48 Hrs. was Eddie Murphy’s first movie and Trading Places was his second, and because them, Eddie Murphy’s career as a movie star exploded like a comet. But it was 1983’s Delirious that showed the world how funny Murphy was a stand-up comedian. However, Delirious was an HBO special, so it’s not part of this list.
It’s hard to argue that in the 1980s, there was a funnier person on earth than Eddie Murphy, with a starring role on SNL and a string of huge, hilarious box office smashes in theaters, Murphy was without question one of the biggest stars of the decade. That success continued into the '90s, but some questionable choices and some really bad movies came towards the end of the decade and ever since, his movies have been, at best, uneven.
These are the 10 best movies– released in theaters – that Eddie Murphy has starred in over his almost four decades in showbiz. Keeping it to ten means that a lot of great movies were left out, such as The Golden Child and Beverly Hills Cop II. His impressive resume is hard to cull down, but it is easy to leave out such disasters as Daddy Day Care, I Spy and Showtime.
10. Harlem Nights (1989)
Eddie Murphy’s first (and only) time directing himself was in Harlem Nights, which completely was panned by the critics. Seriously, it took a beating. That isn’t a fair beating though. Harlem Nights is filled with hilarious performances by some of the biggest names in comedy history; names like Red Foxx, Della Reese, Arsenio Hall, Richard Pryor, and of course, Eddie Murphy himself.
The movie follows the gangster exploits of Quick Brown, Murphy’s character and his mentor and boss, Sugar Ray, played by Richard Pryor. It’s a period piece that actually looks great, with excellent costumes and sets. Most importantly, it’s really creatively funny. Harlem Nights is not as laugh out loud funny, maybe, than Murphy’s previous hits, but it still is really well done. And seriously, anyone that doesn’t laugh when Quick shoots off Vera’s pinky toe, might not have a sense of humor at all.
9. Boomerang (1992)
Boomerang marks the end of an era for Eddie Murphy. It was the end of his first run of huge hits that established him as star in the '80s. He had successfully transitioned from TV to movies in the early '80s, and by 1993, when Boomerang was released, he was at the height of his popularity. It also marks the end of the first era of Eddie Murphy's career that started on SNL 13 years prior.
Boomerang, like Harlem Nights, is subtler than his early movies. The movie and Eddie Murphy himself are more polished and slicker, but the movie is completely hysterical. Supported by an outstanding cast, including the up and coming Martin Lawrence, David Alan Grier, a very young Chris Rock and another up and coming actress name Halle Berry. Murphy shines (almost literally) as a wealthy man with commitment issues, serial dating woman after woman until Robin Givens’ character comes along and gives him a taste of his own medicine.
8. The Nutty Professor (1996)
After taking an almost three-year break from movie making, Eddie Murphy returned in The Nutty Professor and it immediately reestablished him as box office gold. The Nutty Professor was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike, and it completely altered the course of Eddie Murphy’s career, though maybe not for the better. Eddie Murphy stars as the grossly overweight Professor Sherman Klump, who develops a serum that shrinks him down and turns him into the obnoxious, but popular, Buddy Love. Jada Pinkett stars as his love interest and friend, and the rest of the roles in the movie are played by Murphy himself. Like 30 of them.
Well, okay, that’s being dramatic, but Eddie Murphy does play most of the Klump family, six different roles in total, for which he earned huge praise. It was not the first time he played multiple roles in the a movie, but The Nutty Professor is the one that would convince to do it more often. That choice would not always work as well as it did in The Nutty Professor.
7. Dreamgirls (2006)
Dreamgirls was a monster hit, winning all kinds of critical acclaim for the production and for Eddie Murphy himself. It was, in a way, a comeback for Murphy, because with the exception of the animated Shrek movies, Eddie Murphy had put together a string of pretty bad movies. Dreamgirls turned that streak around in a dramatic way.
Eddie Murphy won a Golden Globe for his role as Jimmy Early, a bawdy R&B singer whose career falls apart almost before it gets off the ground. Murphy was also nominated for an Oscar and received widespread acclaim for his performance, the first time that had happened in years. It was all very well deserved as Dreamgirls and Eddie Murphy’s performance in it are both excellent.
6. 48 Hrs (1982)
This is the movie that launched a career. Eddie Murphy co-stars with Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs., a buddy cop movie about a cop (Nolte) who is forced to work with a career con man (Murphy) as they try to track down a crew of cop killers. For playing the role of Reggie Hammond, Eddie Murphy was nominated for a Golden Globe, though it was for an award that is no longer presented - the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year.
