The ‘48 Hours’ Scene That Got Eddie Murphy ‘Beverly Hills Cop’

A single scene in a redneck bar made Murphy a star
The ‘48 Hours’ Scene That Got Eddie Murphy ‘Beverly Hills Cop’

Beverly Hills Cop, the movie that cemented comic Eddie Murphy as a global movie star, almost didn’t star Eddie Murphy at all. Director Martin Brest, fresh off of being fired from the movie War Games, was recruited by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to helm the film with a very different star attached. “I committed to doing it,” Brest told Variety, “with Sylvester Stallone as the Axel character.” 

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Brest’s idea was to employ Stallone in a comedic role, something that the action star hadn’t done before. Beverly Hills Cop had some naturally funny, “fish out of water” elements baked into its concept, but Stallone’s script “was a straight-out action drama,” says Brest. “That’s not what the studio really was looking to do, so he went off and he took that script and it became Cobra.” 

(Stallone would try comedy just a couple of years later, costarring with Dolly Parton in Rhinestone. The results were, shall we say, less than hilarious.) 

That left Brest with a concept and no star. “We wound up getting Eddie Murphy a few weeks before shooting,” he says. “The nature of Eddie’s talent and the theme that I would like to bring up and the tone that I would love to make this movie about, it was perfect. And we restructured the whole story in a couple of weeks, and went into production with basically an outline, writing as we went.” 

But even that fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants plan was complicated by the fact that studio bigwigs weren’t sure Murphy was the right guy to headline the movie. After Brest and the producers decided Eddie was the perfect lead, they had to convince the executives at Paramount. “There was some concern as to whether or not he could carry a movie on his own, because he had been, I put this in air quotes, ‘second banana,’” Brest remembers. “For certain people, the idea of him being the lead was a leap for them.”

The decider was a scene in the yet-to-be-released 48 Hours, Murphy’s first film in a costarring role with Nick Nolte. It was a star-making turn as Murphy’s character borrows Nolte’s badge and bluffs/swaggers his way through a confrontation at a redneck bar. 

The electric performance convinced Paramount. Brest told Simpson and Bruckheimer, “‘Oh my God, we could have a full-length version of the bar scene.’ We didn’t even know the movie we were making three weeks ahead of time. Once we had Eddie, it just changed what we could do tonally.”

Murphy supplied nearly all of that comic tone, as Brest worked from what was essentially an outline of a script and allowed the actors to figure it out as they went. That meant Murphy improvising scenes as an angry Rolling Stone writer, a flamboyant interloper at a country club, and an irate customs agent. The process was “mostly intuitive,” says Brest. “Everything you see in the movie that’s funny was in the process of making the movie.”

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