Here we examined the influence of the visual response in the superior colliculus (SC) (an oculomotor control structure integrating sensory, motor and cognitive signals) on the development of the motor command that drives saccadic eye movements in monkeys. We varied stimulus luminance to alter the timing and magnitude of visual responses in the SC and examined how these changes correlated with resulting saccade behavior. Increasing target luminance resulted in multiple modulations of the visual response, including increased magnitude and decreased response onset latency. These signal modulations correlated strongly with changes in saccade latency and metrics, indicating that these signal properties carry through to the neural computations that determine when, where and how fast the eyes will move. Thus, components of the earliest part of the visual response in the SC provide important building blocks for the neural basis of the sensory–motor transformation, highlighting a critical link between the properties of the visual response and saccade behavior.