Eddie Murphy's Great 8 Film Performances

November 6, 2012

If you ask ten people what it is that makes Eddie Murphy great, you'll probably get ten different answers. Some will say it was his iconic run on "Saturday Night Live" in the early eighties, while others will point to his early stand-up comedy career. Many others will think of him first and foremost as a film star, though they'll be split between his raunchy comedies, buddy cop films, and dramatic turns.

The one constant is that Murphy is a performer with an incredible range both within and outside of every conceivable genre of entertainment. Just in choosing his eight most outstanding film performances, we're struck by his versatility.

Here, then, are eight of the greatest film performances of the man Spike will honor with its special "Eddie Murphy: One Night Only," airing Wednesday, November 14th at 10/9c.

48 Hours

Source: John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Moviepix/Getty Images

The action comedy flick was Murphy's first major motion picture and immediately transformed him in the public eye from a standout on "Saturday Night Live" to a legitimate box office draw. Murphy starred as a convict brought out on a two-day leave to assist a police detective (Nick Nolte) in capturing a former associate. The film wasn't just a hit, it actually created a formula (if not an entire genre) for buddy cop films that is still being replicated.

Trading Places

Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Murphy's second feature film was more of a traditional comedy that played more to the familiarity audiences had with him through his roles on "Saturday Night Live." In the film, Murphy stars as Billy Ray Valentine, a streetwise grifter who unknowingly becomes part of an elaborate experimental wager from a pair of wealthy brothers. Through their manipulation, he exchanges positions on the socio-economic hierarchy with fellow SNL alum Dan Akroyd, with hilarious results. It's a familiar story, owing largely to folk tales such as "The Prince and the Pauper," yet Murphy's approach and delivery produces something wholly unique.

Beverly Hills Cop

Source: Paramount

Two years after he helped more or less create the buddy cop genre, Murphy returned to the formula in an altogether different yet still thoroughly entertaining film. This time his partner was Judd Reinhold, another young star who had just broken through with a performance in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." It's arguably Murphy's most memorable and iconic film on this list.

Eddie Murphy: RAW

Source: John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Moviepix/Getty Images

Equal parts engrossing and hilarious, Murphy's second stand-up film was directed by Robert Townsend and mixed observational humor with anecdotes of his life as a film star. In one of the more controversial highlights of the film, Murphy tells the story of receiving a lecture over the phone from Bill Cosby over his use of profanity. He then calls Richard Pryor, whose reaction is…well, what you would expect. Few are spared in his act, as he lampoons relationships, people who sued him for a nightclub brawl, Italian-Americans obsessed with the film "Rocky," and even his own mother. At the time of its release, it held the distinction of having the most occurrences of the f-word, a record that was broken just a few years later in 1990's "Goodfellas."

Coming to America

Source: Paramount

If there is one single film that plays to all of Murphy's comedic strengths it's 1988's "Coming to America," which combines his star power, charisma, and ability to portray a wide variety of characters in a comedic tour de force. The highlights of the film are too numerous to mention, and deserve their own article (which you'll see later this week on Spike.com).

The Nutty Professor

Source: Universal

Just when it had seemed that Murphy was winding down his career, he reinvented himself as a family-friendly comic lead with his turn in Disney's 1996 remake of "The Nutty Professor," playing the titular character who undergoes a dramatic physical and mental transformation after creating a formula for weight loss. The film also features a return to Murphy's trademark of playing multiple characters, highlighted by a brilliant and memorable scene where he plays every member of the Klump family at the dinner table. Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!


Source: Universal

In 1999, Murphy took a departure from his recent spate of family friendly comedies to play a Hollywood star and the lookalike who replaces him in Steve Martin's scathing indictment of Hollywood culture. "Bowfinger" remains one of Murphy's most critically successful movies, and in the years after its release achieved cult status, with many placing it in the pantheon of comedic films.


Source: Dreamworks

The final film on our list also remains the only one where Murphy was nominated for an Oscar, owing to the Academy's hesitation to nominate American comedies. In his portrayal of fictional R&B singer James "Thunder" Early, Murphy combines his talent for singing (exhibited in decades of impersonating acts like James Brown and his own music career) with a dramatic performance that stands out amongst an already star-studded cast.

It's finally time to pay an all-star tribute to comedy's original rock star. Tune in to Eddie Murphy: One Night Only on Wednesday, November 14 at 10/9c on SPIKE.

Comedy's Original Rock Star
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