En español | Eddie Murphy, 61, started off 2023 with a bang, winning the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes on Jan. 10. He’s back this month with the new Netflix comedy You People, directed by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and cowritten by Barris and Jonah Hill. Murphy plays father-of-the-future-bride Akbar Mohammed in a culture-clash comedy that’s something of a 21st century answer to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. How will Akbar stack up against four decades of hilarious creations? Stream the film on Jan. 27, check out our ranking and sound off in the comments below if we’ve missed any of your favorites.
10: Rayford “Ray” Gibson in Life (1999)
The premise: During a bootlegging run to Mississippi in 1932, two New Yorkers — con artist Ray (Murphy) and straitlaced bank teller Claude (Martin Lawrence, 57) — get framed for murder and sentenced to life in prison. The odd couple spend the next 65 years squabbling and reconciling and plotting their escape as they age with the help of Oscar-nominated makeup. With this duo as stars, laughs are to be expected, but the buddy comedy is a surprisingly sentimental look at loss, racism and the passage of time that calls to mind The Shawshank Redemption.
The best part: In a hilarious echo of the famous “I am Spartacus” scene, the prisoners all take turns claiming to have fathered the warden’s daughter’s baby.
9: Kit and Jiff Ramsey in Bowfinger (1999)
The premise: B-movie producer Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin, 77, who also wrote the script) dreams of making a sci-fi blockbuster, and studio execs will only distribute it if he can convince action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to play the lead. But the wannabe director devises a different scheme: Shoot the movie around Kit without ever telling him he’s in it. Murphy pulls double duty as both the paranoid and pretentious A-lister and Jiff, the nerdy but sweet lookalike Bowfinger hires as a last resort who turns out to be Kit’s twin brother. A sharp industry satire, this remains one of Murphy’s most underrated films.
The best part: Murphy gives a lesson in physical comedy during a scene in which Bowfinger convinces Jiff to cross a busy freeway, Frogger-style.
8: Reggie Hammond in 48 Hrs. (1982)
The premise: The Saturday Night Live superstar came out of the gate running with his film debut, in which San Francisco police inspector Jack Cates (Nick Nolte, 81) teams up with convicted robber Reggie Hammond (Murphy) to track down two hardened criminals. The catch? They have to get the job done before the clock runs out on Hammond’s 48-hour release from prison. Their chemistry set the template for generations of buddy cop comedies, including Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour, and Murphy was nominated for the Golden Globe for “New Star of the Year.” (He lost to Ben Kingsley in Ghandi.)
The best part: Murphy instantly became a movie star with his memorable scene in the redneck bar, Torchy’s, thanks to a few expletive-laden quips.
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7: Jimmy “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls (2006)
The premise: Murphy earned his sole Oscar nomination (so far) for this Motown musical, which charts the rise of a Detroit girl group called the Dreams and the parallel fall of the Chitlin’ Circuit R&B singer for whom they used to sing backup, Jimmy “Thunder” Early. Channeling greats such as Jackie Wilson and James Brown, Murphy brings real pathos to the role of a self-destructive artist who refuses to change his sound with the times and falls into a cycle of addiction and adultery. The role required Murphy to tap into sides of himself that he’d never shared on screen, and he more than rose to the challenge.
The best part: To get a taste for Jimmy in all his James Brown glory, you can’t beat the song “Fake Your Way to the Top,” which sees Murphy holding his own opposite Beyoncé, Anika Noni Rose and eventual Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.
6: Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
The premise: Murphy made it decades into his career before tackling his first biopic, and he went with a subject who might not be a household name to most. Rudy Ray Moore was a comedian and “godfather of rap,” whose audacious pimp character Dolemite led a series of kung-fu-themed blaxploitation flicks in the 1970s. Moore was a hustler and a tall-tale teller, and Murphy approaches the role with a mix of mischief and real emotion. He earned some of the most rapturous reviews of his career — and a Golden Globe nod for best actor.
The best part: The early scenes in which Moore develops his Dolemite character feel like we’re getting a peek into the mind of a comedic genius at work.
Watch it: Dolemite Is My Name on Netflix
5: Donkey in Shrek (2001)
The premise: Just how good is Murphy as the titular ogre’s equine sidekick in this fractured animated fairy tale? It’s the only voiceover performance to be nominated for a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award. Murphy has undeniable chemistry with fellow SNL alum Mike Myers, 59, and he walks a tightrope with the character, making him at once lovable and a bit of a pain in the … well, you know what kind of animal he is. You can see why Shrek eventually accepts the chatterbox as his new best friend.
The best part: It’s impossible not to cheer for the sidekick’s hero moment when he sweeps into Princess Fiona’s wedding to save the day — with a little backup from his dragon girlfriend.
4: Professor Sherman Klump/Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor (1996)
The premise: In this zany remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis classic, an overweight professor named Sherman Klump develops an experimental weight-loss drug that turns him into a svelte-but-evil alter ego named Buddy Love, and the two battle for control of his body. Murphy plays Klump and Love … and also Sherman’s father, mother, grandmother and brother and a parody of Richard Simmons named Lance Perkins. If there were an Oscar given for most acting in a motion picture, the trophy would have been Murphy’s.
The best part: It may be a bit sophomoric, but the gathering around the family dinner table is a thing of escalating comic beauty, the spiritual successor to the Blazing Saddles campfire scene.
3: Billy Ray Valentine in Trading Places (1983)
The premise: This uproarious social satire in the vein of 1930s screwball comedies poses the age-old question: Is it nature or nurture that allows some of us to succeed? Murphy plays street hustler Billy Ray Valentine, and Dan Aykroyd, 70, is commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III, and they’re thrown into a prince-and-the-pauper experiment when billionaire brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) frame Winthorpe for a crime he didn’t commit and install Valentine in his position. Murphy is clearly having a blast as he steps into his new role as a capitalist bigwig, and the film really kicks into high gear when the two experimentees team up to take down the Dukes.
The best part: Some scenes haven’t aged particularly well over the past 40 years, but Murphy’s jailhouse storytelling has the same zippy energy as his best stand-up.
2: Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
The premise: In terms of sheer laughs per minute, it’s hard to top this action-comedy, which sees Murphy as a streetwise Detroit detective who heads to the West Coast to track down the criminal who murdered his childhood friend. Murphy comes armed with his trademark laugh (“heh-heh-heh-heh”), a host of one-liners and a catchy electronic theme song from Harold Faltermeyer. It was the highest-grossing film released in 1984, and the comedian returned for two sequels, with a fourth installment currently in production for Netflix. And to think that Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke almost landed the role!
The best part: We already knew Murphy was funny, but the various shootouts and car chases proved he could work just as well as a bankable action hero.
1: Prince Akeem Joffer in Coming to America (1988)
The premise: In his second pairing with Trading Places director John Landis, 72, Murphy created perhaps the most iconic role of his career, Crown Prince Akeem Joffer of the fictional African nation of Zamunda. With his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall, 66), Akeem heads to the United States disguised as a poor student in order to find a wife who loves him for his personality and not his royal status. Murphy shows off every skill in his bag of tricks, even disappearing into the roles of three zany side characters: Sexual Chocolate soul singer Randy Watson, barbershop owner Clarence and Clarence’s old Jewish customer Saul. With a finely tuned balance of humor and heart, Akeem was Murphy at his most lovable — and audiences welcomed him back with open arms for the 33-years-in-the-making sequel Coming 2 America.
The best part: We still wish we could snag a seat in that barbershop, where the joke writing shines nearly as brightly as Clarence’s gold tooth.