When Eddie Murphy became famous, it happened with the sureness and speed of one of his lightning standup routines. He was only 19 when he rang Saturday Night Live talent coordinator Neil Levy to plead for a slot on the TV show that has created more comedy superstars than any other. That was September 1980. A mere 20 months (about 1 and a half years) later, he would be shooting his first film, 48 Hrs., and sharing the lead with Nick Nolte.
48 Hrs. (1982) pairs the smooth-talking comedian alongside grumpy ole 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.
But perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that Murphy’s prodigious talent would send him to the heights of global cinematic stardom. After all, the supremely confident SNL cast member had been telling school classmates he would be famous, before deciding he would be a comedian, aged 15, after hearing a Richard Pryor live album.
Murphy has made a few brilliant films since the peak of his popularity – Bowfinger (1999) and Shrek (2001) in particular – but the hugely influential Brooklyn-born comic made the 80s his own. Get tickets for 48 Hrs. (Dec 4 & Dec 7)
With a winning formula quickly established, it was clear that Trading Places (1983) would become a sophomore hit for Murphy when it landed at the US box office in June 1983. Murphy again co-leads alongside a self-regarding white male (Dan Aykroyd, brilliantly smug) who becomes his friend, and once again there’s winning chemistry and much amusement to be had with the friction between the pair. If the film’s blacking up, gratuitous female nudity, and occasionally homophobic dialogue date proceedings somewhat, there doesn’t appear to be malice in John Landis’s hilarious reworking of The Prince and the Pauper – even if it does look sketchy by modern standards. Sharing the screen with a host of greats, including Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis, Murphy’s performance, which includes a fine prison cell karate scene and perhaps the best look-to-camera in 80s cinema, was Golden Globe-nominated. Get Tickets for Trading Places (Dec 11 & Dec 14)
Streetwise Detroit cop Axel Foley was his first lead role and remains his most famous character; Beverly Hills Cop (1984) may even be his best film. It’s a fine fish-out-of-water romp full of ace wisecracks, incompetent and uptight Cali cops (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold), and a sleek, none-more-80s synth score from Harold Faltermeyer. Steven Berkoff is in fine form as a nefarious art gallery owner, and Gilbert R. Hill’s Inspector Todd may just be the best angry cop on the big screen. His incandescent locker room exchange with Foley and the more circumspect scene where he orders the latter to attend the hospital make the film worth watching by themselves.
Released in December, Beverly Hills Cop would become the highest-grossing film of 1984. 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. Get Tickets for Beverly Hills Cop (Nov 27 & Nov 30)
Another Murphy standup film, delighting critics and doing brisk business at the box office. It’s still the biggest-grossing standup film to have been released on the big screen.
Coming to America (1988) saw Murphy use his production company to hire Trading Places director John Landis, after the latter had a string of flops (the pair reputedly fell out on set but would reunite on Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994). This time, aside from having the power to choose his director, Murphy had full story credit, and played the lead and three other roles. Although the film is a bit too schmaltzy for its own good, there are still many belly laughs to be had in the hilarious antics of a fictional African prince who journeys to Queens, New York, to find a bride.
The largely black support is also packed to the gills with top actors and about-to-be superstars, with James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, Arsenio Hall, Eriq La Salle, and Samuel L. Jackson all providing memorable support. Beyond that, there are moments of invention as good as anything in Murphy’s career: the Soul Glo commercial (sung by Murphy, obvs) and Randy Watson’s performance with his band Sexual Chocolate in particular. Get Tickets for Coming to America (Dec 18 & Dec 21)
This is the 19Eddie's, a salute to Eddie Murphy, his decade of dominance, and one of the most underrated blockbuster runs of all time.