Top 10 Eddie Murphy Characters

Eddie Murphy has given us some of Hollywood’s most memorable comic performances. Here we look at the best characters to grace his movies including Reggie Hammond in 48 Hrs & Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop…

Eddie Murphy might now only be good for mouthing the words of an animated donkey but for years he gave us some of Hollywood’s best comedy characters. The Brooklyn-born actor performed stand-up at the same comedy club where Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg frequented before helping revitalise Saturday Night Live during its 1980s slump. He made his big screen debut alongside Nick Nolte in Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs and followed it with a string a successful films including Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and Coming To America.

The mid-1990s saw Murphy’s career slump. However, despite being caught by police in 1997 with a transvestite prostitute in his car and having a baby in 2006 with Scary Spice, he still managed to put his unique comic talent on some wonderfully inspired characters. The Nutty Professor’s eccentric family where Murphy played the title character as well as several other people including Sherman Klump’s mother, father, brother and grandmother, his dual role in Steve Martin’s brilliant Bowfinger, and the smart-talking donkey in Shrek spring to mind.

What are your favourite Eddie Murphy films and characters?

10. Donkey (Shrek, Adamson, 2001)

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He might be digitally animated but Eddie Murphy brings Donkey to life with the quick-lipped, wise-ass remarks that made him a big name star in the 1980s. This larger than life four-legged friend is the perfect sidekick for the overweight Ogre and title character Shrek (played with a Scottish accent by Mike Myers).

9. Reggie Hammond (48 Hrs., Hill, 1982)

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Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond is another sidekick but of a much different ilk to the family-friendly Donkey portrayed in Shrek. Here Murphy is a prison inmate granted 48 hours leave to help rugged, perennially pissed off cop Nick Nolte track his ex-partners. The film works because of the anti-buddy movie relationship that formulates between Murphy and Nolte.

8. Billy Ray Valentine (Trading Places, Landis, 1983)

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A street hustler who is given free reign of the rich Duke and Duke brokerage, Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine has to join forces with Dan Aykroyd to gain revenge for the greedy dealings of the Duke brothers. To great comedy actors deliver fine performances in on of John Landis’s best films (link to top 10 John Landis).

7. Jiff Ramsey (Bowfinger, Oz, 1999)

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In Bowfinger, Murphy plays two characters – Hollywood superstar Kit Ramsey and his wayward brother Jiff. When Steve Martin’s Bowfinger begins making a movie with Kit Ramsey without the paranoid actor knowing he’s actually being filmed, he needs brother Jiff, who looks strikingly like his rich and famous sibling, to stand in for the close-ups. Eddie Murphy is great in the film but Jiff is the stand out – a goofy version of his persona that is brilliantly written by Steve Martin.

6. Saul (Coming to America, Landis, 1988)

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Eddie Murphy is almost unrecognisable as Saul, the Jewish barbershop customer, who sings the praises of Muhammad Ali and pronounces all his W’s as V’s. “A man has the right to change his name to vatever he vants to change it to. And if a man vants to be called Muhammad Ali, godammit this is a free country, you should respect his vishes, and call the man Muhammad Ali!”

5. Grandma Klump (The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Segal, 2000)

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The over-sexed, over-the-hill granny allows Murphy to dress up as a woman and have fun placing the image of an old lady in various positions first discovered by the Karma Sutra, in audience’s minds. At a family meal she quips: “Oh, yeah Cletus? Me and Isaac might be dried up geriatrics, but ain’t nothing wrong with Isaac’a love tackle.”

4. Clarence (Coming to America, Landis, 1988)

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Unrecognisable as Saul, the Jewish customer of Clarence’s barber shop, Eddie Murphy’s characters from John Landis’ Coming To America could have all featured on this list. But I stumped for Joe Lewis-loving New York native Clarence at No. 4, the happy-go-lucky barber who cuts off Price Akeem’s royal ponytail and frequently recalls the day Frank Sinatra came into his shop.

