning it as a waste of its comedic talents. Yet how can you possibly pass up an opportunity to see Chase pair up with Steve Martin and Martin Short for what is essentially an extended Three Stooges short? Directed by John Landis, it centers on a trio of silent movie actors who travel to an impoverished Mexican town to make a public appearance. Little do they know the villagers have mistaken them for real heroes who will defend them against a violent bandit.
5. FOUL PLAY (1978)
Goldie Hawn stars as a shy San Francisco librarian trying to solve a convoluted crime with the help of a friendly cop (Chase). Dudley Moore appears as a swinger who hides Hawn in his love shack when she’s pursued by killers. “Foul Play” was a huge hit at the Globes, earning bids as Best Comedy/Musical Film, for its leads (Chase and Hawn), Best Supporting Actor (Moore), Best Screenplay (Colin Higgins), and Best Song. Sadly, the Academy wasn’t as amused, recognizing it only in song.
4. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
The “National Lampoon’s Vacation” series veered wildly from the sublime to the stupid (the less said about the Griswold family’s European and Vegas adventures, the better). In “Christmas Vacation,” bumbling patriarch Clark (Chase) and his long-suffering wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) welcome the entire family home for the holidays, and predictable hijinks ensue. Unique among other films in the franchise, this outing contains a surprising amount of sentiment to go along with the laughs.
3. FLETCH (1985)
Chase proves a good fit for Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, the wise-cracking hero of Gregory Mcdonald’s popular book series. A newspaper reporter with a penchant for disguises, Fletch finds himself on the run when he refuses a large sum of money to kill a sickly millionaire (Tim Matheson). Director Michael Ritchie (“The Candidate,” “The Bad News Bears”) does an apt job balancing a serpentine mystery with Chase’s particular brand of smug humor. A box office smash, the film inspired a followup, “Fletch Lives,” that failed to live up to the original.
2. CADDYSHACK (1980)
Like many comedies of its era, “Caddyshack” is rude, crude, and proud of it. It’s scant plot is little more than a shoestring to hang various jokes on, plus a few nude scenes with the vixenish Cindy Morgan. In short: a boorish condo developer (Rodney Dangerfield) joins an elite country club, much to the ire of an uptight judge (Ted Knight), who also has to keep an eye out for his randy niece (Morgan). Chase is the laid-back pro golfer, while Bill Murray is the wacky groundskeeper battling a devious gopher.
1. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983)
As Clark Griswold, Chase became a hero to every father who ever made the mistake of treating his family to a road trip. In this initial outing, he tries desperately to get his wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron) across the country to the amusement park Wally World. Director Harold Ramis and writer John Hughes mine a surprising amount of comedic gold out of a tired premise, particularly with gags involving Randy Quaid as a wacky cousin, Imogene Coco as a cranky aunt, and John Candy as a befuddled park security guard.