When it comes to box office gold, few comedians have had the star power and pull that Eddie Murphy has had ever since gracing the screen in the ‘80s. His movies have grossed more $3.8 billion worldwide and he easily became one of Hollywood’s sought after stars and a leading comedian in mainstream culture. In addition to acting, he has also written and produced some of his biggest hits, including the fan favorite Coming to America.
In the early 1980s, Murphy first earned national attention as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and has even been credited with helping to revitalize the show. From then on, Murphy went to star in huge hit movies such as Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and more. In honor of his latest anticipated film, Coming 2 America (set for release on Amazon Prime March 5), and his appearance on the cover of the March/April issue of ESSENCE, we’re taking a look back at 15 iconic Eddie Murphy characters.
Then: Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy)
The jaded Prince of Zamunda was full of hope that he could find someone who cared more about his personality than his position.
BIlly Ray in Trading Places
In Trading Places, Murphy played Billy Ray Valentine, a hustler who crosses paths with an upper-class broker (Dan Aykroyd) with whom he trades lives. The film was considered a box-office success upon its release, earning over $90.4 million, and received generally positive reviews. Although starring aside fellow comedian and SNL alum Aykroyd, Murphy became one of the highest-paid and talked-about comedians in Hollywood after the movie debuted. Immediately after Trading Places’ release, Paramount Pictures signed Murphy to an exclusive contract worth $25 million and also agreed to finance his production studio.
Sherman Klump/Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor & The Nutty Professor II
The Nutty Professor, and its sequel, The Nutty Professor II: Meet the Klumps were instantly successful when they debuted at the box office in 1996 and 2000, respectively. The franchise saw Murphy play the iconic roles of Sherman Klump, Buddy Love, and most of the Klump family members, which made for delightful fun amongst both fans and critics alike. The first film has grossed over $273 million worldwide.
Dr. John Dolittle in Doctor Dolittle
Another cult classic due to Murphy’s performance and the adorable plot, Doctor Dolittle debuted at number #1 at the box office. The family-friendly film was received warmly by audiences and garnered enough success for multiple follow-up sequels. The soundtrack also spawned Aaliyah’s hit “Are You That Somebody?” and other songs that climbed the charts.
Maximilian in Vampire in Brooklyn
Not only did Murphy serve as one of the movie’s producers and its main lead, but he also wrote the film’s script. Directed as a horror-comedy film by Wes Craven, it’s since become a cult classic and developed its own legacy. Although it wasn’t an immediate success at the time, the movie has gone on to be an outlier of typical horror-comedy plots. The movie also starred Angela Bassett, Kadeem Harrison, John Witherspoon, and Allen Payne, who have all since looked back at the film with deep appreciation as an underrated film of its nature.
Vernest “Quick” Brown in Harlem Nights
Executive produced and directed by Murphy himself (it remains his only directorial film), Harlem Nights is considered a classic film within Black culture. The movie co-stars the legendary Richard Pryor (whom Murphy considered his greatest influence within stand-up comedy) and Redd Foxx, (another one of his comedic idols), in supporting roles and marks his late brother Charlie’s first film debut. The film became a financial success, securing $95 million.
Marcus Graham in Boomerang
Another movie considered a staple within the Black community is none other than the 1992 film Boomerang. The talented ensemble cast ensemble included Halle Berry, Robin Givens, David Alan Grier, Grace Jones, Martin Lawrence, and Chris Rock, and is often considered an underrated rom-com classic. Nonetheless, the film had made its mark and even produced a successful soundtrack. The film’s cultural impact is so long-lasting BET was able to produce a series based on the original film in 2019.
Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop
Beverly Hills Cop was Murphy’s first solo leading role and helped shoot the actor to international stardom in 1984. The movie went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies of that year (raking in $234 million) and stayed at number #1 at the box office for 13 consecutive weeks. It’s also the third highest-grossing rated R film of all time, after The Exorcist and The Godfather. There are even reported talks of Netflix making a fourth film to add to the popular franchise.
Reggie Hammond in 48 Hrs
48 Hrs is Murphy’s debut film and helped cement the actor’s ability to take the lead on the big screen. Widely regarded as one of the best films of 1982, the film premiered to positive acclaim as an action-packed comedy with notable chemistry between its two leads. Starting alongside Nick Nolte, the film is considered the first of the “buddy cop” drama series, and Murphy was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as Reggie Hammond.
Jimmy “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls
In Dreamgirls, Murphy plays the role of Jimmy “Thunder” Early, an R&B star whose character falls on hard times when his former backup singers, the Dreamettes, find success. His role in the massive 2006 hit earned him countless nominations, including a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BET Award, and an NAACP Image Award. He won the Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor.
Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name
Dolemite Is My Name debuted on Netlfix in 2019, and earned Murphy a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and earned praise and acclaim from critics upon its release, with some calling his performance “glorious.” The film is based on the life of filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore, who is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the on-screen character, Dolemite. In addition to his Golden Globe nod, Murphy was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his portrayal.
Donkey In Shrek
Known as the beloved, and arguably most popular, character of the entire franchise besides Shrek himself, Murphy’s character Donkey was an instant hit with both fans and critics once the movie premiered in 2001. Murphy became the first actor to ever receive a BAFTA nomination for a voice-over performance and reprised his role for the three subsequent movies in the Dreamworks franchise.
Mushu in Mulan
As the beloved dragon Mushu, Murphy once again lent his voice to create another classic character in the 1998 animated film, Mulan. The movie went on to become another Disney-Pixar classic and was a success for the studio. In the film, Mushu serves as a guardian and voice of reason and encouragement for the young warrior throughout her journey. Fun fact: Murphy recorded his lines from the comfort of his very own home.
Darnell Davis in Tower Heist
Tower Heist, in which Murphy co-starred with Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, and Gabourey Sidibe, hit theatres in 2011. While each actor received positive praise for their performances, most of it went to Murphy whom critics felt returned to his original form of comedic acting in this flick. Universally, the consensus amongst critics was that Murphy “dominated the picture” and reminded them of the streetwise roles he was known for earlier in his career.
Charlie Hinton in Daddy Day Care
Although the movie was negatively received by critics, Daddy Day Care went on to become a fan favorite in the family-friendly genre Murphy has effortlessly been able to participate in over the past few decades. The 2003 comedy film had two subsequent sequels following the buzz that surrounded the film’s debut.