9 Milestones in the Evolution of Eddie Murphy
In this weekend's Tower Heist, Eddie Murphy stars as as a benevolent crook who helps a few Ponzi scheme victims attempt to recover their money. So how did a Brooklyn-area stand-up transform himself into an '80s comedic superstar, an unexpected dramatic talent and this February, an Academy Award host?
You can always trace a direct line through a few important roles to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. As such, let's look at nine pivotal performances that track the evolution of Eddie Murphy.
Saturday Night Live (1980)
After spending his early years studying the comedy routines of Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, the Brooklyn-raised stand-up scored his big break at the age of 19 when he was selected as a Saturday Night Live cast member. Because of his hit characters Gumby, Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson -- in addition to his impersonations (like that of James Brown below) -- Murphy is partially credited for rejuvenating the series after its first slump.
48 Hrs (1982)
Two years later, Murphy made his big screen debut opposite Nick Nolte in Walter Hill's film 48 Hrs, which is regularly cited as the first film in the buddy cop genre. Thanks in part to the chemistry between Nolte and Murphy -- who improvised most of their scenes together -- the film was a critical and box office success. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert wrote that "sometimes an actor becomes a star in just one scene. [...] And in 48 Hrs., it happens to Eddie Murphy." The scene he was referencing of course is the one where Eddie's reformed convict Reggie Hammond impersonates a cop in a bar full of rednecks to force information out of a bartender. Enjoy the star-making moment below.
Bonus trivia: Nolte was scheduled to host Saturday Night Live as part of his promotional duties, but when he dropped out unexpectedly, Murphy filled in for him, becoming the first and only cast member to ever host while still a regular cast member.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
After the follow-up success of Trading Places with Dan Aykroyd, Paramount signed the 23-year-old actor for a $25 million, six-picture deal. The first film in that studio deal was Beverly Hills Cop, the Martin Brest comedy which was originally slated to star Sylvester Stallone. After major rewrites, Murphy jumped on board as a Detroit detective who moves to Beverly Hill to solve the murder of his best friend. Already a star in the U.S., Beverly Hills Cop established Murphy as an international star while grossing over $300 million worldwide and inspiring two sequels.
Harlem Nights (1989)
Following Beverly Hills Cop II and the dud The Golden Child -- another comedy that starred Murphy as a wise-cracking detective -- Murphy used his studio deal to make his directorial debut with the gangster comedy-drama Harlem Nights, which he also wrote and starred in opposite his comedy idol Richard Pryor. The 1930s crime film chronicled the adventures of a father (Pryor) and son (Murphy) and the gangsters and corrupt badges they regularly contend with as the owners of a Harlem nightclub. Even though Harlem Nights was a box office success, it was ravaged by critics who called the project an expletive-laden ego trip (Murphy's name was listed five times in the credits as director, executive producer, writer, star and namesake of Eddie Murphy Productions). For his work in Harlem Nights, Murphy earned a Razzie for Worst Screenplay and a Razzie nomination for Worst Director. Murphy never directed again.
After a mediocre 48 Hours sequel transitioned Murphy's career into official "slump" territory, the actor took two years off from film to recharge his batteries. When he returned, it was for his first romantic lead role in Boomerang, the film that helped -- for lack of a better word -- boomerang the actor's career back on track. As a chauvinistic ad exec who is humbled by his female equivalent (Robin Givens), Murphy displayed a gentler side of himself that audiences had not seen before while retaining that trademark grinning Murphy charm.
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