‘Trading Places’ at 40 Has Something for Everyone to Hate

‘Trading Places’ at 40 Has Something for Everyone to Hate

Trading Places, the black-and-white buddy comedy (we’re not making this up — its original title was Black and White), turns 40 this week. It cemented Eddie Murphy’s place as an ascending superstar while proving that Dan Aykroyd didn’t need John Belushi to succeed at the box office. It was the fourth highest-grossing movie of 1983, trailing only The Empire Strikes Back, Tootsie and Flashdance. Trading Places had it all — including a little something for all factions of contemporary audiences to hate.

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Why the 1 Percent Would Hate It

Well, they’re the villains here, two insanely wealthy brothers who stand in for every Wall Street bro or Privileged White Guy you’ve ever despised. The Dukes, Randolph and Mortimer, aren’t just greedy, they’re dishonest devils, delighted to play chess with unwitting human pawns for their own amusement. 

Why Progressives Would Hate It

Can we just say “blackface” and leave it at that? 

For extra weirdness, consider that the movie was originally developed for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who had already done the white guy in blackface bit in 1976’s Silver Streak. Was this going to be Wilder’s running gag for an entire career?

Okay, we won’t leave it at that. Other bits that haven’t aged well: Murphy calling the Dukes the f-slur, plenty of use of the n-slur and a concerted effort to ogle a topless Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as other half-nekkid women it doesn’t bother to give character names.

Why Vegans Would Hate It


Down-on-his-luck Aykroyd hits rock bottom in a stinky Santa suit. His stench repels other subway riders, but they really freak out when his Winthorpe launches into one of the most disgusting eating scenes in cinematic history, sinking his teeth into a beard-encrusted salmon. You can practically smell the foul fish, a scene that no doubt inspired a generation of viewers to adopt a meat-free diet. 

Why People Who Hate Jim Belushi Would Hate It

There’s a Jim Belushi cameo as Guy in Gorilla Suit.

With so many things going against Trading Places, why is the comedy still beloved in many circles? Despite all the gags that haven’t aged well, it’s hard to resist a screwball tale of class warfare where the decent guys end up on top. (And it’s not exactly like Wall Street a-holes have improved their reputations over the past four decades.) In 1983, just a couple of years away from Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko expressing the 1980s ethos of “Greed is good,” Trading Places’ message was actually subversive. Screw greed! 

Despite the early success of Pryor/Wilder movies, the notion of interracial friendship was still novel, refreshing and almost evolved. Murphy was a revelation, as was scream-queen Curtis, who proved that she could do more than run away from knife-wielding psychopaths. Don’t forget a climactic final scene that still ranks as one of the best examples of comedic comeuppance in history.

That’s the thing about movies that give everyone something to hate. By definition, they also give everyone something to love.

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