Everyone loves Eddie Murphy. His foul-mouthed shenanigans have delighted audiences since he first stormed onto Saturday Night Live in a Gumby costume in the early 80s and went on to achieve Hollywood box office glory with a string of hits that all but made him king of the decade.
There’s no denying Murphy’s brand of comedy struck a chord with moviegoers. Need proof? Look at the following list, which ranks the best Eddie Murphy 80s movies from worst to best.
7) Harlem Nights (1989)
Murphy ended his 80s run quite literally in dramatic fashion, teaming up with Richard Pryor for the critically panned Harlem Nights. The film, directed by Murphy, made a decent sum at the box office but ultimately wasted its talented cast in a nonsensical crime drama that fails to grab one’s attention.
Harlem Nights marked the beginning of the end for Murphy as follow-up films Boomerang, The Distinguished Gentleman, Beverly Hills Cop III, and Vampire in Brooklyn failed to capture his early magic.
Thankfully, the second coming was nigh — Murphy bounced back with hits such as The Nutty Professor, Mulan, Doctor Dolittle, Life, and Bowfinger before lending his voice to the box office behemoth Shrek. While he never achieved the astronomical success afforded to him early in his career — the less said about The Adventures of Pluto Nash, the better — Murphy’s later entries were still solid enough to appease fans yearning for more of his creative genius.
6) The Golden Child (1986)
Murphy’s first foray into a family adventure is an enjoyable romp packed with some genuinely audacious special effects — the demon bit always freaked me out — and a few well-timed gags — “I just want some chips!”
That said, choppy editing, a confusing plot, and tepid direction keep the picture from taking off. Murphy does his best to salvage the fiasco, but his talents too often take a back seat to the big-budget spectacle. Too bad because this one could have been special.
5) Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Tony Scott’s follow-up to Beverly Hills Cop doubles down on everything that worked in the original with mixed results. Murphy is his usual charming self, but lost in transition is the lighthearted tone in favor of more violence and a dumb plot that feels more appropriate for Bad Boys than Axel Foley.
Still, the sequel looks fantastic because of Scott’s visual flourishes and features enough laugh-out-loud moments to keep viewers invested. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before: Axel wanders about Beverly Hills talking his way out of predicaments en route to solving the case, while Billy (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) offer support on the periphery.
Somehow, the formula still works, though viewers expecting a production that lives up to its star’s talents might be disappointed.
4) Coming to America (1988)
There’s much to appreciate in John Landis’ Coming to America, even if the picture too often feels like a series of comedy sketches strung together by the flimsiest of plots. We’re dealing with Eddie Murphy, the movie star now, not the young, brash, up-and-coming comedian of old. Coming to America lets Murphy do his thing, and for the most part, it works. Hilarity abounds thanks to a series of goofy characters (many played by Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall) and some well-executed sight gags.
Prince Akeem also stands as one of the more likable characters in Murphy’s oeuvre, his radiant positivity contrasting hilariously with the cynicism of downtrodden New Yorkers — “Good morning, my neighbors,” he bellows from his apartment. “Hey, f*** you,” responds a passerby. One only wishes Landis had reeled him in a little and spent more time fleshing out the plot than catering to his star.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fupg2r1EJ9w
3) Trading Places (1983)
This rags-to-riches-to-rags comedy pairs Murphy with Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis and the trio hilariously explores the idea of nature versus nurture. Except here, Murphy, a low-level grifter with nothing to lose, switches places with Aykroyd’s snobbish investor via a mean-spirited gamble between two older men and must endure (or bask in) the other’s life for a spell.
The results are often hilarious and surprisingly profound. Here we have an intelligent comedy that cares about its characters. Landis doesn’t go for cheap laughs. Instead, he allows the humor to develop naturally without losing sight of his story.
Of course, it helps to have two of the best in the biz at your disposal. Murphy turns in a measured performance that balances his outspoken brand of comedy with his regal charm. His quick-witted humor meshes perfectly with Aykroyd’s cheeky intellect; the picture shifts into another gear when the pair finally team up in the third act.
Jamie Lee Curtis is also on hand as a hooker with a heart of gold, while Denholm Elliott gets in on the fun as a world-weary butler who empathizes with both men. Great fun!
2) Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
48 Hrs. and Trading Places brought Murphy’s shenanigans to the big screen, but it was Beverly Hills Cop that made him a superstar. As Axel Foley, Murphy delivers the goods and provides plenty of laughs without detracting from the main narrative.
From its magnificent opening action sequence to Bronson Pinchot’s inspired Serge and Harold Faltermeyer’s terrific synth-heavy score, everything about Beverly Hills Cop works.
Murphy does the heavy lifting. His comic timing and manic energy are damn-near magical; he alternates between a fast-talking smart-ass and tough-talking police officer with deft precision. More importantly, he plays Axel as a cop whose loyalty knows no limits, a man willing to put it all on the line for his fellow officers, namely Juge Reinhold and John Ashton’s Billy and Taggart.
Director Martin Brest and writer Daniel Petrie Jr. allow scenes (and Murphy’s performance) to breathe but are savvy enough to know when a gag has run its course. This is how it’s done, folks.
There’s a reason Beverly Hills Cop remains one of the biggest box office hits of all time — it’s a genuinely hilarious, action-packed adventure that entertains as much today as it did when it first hit theaters in 1984.
Look for Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks as a gruff henchman.
1) 48 Hrs. (1982)
Murphy’s first foray onto the big screen was an all-timer. 48 Hrs. pairs the smooth-talking comedian alongside grumpy ole Nick Nolte, resulting in a surprisingly dark and gritty buddy dramedy. Director Walter Hill pulls out all the stops and leans into the grime and grit of 1980s San Francisco with relish. At the same time, his two leads demonstrate a natural chemistry that raises their relationship beyond the usual odd couple tropes.
Viewers expecting lighthearted fun in the vein of Beverly Hills Cop or any of Murphy’s subsequent films may be shocked to see the icon deliver a relatively straightforward performance occasionally punctuated by comedic outbursts — “There’s a new sheriff in town!” Reggie Hammond is more complex than many of Murphy’s characters, and we can only lament that the star didn’t receive more nuanced roles like this later in his career.
At any rate, 48 Hrs. is a damn good film, replete with hard-hitting action, a twisted villain (played by James Remar), and an obscenity-laden script that makes one long for the uncensored days of 80s cinema. This is as perfect a crime drama as one will ever see.