It's not easy for stand-up comics to break into films, and many of those that do are relegated to playing "best friend" and comic relief supporting characters for their entire careers. Sometimes, though, a comic is able to cross over and become a full-blown movie star. Here are 10 such comedians -- the ones that became movie stars.
1. Steve Martin
Steve Martin was one of the biggest stand-up comics in the world (the first to sell out stadiums) when he made his first foray into film with The Jerk in 1979, and hasn't looked back since. Though he started out headlining zany comedies (like The Man With Two Brains), it wasn't long before Martin softened and segued into romantic comedy (Roxanne, which he also wrote) and even comedy dramas (such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles). Nowadays, Martin is able to shift from broad "family" comedies (Cheaper by the Dozen) to mainstream Hollywood fare (It's Complicated) to more personal passion projects (Shopgirl, adapted from his novella). He's a true movie star.
2. Eddie Murphy
At 19, Eddie Murphy was already a stand-up comic and cast member of Saturday Night Live, becoming that show's breakout star. In just two years, he became a movie star when he appeared in 1982's 48 Hrs. Murphy ruled the '80s, headlining hugely successful movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Comiing to America and The Golden Child while still maintaining a stand-up career, even putting out two stand-up concert films, Delirious and Eddie Murphy: Raw, during the decade. Bad script choices and vanity projects led to a string of critical and commercial disappointments through the '90s and 2000s (including Vampire in Brooklyn and Meet Dave), though Murphy still headlines movies and was even nominated for an Oscar for his turn in Dreamgirls in 2007.
3. Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey didn't just make the transition from stand-up comedian to Hollywood actor -- he became the biggest, highest-paid actor in the world. Rocketing to superstardom with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Carrey rode a steady stream of massive hits for the first half of the 1990s (including The Mask and Dumb and Dumber) until The Cable Guy, a dark comedy that commanded Carrey his $20 million payday (the biggest at the time) but also made for his first commercial failure. Carrey bounced back, but his career was uneven from there on out. Eventually, he began alternating dramatic work (including a revelatory turn in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon) in smaller movies with his usual broad comedies. He's still a star -- just a little faded.
4. Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx is the rare comedian who didn't really hit it big in movies until he began appearing in dramatic roles -- like his lead performance in Ray, for which he was awarded the 2004 Best Actor Oscar -- and is now better known as a dramatic actor than a comedic one. The goofy guy who got his start on the sketch comedy series In Living Color is now the star of movies like Collateral, Miami Vice and The Soloist. In 2010, Foxx finally got back to his comedic roots starring opposite Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in Due Date.
5. Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler has followed Eddie Murphy's career path: young stand-up, breakout star of Saturday Night Live-turned-huge movie star. Only, unlike Murphy, Sandler's film career shows no signs of slowing down. Starting out in cult comedies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore before finding giant mainstream success with The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. For nearly two decades, Sandler has alternated blockbuster comedies (many of which he co-wrote) like Big Daddy, You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Grown Ups with more movies outside his comfort zone -- critically-acclaimed, respectable adult fare like Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish. Like Jim Carrey before him, Sandler went from stand-up comic to one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Robin Williams pretty much set the template for comedians breaking into movies: start out as a wildly popular cult comedian, get your own network sitcom tailored specifically to your style of comedy and then begin accepting starring roles in Hollywood films. Williams' early starring roles -- in films like Moscow on the Hudson, The World According to Garp and Popeye -- were much more interesting than the obnoxious, pandering "family" comedies he would go on to make later in his career. Still, Williams has the ability to surprise us all from time to time with his dramatic turns and remains the comedian nominated for more Oscars than any other (three Best Actor nominations and one Best Supporting Actor win for 1997's Good Will Hunting).
Whoopi Goldberg is one of the few stand-up comedians who went straight from the stage to major movie stardom: her first film role was the lead in a Steven Spielberg film (1985's The Color Purple). She spend the rest of the '80s in a succession of star vehicles (Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty) that failed to find much box office traction, but her career reached new heights with her Oscar-winning supporting turn in 1990's Ghost. Between that film and the hugely successful Sister Act in 1992, Goldberg had become a major movie star. Her movie career pretty much peaked at that point, though, and the rest of her cinematic output in the '90s went back to disposable fare like Eddie, The Associate and Made in America.
Absurdist comic Zach Galifianakis toiled around in supporting roles in mostly forgettable comedies (including Heartbreakers, Bubble Boy and Out Cold) and one forgettable TV series (Tru Calling on Fox) before finally finding mainstream success in 2009's breakout comedy hit The Hangover. Though that movie was a huge word-of-mouth success, it was Galifianakis who popped off it the most -- his was the performanced that had everyone talking, wondering who was that? By 2010, Galifianakis was a full-on movie star, giving leading-man performances both dramatic (in It's Kind of a Funny Story) and comedic, reteaming with Hangover director Todd Phillips for the road movie Due Date.
Comedian Russell Brand was already a successful comedian in his native England when he appeared in a supporting role in the 2008 romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, essentially stealing every one of his scenes. That performance (coupled with some high-profile US gigs like hosting the MTV VMAs for two years straight and a Comedy Central stand-up special) catapulted him to movie stardom, leading to starring roles in 2010's Get Him to the Greek (in which Brand actually reprised his Sarah Marshall character) and a remake of the Dudley Moore classic Arthur. It's only a matter of time before Brand follows in the footsteps of some of his comedian predecessors and takes on a dramatic role.
10. Kevin James
Kevin James is one of the few comedians to successfully transition from stand-up to his own hit sitcom (The King of Queens) to movie stardom. It didn't hurt that his first major film role was opposite Will Smith in 2005's Hitch, but James quietly stole that film and set the stage for his big-screen career. Once he paired up with his pal Adam Sandler, though, movie stardom came quickly. The pair scored hits with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry in 2007 and Grown Ups in 2010, but it was the enormous, surprise success (grossing over $100 million) of James' 2009 leading man vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop (produced by Sandler) that cemented James' status as a full-blown movie star. He can hold the screen all by himself.