It’s hard to believe that Eddie Murphy was only 22 when this film was released. At the time, he was already a budding star as the only funny person in a particular shaky Saturday Night Live cast, and 48 Hrs. truly locked in his star power. His on-screen chemistry with Nick Nolte is perfect and the movie is hilarious. It was not only the launch of his career, but 48 Hrs. is also pretty much responsible for creating a whole genre of buddy cop movies that led to movies like Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour.
5. Shrek (2001)
The enduring legacy of Shrek is undeniable. It has become required viewing for all children of any age. It stays with people forever as anyone from 5 to 50 is likely to be able to quote it extensively… and probably does. Shrek is also the funniest Eddie Murphy has been since his streak of hits in the 1980s. The movie spawned three hit sequels, not to mention a couple of TV specials and amusement park rides, at one point.
Starring Eddie Murphy as the voice “Donkey,” Shrek’s faithful sidekick, who loves boulders and supports Shrek even as Shrek barely tolerates Donkey at times. Murphy steals many a scene in the movie and delivers countless classic lines. Really, it’s one of the few times in Murphy’s later career that delivers as more family-friendly Eddie Murphy. Part of what he lost when he stopped starring in rated R movies, he regained in Shrek, but without the dirty language.
4. Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987)
On the opposite side of the Eddie Murphy spectrum from Shrek is Eddie Murphy: Raw. Raw is decidedly NOT family friendly, but it is a one-of-a-kind concert/standup film that is, without a doubt, some of the funniest 90 minutes of standup ever delivered. Raw was Eddie Murphy at the pinnacle of his comedic powers.
Sure, it’s insanely politically incorrect. Hell, it was politically incorrect in the '80s when it was released in 1987; some of the jokes are downright offense today. But my God are they funny. How many standup acts are released as full-fledged theatrical releases? Not many, and that alone shows just how insanely popular Eddie Murphy was at the time. Not only was it good enough for theaters, it made over $51 million in 1987 dollars! For a comparison, another hit movie in 1987 was Robocop and it made about $53 million. $51 million for a standup concert movie is just crazy!
3. Trading Places (1983)
Eddie Murphy’s character Billy Ray Valentine (Capricorn) in Trading Places was the perfect role for him. He was a down and out homeless man, plucked from the streets by the ultra-wealthy Duke brothers so they can play a game of social engineering by turning Valentine into a successful banker while simultaneously ruining the career and life of a successful banker, played by Dan Aykroyd.
Eddie Murphy’s star was burning red hot at this point in his career, and it shows in this performance. He was again nominated for a Golden Globe for Trading Places, but that hardly matters because what it does best is show how freaking funny he is from the start to the end. In a film filled with comedic geniuses, like Dan Aykroyd and Don Ameche, Eddie Murphy truly outshines them all as the star of Trading Places.
2. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
After starring with Dudley Moore in the bomb Best Defense in the summer of 1984, critics questioned if that brightly burning star from Trading Places had burned out. Well, by Christmas of that year, that question was answered with a resounded “no way!” with the release and massive success of Beverly Hills Cop. Part comedy and part action flick, Beverly Hills Cop took in an insane $316 million on a $15 million budget!
Beverly Hills Cop without a doubt established how huge a star Eddie Murphy had become because not only was it a huge hit, but the movie about a Detroit cop that goes to Beverly Hills to investigate his buddy’s murder in a classic fish out of water story is brilliant everywhere and Murphy’s performance is about as perfect as a performance in a comedy can get. It is absolutely brilliant and also spawned a bit of a franchise, with rumors that a 4th movie is possible.
1. Coming To America (1988)
There are a million reason why Coming To America is at the top of this list, but most of all, over the years, it has become an undisputed classic that transcends generations. It’s a timeless love story combined with a brilliant comedy that isn’t a romcom. In it, Eddie Murphy, for the first time, plays multiple roles, and the scenes in the barber shop are worth the price of admission alone.
His co-star Arsenio Hall also plays multiple roles and together they are fantastic. The movie’s reputation has only grown over the years, and things like pop-up McDowell’s restaurants and finally, a long-awaited sequel are just a couple of examples of how enduring Coming To America has been. It really is Eddie Murphy at his very best in every way.
So, with sequels to classics on their way and maybe a reboot or two, will we see a renaissance in Eddie Murphy's career and a return to the kind of movies that made him the king of comedy in the eighties? We can certainly hope so!
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Hugh Scott doesn’t believe aliens are hidden at Area 51 or that Elvis is alive, but he does believe birds are real and Meghan Markle isn’t treated fairly by the tabloids. He’s been writing about music, movies, and celebrities for most of his adult life after realizing stocking shelves in a paper warehouse in college wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
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