The Movie Everyone Dunks on Eddie Murphy for Was Actually a Giant Hit and the Director Now Runs Hollywood

The legacy of ‘Norbit’ is larger than that of every film reviewer who called it a legendary cinematic turd
The Movie Everyone Dunks on Eddie Murphy for Was Actually a Giant Hit and the Director Now Runs Hollywood

Eddie Murphy’s critical flop Norbit has been the butt of thousands of jokes that were all even less funny than the movie itself, but both Murphy and his director Brian Robbins have had last laughs.

Upon its release in 2007, Norbit was met with a wave of abysmal, disparaging and downright insulting reviews. Case in point: Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club wrote of the film, “It probably isn’t possible for a single movie to reverse all social progress made since the civil-rights era, but Norbit, the latest broadside from Eddie Murphy, does its best to turn back the clock.” With a 9-percent approval rating and eight Razzie nominations, Norbit is likely the most hated film Murphy has ever made.

And yet, despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the critical community, Norbit grossed $159 million at the box office on a $60 million budget, it sparked a partnership between Murphy and Robbins that would extend for two more films and the disparaged director is now President and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon. The number of Razzie voters running major Hollywood studios, meanwhile, remains zero.

Murphy made Norbit following the massive success of Shrek and its sequels as DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg sought to retain the talents of his biggest hit’s biggest star. Murphy wrote the screenplay about the nerdy yet likable Norbit who seeks to escape his obese abusive wife Rasputia after watching videos on the internet of large women beating up scrawny men and finding the visual hilarious enough to play three different parts in a movie based on that premise.

When Norbit premiered, it was decried by activists and critics for its heavy reliance on racial stereotypes, its demeaning depiction of women and, most of all, for being unfunny. Still, audiences flocked to Norbit in droves to get three times the Eddie Murphy they got from their usual films — his performance(s) carried the film to a massive profit despite the bleating and caterwauling from critics who insisted that Norbit was the death of all art.

The Hollywood Reporter asked Robbins about the massive backlash Norbit received from critics, but the director simply pointed to the ticket sales, saying, “Is the audience that stupid? Is America’s taste that bad? I don’t think so. … If you read reviews on a consistent basis on all films, you realize that the majority of films just get murdered. The only films that get good reviews are the ones that nobody sees. I just don’t think you can make movies for critics.” 

Robbins described his approach as, “Don’t pay attention to tracking, and don’t read the reviews. ... Funny trumps. Work with movie stars.” And work with them he did — Robbins, who also directed such 1990s hits as Good Burger and Varsity Blues, made two more films after Norbit, both with Eddie Murphy. Though Meet Dave and A Thousand Words weren’t box office hits the way Norbit was, Robbins accrued enough industry experience to begin climbing the ladder behind the scenes as he rose through the ranks at Nickelodeon and Viacom before becoming president of Nickelodeon in 2018. Three years later, Robbins became head of Paramount Pictures as well.

All this after Murphy put on a fat suit and made critics cry. “Funny” trumps indeed.

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