Beverly Hills Cop: Revisiting Eddie Murphy’s Best Movie

We look back at 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, which remains perhaps the definitive Eddie Murphy classic.

The heat is most definitely on in this episode of revisited, as we’re looking back on a quintessential piece of 1980s action / comedy movie-making, that helped to launch the career of American funnyman Eddie Murphy into the stratosphere. That’s right folk, with the much anticipated fourth entry in the series on the horizon, we’re taking a retrospective look at the Axel F infused goodness that is Beverly Hills Cop. OK, well, I guess part four isn’t necessarily ‘much anticipated’ across the entire movie-world, but Eddie Murphy has had somewhat of a career resurgence in recent times and apart from a slightly tame and disappointing Coming 2 America, and the relative appeal of You People, he’s made a positive return the spotlight. Part four is currently slated, as per time of writing this video, for 2024 but there have been whispers about it possibly surfacing on Netflix, or perhaps even theatrically first, later in 2023. Of course, this is all conjecture as there’s no word from the streaming giant as of yet, but if Netflix decide the test screenings have been strong enough, and they can get it locked and loaded in time, then who knows. For now though, sit back, enjoy your prawn salad sandwich and pop a couple of bananas in a tailpipe as we look back on the endlessly quotable Eddie Murphy classic, Beverly Hills Cop!

Ah, 1984, the golden year that gave us melty-faced dream-bothering psychopaths, time traveling cyborgs, giant sandworms, malevolent, yet hilarious, Gremlins, plus the start of the global phenomenon that was Ghostbusters, to name but a few. I could go on to list many more big screen classics that are still much loved and re-watched today; Val Kilmer killing it in Top Secret for example, or the glorious horror-show that is The Company of Wolves. However, some restraint is in order as, although the year was stellar for film in many ways, it also helped us get acquainted with a character, and a star on the rise in Eddie Murphy, that is not just unforgettable but iconic in its own right. 

There was even a time in which Beverly Hills Cop was the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time, a stat which may surprise some, however the movie deserves any accolades thrown at it for many reasons. It features many of the classic tropes of the action comedy genre, the fish out of water aspect, the beyond endearing buddy cop trio of Murphy’s Axel Foley alongside the sometimes hapless Rosewood and Taggart, played by the excellent Judge Reinhold and John Ashton respectively. The plot of the movie sees Murphy’s wise-cracking, trigger-mouthed, Detroit police officer, who travels to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his old friend. Along the way he encounters a wonderful array of colorful characters, great set-pieces and violence that set the benchmark for such movies to often imitate after its release. 

It was way back in 1977 that the concept for the movie was first developed. The sadly late Don Simpson was a Paramount executive at the time and dreamed up an idea that saw a cop from East L.A. transfer to Beverly Hills. The movie was originally titled Beverly Drive and screenwriter Danilo Bach initially delivered a script that leaned heavily more into action, and the project subsequently faltered. However, buoyed by the success of the Adrian Lyne dance drama Flashdance, Simpson saw the opportunity to resurrect his fish out of water cop flick and brought on Daniel Petrie Jr. to rewrite the script. The studio loved the humour that Petrie Jr. had added to the script and the character was also rewritten with the name Axel Elly, rather than Bach’s initial moniker for the character, Elly Axel. To be honest, neither of those reversed names scream out ‘tough wise-cracking all-action cop’ so the name they eventually went with, Axel Foley is a much better fit for the character.

Beverly Hills cop axel foley

With the movie ready to go into production the studio had to choose just who would fill the shoes of Axel Foley and take on directorial duties also. Although you can’t imagine anybody but Eddie Murphy playing the role it’s fascinating to look back on who they initially approached for the character. One such name, that would be a ridiculous suggestion nowadays but albeit a solid choice in the 80s, was Mickey Rourke. His star was on the rise thanks to early roles in movies such as 1981’s Body Heat and Rumble Fish from 1983. He had great movie-star presence, good looks and a rogue-ish charm that could have added a different but admittedly intriguing spin on the character. He even signed a holding contract with the studio for $400,000 but after the film’s pre-production dragged on longer than expected, he left to take on another project.

