Eddie Murphy has had, to put it kindly, a colorful career. Murphy’s name alone attached to a project has been known to make a theater full of critics groan. What happened? How did this once-funny man lose it? It’s gotten so bad I don’t even have the strength to make it to the theater to see the types of things he’s putting out these days (such as Imagine That, hitting theaters tomorrow). Now I could probably have done a worst ten Murphy films, but that wouldn’t be that hard. Instead, here are some of Murphy’s best, or at least most watchable, films. This list is a much more difficult enterprise than a “worst of” list, which is why it only includes eight films.
8. Trading Places – I’m not as big a fan of Trading Places as many are, but there’s certainly enough good here to earn it a spot on the list. Murphy stars as a street hustler whose life is switched with that of a well-to-do businessman (Dan Aykroyd). It is part of a bet between two rich guys (Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche) as to the nature of man and how someone would change if their financial situation was suddenly altered dramatically. There are some laughs and a young Jamie Lee Curtis has a supporting role as a prostitute who falls in love. The movie isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s well known and it seems like there’s not a month that goes by you can’t find it playing somewhere on cable.
7. The Shrek franchise – For the sake of space, and not repeating myself, I’ll just group all of these together. In the films, Murphy provides the voice of the annoying Donkey, the sidekick the the reclusive ogre voiced by Mike Meyers. Stalwart and true, but always hungry and never able to shut up when asked, Donkey is the classic companion you’re stuck with instead of the one you’d prefer. In many ways, Donkey is a more interesting character than Shrek and provides many of the best lines from the films (and one of the films’ most bizarre love stories). Although Steve Martin was producer Steven Spielberg’s original choice for Donkey, Murphy landed the role, providing the comic with one of the few recent ones worthy of note.
6. The Distinguished Gentlemen – No, this isn’t a great film, but it works for me. Murphy stars as a lifetime con artist who decides to use his name (which is the same as a recently deceased senator) to run for Congress. There’s plenty of nice jabs at the legislative process (the general premise is that con artists are actually better people than 99% of all politicians) and a strong supporting cast which includes Lane Smith, Grant Shaud, Chi McBride, Charles S. Dutton, and Joe Don Baker. Although it loses steam towards the end as Murphy’s character grows a conscience and risks everything to do the right thing, there’s still enough here to include it on the list.
5. Mulan – Although known better for a different animated character (which can be found lower on this list), Murphy’s first foray into the genre was with this mostly-forgotten, but darn good, 1998 Disney film about a Chinese woman who becomes a legendary warrior. Murphy provides the voice of Mushu, a guardian spirit in the form of small dragon attempting to regain his family honor by helping Mulan in her quest. A straight-to-video sequel of the film was made, but Murphy did not return to voice the character.
4. 48 Hours – You are all probably familiar with that odd-pairing buddy-cop film that Hollywood loves so much, right? Well, it all began here. Nick Nolte stars as an alcoholic chain-smoking cop willing to do anything to bring down the perp he’s after, even if it means releasing a convict (Murphy) for 48 hours into his custody in hopes of drawing out the killer (James Remar). Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor were originally chosen for the roles, but Eastwood turned down the movie in favor of another film and the project went on the shelf for a couple years before being recast with Nolte and Murphy. The film also reunited its two stars for a mostly forgettable sequel eight years later.
3. Coming to America – If the only thing this film gave us was Sexual Chocolate and Soul Glow that would still be enough. Murphy stars as an African prince who journeys to America in search of a more suitable bride than the one his parents (James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair) have chosen for him. Along for the ride is his trusty sidekick (Arsenio Hall), who gets a job along with the prince at a McDonald’s knock-off run by John Amos. Shari Headley is cast as Murphy’s love interest and the pair have some nice on-screen chemistry. This was the first time Murphy used heavy make-up to play multiple roles in a film (and one of the few times it worked successfully).
2. The Nutty Professor – One of the hardest times I have ever laughed in a theater was the first time I saw Murphy’s remake of Jerry Lewis’ 1963 comedy The Nutty Professor. Murphy stars in this Jekyll-and-Hyde tale of an overweight scientist who comes up with a formula that makes him slim, only to have his new arrogant second personality try and take over his life. There are many nice moments including the table scene where his family (also played by Murphy) embarrasses Sherman in front of his love (Jada Pinkett Smith) to the extent where he tries to cut his wrists with the butter knife. The movie hasn’t aged as well as I’d like, but it definitely deserves a high spot on the list.
1. Beverly Hills Cop – Originally intended as a project for Sylvester Stallone (who would later rework the original script into Cobra), this 1984 action flick is about a Detroit cop (Murphy) in Beverly Hills hunting for the murderer of an old friend and causing general mayhem (like, say, a banana in the tailpipe). Aside from a list of memorable lines, Beverly Hills Cop also produced a not-too-shabby soundtrack (featuring songs by the Pointer Sisters and Patti LaBelle). The film was an instant success, pulling in more money that year than Ghostbusters. Although the movie produced two less-than-stellar sequels, the original remains a classic andâ€”despite continuing to make movies for another 25 yearsâ€”Murphy has done nothing to equal it.