With the recent online chatter about Jason Segel’s script for the upcoming The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time, we were thinking about exactly that: the greatest Muppet movie of all time. The greatest one up until now, that is. So here’s our look at every Muppet film (six) to have hit theaters. It’s Our Meet In the Lobby Muppet Filmography. Enjoy, reminisce, decide.
:: The Muppet Movie (1979)
I’m 10 years old. My mom packs me, my brothers, my cousins and a large bag of Twix bars into the car, and drops us at the Fine Arts theater in Scarsdale, NY, the only screen within 25 miles showing the Muppets’ auspicious foray onto the big screen. And we loved it. I still remember the theater erupting into laughter upon seeing a full-length Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle.
The Muppet Movie is your classic road movie, with Kermit and the gang heading to Hollywood with aspirations of seeing their names in lights. Paul Williams (see our review of The Phantom of the Paradise) wrote the music — two of the seven songs would live beyond the film (Movin’ Right Along, The Rainbow Connection) — and about a million-and-one stars appear in cameos. Big stars. Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, and a little-known legend named Orson Welles, among many others. The passion and vision that Jim Henson held dear was certainly admired and loved by many, many performers.
Director: James Frawley, a TV director who’s helmed everything from the original Monkees series to Grey’s Anatomy
Writers: Muppet Show writers Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl
IMDb rating: 7.6 / 10
:: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
The furry friends go global! Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo head to the UK to delve into a diamond theft involving fashion designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg). The British cast includes John Cleese, Robert Morley and Peter Ustinov (a tip of the bowler to his time as Hercule Poirot — except here he plays a truck driver.)
In this one, the music is in the hands of the great Joe Raposo, a Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street songwriter famous for writing the Sesame Street theme song, as well as the legendary C is for Cookie (a regular favorite at the MITL manse.) He also wrote the theme song for Three’s Company, by the way…
Director: Jim Henson
Writers: Jerry Juhl again, along with Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses (writers for Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett), and veteran Jack Rose, who was a few months shy of 70 when Caper was released
IMDb rating: 7.2 / 10
:: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Forget Hollywood. The gang knows where it’s at during the glitzy, metropolitan 1980s: Broadway! But musical dreams don’t go as planned — holy crap, they never do — and Kermit and the gang need to make it happen, running into a cavalcade of 70s and 80s stars like Joan Rivers, Liza Minnelli, Gregory Hines, Brooke Shields, Elliot Gould, Art Carney, and even hizzoner, Mayor Edward Koch.
Songwriting credits move over to Jeff Moss, a contemporary of Raposo’s on Sesame Street, and writer of kiddie hits People In Your Neighborhood and Rubber Duckie (another favorite at our house).
Director: Frank Oz. You know him best as Yoda, Miss Piggy and Bert. He’d like you to know him as the director of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the remake of The Stepford Wives. Nah, we prefer the former credits, by far.
Writers: Patchett and Tarses again, along with Oz.
IMDb rating: 6.6 / 10
:: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
After a Big Bird movie for tiny tots in 1985 (Follow That Bird) and Jim Henson’s death in 1990, Christmas Carol was the first major Muppet theatrical release in eight years, and had a top-flight lead actor: Michael Caine, in the role of Scrooge. As far as we can tell, Caine is the first actor in a Muppet movie to receive top billing over Muppet performers like Henson and Oz.
Music for this one moves back to Paul Williams. (Raposo had died in 1989, just short of his 52nd birthday.)
Director: A 29-year-old Brian Henson, in his directorial debut.
Writers: Jerry Juhl, writing solo.
IMDb rating: 7.5 / 10
:: Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
The wickedly flamboyant Tim Curry gets the lead as Long John Silver — hey, wasn’t that his character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Ba-dump! — in this reworking of the Stevenson classic. Which is close to the original story. Except for the dancing puppets.
For the film’s soundtrack, Henson and Disney tap the legendary songwriter Barry Mann, who’s written a lifetime full of radio hits with wife Cynthia Weil. They’ve written so many hits, their songs were the basis for compilation stage shows, including the off-Broadway production Just Once.
Director: Brian Henson again. Treasure Island and Christmas Carol would be his only big-screen directorial credits.
Writers: The dependable Jerry Juhl, this time joined by Kirk Thatcher and James V. Hart, screenwriter for Francis Coppola’s Dracula
IMDb rating: 6.6 / 10
:: Muppets From Space (1999)
Not to be confused with the Muppet Show sketch, Pigs In Space. Not that you’d confuse them. The last of the in-theater Muppet releases is universally thought to be the worst. Sure it’s cute, but it stars Gonzo. Gonzo’s a bit player, not a leading man. He’s Zeppo, not Groucho. Anyway, the little guy finds out he has alien lineage and is snatched up by some evil government types. Okay, that’s enough.
In terms of music, Muppets from Space goes the teen soundtrack route, relying on other popular artists — in this case The Commodores, The Isley Brothers and James Brown. Of course. I’ve always found the Muppets to be very soulful.
Director: Tim Hill. If his name isn’t familiar, his current movies are if you have kids: Garfield 2 and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Writers: Jerry Juhl again (a Muppet-filled resume!), with Muppet performer Joey Mazzarino (Murray!), and Space Cowboys co-writer Ken Kaufman
IMDb rating: 6.1 / 10
Our preference: The original, baby. The first effort, the shamelessly superstar-filled The Muppet Movie. Not the purists’ choice, too many live actors? Perhaps. Now’s your chance to vote.