Another, and even bigger movie star, was also attached to the project once Rourke had left; the legendary ‘Italian Stallion’ himself, Sylvester Stallone, who dramatically re-wrote the script so that all of the humour was gone and it was back to being an all out action epic. Stallone also rewrote several of the main characters, changing Billy Rosewood to ‘Simmons’ and killing him off halfway through the narrative in one of the action scenes. He also changed the name of the main character to Axel Cobretti and has since described that his vision for the movie would have “looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy.” That’s not a bad concept for an action movie to be fair but looking back on what the movie eventually became, it’s a massive departure from what the studio were looking for. 

In fact, producer Don Simpson was vocal about not wanting to go ahead with Stallone’s script, in which the main character spent too long ‘soaping down his muscles’, an image you could most definitely associate with the actor. Also, according to legend, Simpson managed to get Stallone off the project by sending him to Switzerland to see a doctor who specialised in ‘youth treatments’ by injecting sheep hormones that increased tumescence in his patients. Nice. A quick google search of that term brings some interesting results. Stallone’s name went straight to the top of the list and in the meantime Simpson and fellow producer Jerry Bruckheimer persuaded Eddie Murphy to take the role and Stallone went on to star in the less than stellar Rhinestone in 1984. Of course, we can’t clarify the validity of that story but this is tinseltown we’re talking about here, so anything is possible. Despite Murphy ultimately being offered the role, several other names were attached to the project that are worth mentioning, including Al Pacino, Richard Pryor, James Caan and Indy himself, Harrison Ford who also reportedly turned down the role.

Beverly Hills cop Eddie Murphy

It’s not just the title star who makes the movie so memorable, however, as Murphy is backed up by a tremendous cast consisting of the aforementioned Judge Reinhold and John Ashton as Beverly Hills cops Rosewood and Taggard, who prove the perfect straight laced foil to Murphy’s snarky Foley. We also get Robocop veteran Ronny Cox as Lieutenant Bobomil, Lisa Eilbacher as Foley’s former acquaintance Jenny Summers, Steven Berkoff as slimy bad guy Victor Mailand plus Better Call Saul legend Jonathan Banks as henchman Zack. Rounding out the main players is the superb Gilbert R. Hall as Foley’s take no bullshit superioras well as Aliens and more recently Stranger Things star Paul Reiser, plus the unforgettable Bronson Pinchot as the scene stealing Serge.

While the process of finding the star of the movie had been something of a chore for the studio, the process of hiring the film’s director was somewhat more straightforward. Martin Scorsese was offered the gig but turned it down as he felt the concept for the movie was too similar to that of 1968’s Coogan’s Bluff and even body horror maestro David Cronenberg was offered the chance to direct the movie. You can see Scorsese making a typically sweary, violent, hard-edged cop thriller, and I’d pay good money to see it, however, I’d love to see what Cornenberg would have done with the concept. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been bananas going into that tailpipe…! Ultimately it was the great Martin Brest who was hired to helm the movie and, despite his dismissal from WarGames in 1983, he delivered exactly what was required for both the film’s star and studio.

There’s a scene towards the beginning of Beverly Hills Cop that helps to establish the key relationship between Axel Foley and his Beverly Hills counterparts that sums up what works so well about the movie. After being arrested for allegedly breaking into Viktor Maitland’s office, in a scene that ends with one of the funniest lines in the film, Foley, Rosewood and Taggart meet for the first time and sparks fly, ending with Taggart punching Foley in the gut. It’s the perfect set-up for the relationship between the characters later in the movie, not just because it establishes just how easily Foley gets under the skin of his usually calm and collective counterparts, but also because Taggarts’ forced apology shows just how much of a fish out of water Foley is in Beverly Hills.