“One time Frank Sinatra came in here and sat in this chair. I said Frank “you hang out with Joe Louis, just between me and you, how old is Joe Louis.” You know what Frank told me, he said “Hey, Joe Louis is 137 years old.” A hundred and thirty-seven years old!”

3. Papa Klump (The Nutty Professor, Shadyac, 1996)

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As father to the Klump family in The Nutty Professor, Murphy is in his element. In both the first film and the sequel he has some great one-liners including his retort to his wife’s openness to colonic irrigation. He says, “You talkin’ ’bout puttin’ the tubes up somebody’s ass, And i can’t break wind?”

2. Randy Watson (Coming to America, Landis, 1988)

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Eddie Murphy, in one of several brilliantly funny roles in Coming To America, can’t better Sexual Chocolate’s lead singer Randy Watson. The obnoxious vocalist, who performs Greatest Love of All at the Black Awareness Rally, stamps his feet at the end of the performance repeating the band’s name over and over to a bemused audience. Give it up for Sexual Chocolate!

1. Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop, Brest, 1984)

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Eddie Murphy’s finest and most endearing character is Axel Foley in the Beverly Hills Cop films. The tough but easygoing cop becomes the fish out of water when he leaves the cold, violent streets of Detroit for the sunny skies and warm Pacific breeze of Los Angeles. Once there he tries to solve the murder of a friend but his unconventional methods soon bring him to the attention of the straight-laced, preppy detective Billy Rosewood and his by-the-book partner Sergeant Taggart. The three characters make a great team, their disparate personalities proving that opposites attract.

Written and compiled by Dan Stephens.

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About the Author

Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Custard Reply

    Great List Dan, I bet it was hard to whittle them down. Especially from Coming to America as he seemed to have loads in there!!

    I love Donkey, so funny!!

    Thanks for putting it together matey

    C

  2. Dan Reply

    Custard: Yeah it was quite difficult but lots of fun. There are so many great characters in Nutty Professor and Coming To America. But I always knew Axel Foley had to be number 1.

  3. Anthony Reply

    How’s about Dreamgirls, Dan? Would probably bump a Klump to make room…

  4. Ralph Reply

    Billy Ray Valentine has to be the best. Trading Places is one of the top films from the 80’s.

  5. rtm Reply

    I’m w/ Custard, Donkey is such a hoot, but Shrek’s humor is wearing thin after the first one.

    This list makes me want to watch Beverly Hills Cop again. I’m not a fan of his roles as the Klumps though, I just don’t find ’em funny at all.

  6. Rodney Reply

    I’d have had Donkey up a little higher, personally, although I guess it could be argued that the role is merely a voice-only and not an actual physical one (I know I’m gonna get flamed for that!); and I also agree with Anthony as well about Murphy’s Dreamgirls role. I can take or leave a Klump – the Nutty Professor roles never made me laugh.

  7. Marc Reply

    Nice call on Bowfinger…and I knew you had class by putting Foley in the top spot (you can almost hear him laughing just by saying his name can’t you?:P)

    I expected Donkey to be higher, but oh well. I’m just glad you called attention to some of his more unsung and classic characters:) Awesome job!

  8. Sir Phobos Reply

    I would dump the Klumps and put Chandler Jarrell near the top, easy. Everything out of his mouth in The Golden Child is awesome.

    I need to watch Bowfinger again. I loved it when I saw it.

    I wish it was still the ’80s….

  9. Dan Reply

    Great list. I couldn’t finish The Klumps so I can’t comment on that, but the rest look accurate. Sexual Chocolate! (stopms feet)

  10. Mike McCaskill Reply

    OK…who plays the part of the man in the middle, sitting between Eddie and Arsenio. Upon introduction of The Music Group ‘Sexual Chocolate”, the Character says…”That Boy Good”. Please tell me who that is. My daughter thinks its Eddie.

    • Matt Reply

      It’s Arsenio Hall.

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