He’s the man of a thousand faces but Eddie Murphy is also the man of thousand careers – covering everything from hits, misses, stand-up, slapstick, drama, action, animation and sketch TV (not to mention singing one of the worst songs of all time…) Coming up fast in the early ’80s from stage to SNL to superstardom, Murphy burst onto the A-list with some of the greatest comedy performances of all time and the biggest charisma in Hollywood.
As we get ready to welcome the Prince (now King) of Zamunda back for Coming 2 America, it’s time to rank the best Eddie Murphy movies…
Murphy’s voice was always going to light up any animation, but 1998’s Mulan didn’t really let him shine. Instead, it took a talking donkey in Dreamworks’ anti-Disney blockbuster to prove just how perfect Murphy’s motor-mouth could be in a kids’ film when he’s allowed to adlib. Turning Donkey into something much more than a toy-line, Murphy gave Shrek its heart, its soul, and most of its best lines. Three sequels followed, and so did every comedy cartoon sidekick since.
Best Murphy moment: “But you only look like this at night. Shrek’s ugly 24/7.”
9Dr. Dolittle (1998)
Murphy’s stock took a nosedive in the ’90s but he found an unlikely new outlet in family comedies. While a lot of his kids’ films have been missteps (see The Adventures Of Pluto Nash…), Dr. Dolittle showed Murphy’s sweet side at its best – playing a straight-laced surgeon who starts getting manic when he wakes up understanding the barks and grunts of wild animals. Written-off as a lightweight at the time, it’s now a bank holiday classic that stands up far better than The Nutty Professor. (Also, it looks like a masterpiece next to Robert Downey Jr’s recent Dolittle remake…)
Best Murphy moment: “Nobody likes a drunk monkey.”
Raw hasn’t aged well. While Murphy later apologised for his infamous AIDS joke in 1983’s Delirious, he shrugged away the worst bits of his follow-up by telling Vanity Fair, “I was a young guy processing a broken heart, you know, kind of an asshole”. Dated as it is, Raw is still one of the ballsiest stand-up performances ever recorded – a show full of average jokes made great by the ferocious, grand-standing, history-making energy of a rockstar comedian on top of the world. If Raw proves anything, it’s that no one was a better asshole than Murphy in 1987.
Best Murphy moment: [On Bill Cosby] “Jello-pudding eating motherfucker…”
Another bad run in the 2000s saw Murphy in sore need of another comeback (or another Shrek sequel), which made his frenzied, tragic, Golden Globe-winning turn in Dreamgirls all the better – coming out of nowhere to prove that Murphy can do drama as well as comedy. Playing James ‘Thunder’ Early (modelled on James Brown), Murphy shows us both sides of the celebrity curtain, from hip-thrusting showman to crumpled self-loathing has-been – clearly dancing dangerously close to his own experiences with both. With Norbit released right in the middle of his failed Oscar campaign (giving rise to a new industry term of self-sabotage called “The Norbit effect”), it’s a great shame that Murphy has rarely bothered to challenge himself in the same way since.
Best Murphy moment: “Jimmy want a rib! Jimmy want a steak! Jimmy want piece of yo chocolate cake!”
6Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Fast-forward through yet another career downswing in the 2010s and Murphy was ready for his third (fourth?) comeback with a film that saw him deliver his most honest and personal performance to date. A loose biopic of forgotten stand-up, Blaxploitation star and loveable hustler Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite Is My Name basically sees Murphy playing a guy who dreams of being Eddie Murphy. Funny and poignant in equal measure, it’s rare to see so many sides of Murphy at once, and rarer still to see him make something so sweet out of a sweary film featuring no talking animals.
Best Murphy moment: “Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!”
548 Hrs. (1982)
Without Eddie Murphy, we wouldn’t have the buddy cop movie – which means he probably deserves a special thanks on the credits of everything from Lethal Weapon to Turner And Hooch. Technically only one half of 48 Hrs. (and billed second behind Nick Nolte), Murphy was the real reason the film spawned such a successful genre – setting the standard for quick-talking, wise-cracking, loveable hotheads partnered with stuffy old stooges. 48 Hrs. marked the first time Murphy had acted on screen outside of SNL – and it’s one of the most electrifying film debuts of all time.
Best Murphy moment: “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows.”
4Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Jerry Bruckheimer’s era defining action comedy started life as a gritty thriller for Sylvester Stallone (which opened in WWII on the Normandy beaches). Then 48 Hrs. happened. Retooled into a comedy vehicle to let Murphy’s charisma take the lead, Beverly Hills Cop is basically stand-up with car chases – and it still looks box-fresh more than 30 years later thanks to Murphy’s golden-boy charm and razor-sharp delivery. It’s also got a pretty cool theme song.
Best Murphy moment: [Blagging his way into a fancy hotel] “Who do you think I am, huh? I’m a small reporter from Rolling Stone magazine that’s in town to do an exclusive interview with Michael Jackson that’s gonna be picked up by every major magazine in the country!”
Often overlooked as just another zany Steve Martin movie, Bowfinger is one of the most underrated films of Murphy’s career – and one of the savviest comedies ever made about the moviemaking business. Martin takes the title role but Murphy gets both of the best supporting parts, playing frazzled action star Kit Ramsey and his goofy little brother Jiff at the same time. Losing his mind and shouting at interns while giggling at Heather Graham’s boobs and panic-running across a busy motorway, Kit and Jiff gift us two of Murphy’s greatest characters in one cynical, silly, perfectly-written pastiche.
Best Murphy moment: “A black dude who plays a slave that gets his ass whipped gets the nomination, a white guy who plays an idiot gets the Oscar.”
2Coming To America (1988)
A lifelong fan of Peter Sellers, one of Murphy’s greatest strengths is his knack for playing multiple characters in the same film. At its worst, that gives us the fart scene in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, at its best it gets us the barbershop in Coming To America – a brilliantly self-contained sketch show in the middle of a flawless fish-out-water comedy that’s already overflowing with charm. Watching Murphy’s gleefully lovesick African prince find himself in New York is already enough to make Coming To America one of the best comedies of the ’80s, but watching him have so much fun playing an old barber, an elderly Jewish bloke and the lead singer of Sexual Chocolate at the same time makes it a bona fide classic.
Best Murphy moment: “Semmi, look at this! America is great indeed. Imagine a country so free, one can throw glass on the streets!”
1Trading Places (1983)
There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about Trading Places, a screwball social farce that looks like it could have been made in the 1930’s with looser teeth to sink into racism, class and the American Dream. Dan Ackroyd shines as the rich kid gone poor, but it’s Murphy who steals the film as Billy Ray Valentine – the penniless street hustler who gets dragged into a social experiment and ends up conning the New York stock exchange from the back of a limo. Whatever else John Landis’ landmark comedy has to say about prejudice and opportunity, it’s always Murphy who says it best – believably tragic, effortlessly cool, and bursting with the kind of star energy that makes him one of the fastest, funniest, greatest comedians of his generation.
Best Murphy moment: [Busted by 20 cops for not stealing a briefcase, hiding under a table and flashing his million-dollar grin] “Is there a problem officer?”