After Axel Foley’s friend is murdered in cold blood in Detroit, he heads to Beverly Hills to track down the killer, after hearing from his former friend about a security job he had there, courtesy of a mutual acquaintance, Jenny Summers. Mike had also shown Axel some German bearer bonds he had acquired, which ultimately led to his cold blooded killing outside of Foley’s apartment. After Foley reluctantly agrees with Inspector Todd that he’ll leave the case alone and get his head wound treated at the hospital, he betrays his trust and goes after some retribution. What follows is not only an iconic, violent and extremely funny movie, but one that holds up pretty well a few decades later. Sure, there may not be the flashy quick cuts utilized by many recent action movies but this works in the film’s favour. Each scene is crafted in a measured but very efficient way, with the characters and situations they find themselves in given room to breath and the gags when they arrive, come thick and fast with a natural set-up.

The action is also well handled, especially an opening truck chase with Foley hanging off the back of a speeding juggernaut as it carves its way through the city streets, demolishing cars, and almost pedestrians, as it goes. Director Brest keeps the action beats coming with aplomb and although the violence is blunt and effective, it serves as the perfect foil to the comedy. Murphy’s relationship with Rosewood and Taggart is a touching highlight and there’s a nice moment of their two worlds colliding, with the Beverly Hills cops being roasted by their colleagues for the banana in the tailpipe incident, just as Murphy had been by his own compadres for messing up the drugs bust at the start of the movie.

The real beating heart of the movie then, is the key trio of Foley and the initially hapless, but ultimately indispensable Rosewood and Taggart. Murphy brings his trademark slick and witty sense of humour to Axel Foley, not giving a flying f**k about bending the rules, or lying about interviewing famous pop stars to get a room in a luxury hotel. However, it’s his interactions with the seemingly moronic Rosewood and the stiff as a board Taggart where the movie really shines. Also, we can’t write a retrospective review on the movie without mentioning the amazing synth score ‘Axel F’ by Harold Faltermeyer that pops up in key moments in the film.

Eddie murphy movies

In fact, the soundtrack for the movie, and ‘Axel F’ by Faltermeyer in particular, was a major contributing factor to the success of the movie overall. The composer was originally best known for his work on the Top Gun soundtrack as well as the music and score for the Fletch movies, starring Chevy Chase. Axel F proved so popular that it reached number one in several charts around the world and is easily one of the most memorable elements of the movie. The track was originally written solely for a small part of the movie but once Faltermeyer realised the potential for the catchy tune he persuaded the studio to use it as the main overarching theme throughout the film.

Also, how many kids asked for a Yahama keyboard from Santa Claus after seeing the movie and hearing the score for the first time? I know of at least one…Thanks Santa.

LEGACY / NOW: Beverly Hills Cop hit theaters on December 5th, 1984 at 1,532 cinemas in the US, opening at number one at the box office with a gross of $15,214,805 over its first five days of release. The movie stayed at number one for thirteen consecutive weeks and eventually tied with the Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootsie for the most weeks at the top spot. It eventually grossed an impressive total of $234,760,478 and, as we touched upon a little earlier in this retrospective, it was the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time until eventually being surpassed by The Matrix Reloaded in 2003.

Reviews of the movie were largely very positive and it currently holds an approval rating of 83% from 54 critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The initial response to the movie was also positive with the New York Times stating that, “Beverly Hills Cop finds Eddie Murphy doing what he does best: playing the shrewdest, hippest, fastest-talking underdog in a rich man’s world. Eddie Murphy knows exactly what he’s doing, and he wins at every turn.” Also full of praise was Time magazine who wrote that, “Eddie Murphy exuded the kind of cheeky, cocky charm that has been missing from the screen since Cagney was a pup, snarling his way out of the ghetto.” The role of Axel Foley is arguably what Murphy is most famous for, unless you’re under the age of ten and have a penchant for talking donkeys that is.As well as an excellent box office return and critical praise, the movie also won several awards, and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

As always, let us know your thoughts on Beverly Hills Cop in the comments section and keep a look-out for more from Axel Foley and friends, as we dive into the inevitable sequel in our next episode here on Revisited. Were they able to capture the same humour and wild spirit in part two? Stay tuned to find out movie fans!

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