Eddie Murphy’s 10 Best Performances of All Time

Eddie Murphy has made audiences laugh for about 40 years now. In the early 1980s, when Saturday Night Live was on the verge of drifting away into obscurity, it was a young Eddie Murphy who swooped in and took over the show with his humor. But his career would not end there; Murphy, who had done stand-up too, then transitioned into blockbuster movies. His stardom was a meteoric rise that lasted into the new millennium, when Murphy stepped away from the spotlight for a while.


Recently, he has returned to the era of streaming, acting in films for Prime Video and Netflix. Some of his work has reached critical fame, which gave him award-season buzz, and now, with the new year approaching, we await the arrival of Beverly Hills Cop 4. With such an amazing career, it’s hard to pick out Murphy’s best performances. So we narrowed it down to ten, which was hard enough.


10 Life (1999)

Eddie Murphy as Rayford Gibson and Martin Lawrence as Claude Banks sitting on a bench in Life (1999)
Universal Pictures

Life stars two comic legends. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence star as bootleggers who do a job that takes them down to Mississippi during prohibition. They get caught by a crooked lawman who throws them in jail, and they get life on a phony murder charge. The two must now combat the sentence and prove their innocence while dodging the brutal guards of a southern prison.

Life Is One of Eddie Murphy’s Most Overlooked Comedies

The pairing of Murphy and Lawrence is a treat to watch. And with their pairing and Murphy being one of the film’s producers, you can tell he got a lot of help from friends to do this. Everyone from Bernie Mac to Rick James shows up in this film. The comedy is pure gold and frankly, overlooked. But Life also is a glimpse into the social injustices of the South in terms of the sentences that were handed down to black men at that time. On a positive note, it’s also a great tale of friendship despite down-and-out circumstances.

Rent on Prime Video

Related: Martin Lawrence Inducted Into Hollywood Walk of Fame

9 The Nutty Professor (1996)

In The Nutty Professor, a loose remake of the Jerry Lewis original film, Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) is a brilliant and well-admired scientist who just so happens to be obese. He has invented an antidote for massive weight loss. He tests it on himself and quickly loses two hundred and fifty pounds and morphs into his alter ego, Buddy Love (also played by Eddie Murphy). Buddy is more popular and full of energy, but his hubris begins to bleed into the humble personality of Sherman.

Murphy Created an Iconic Character in The Nutty Professor

One thing about Murphy’s comedies is that, from time to time, he goes off and plays multiple characters under heavy makeup. Not only is he wearing a suit to make him look obese, but he also wears heavy makeup as the main character. But he plays other members of the Klump family. It’s a talent that Murphy has showcased multiple times in his career, even going back to his SNL days in the iconic performance where he went out in public as a white man. The Nutty Professor also took Murphy out of the action comedy films he was making at the time and put him back into strictly humor, as he made multiple films of this style throughout the late 1990s.

Stream on Peacock

8 Bowfinger (1999)

Bowfinger pairs comedy legends Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Martin plays an aspiring filmmaker, Bobby Bowfinger, who is on the verge of losing everything. He sets out to make the hottest movie in Hollywood at the time. He plans to make a movie with the biggest star in town, Kit Ramsay (Murphy). The only thing is that Kit has no idea that he is in a movie, even though Bobby is trying to shoot it without his consent.

Why Bowfinger Makes the List

We love a good comedy about showbiz. Steve Martin plays an eccentric filmmaker who is doing anything to make a hit in Hollywood. Seeing two titans of comedy on screen together is something special. Murphy plays Kit Ramsay in a way that you would think a big Hollywood star would seem to be. A man with an inferiority complex or a chip on his shoulder. However, Murphy also plays Ramsay’s stand-in for Bowfinger’s film, the clueless Jiff. There is no real hook to Bowfinger like most comedies have. Just a story that unravels into one funny scene after another, thanks to Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin.

Rent on Prime Video

7 Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls

Release Date
December 25, 2006

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
134

Dreamgirls is a 2006 film about a trio of singers played by Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose. They sign with a manager named Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) to be backup singers for a national star named James Early (Eddie Murphy). Eventually, the trio disbands as one shoots to stardom and the others are faced with the reality of show business.

Eddie Murphy’s Only Oscar Nomination

Eddie Murphy may not be front and center in this film, but his supporting role as James Early received high praise. High enough for him to get his first ever Oscar nomination for the role. The film, although fiction and based on the Broadway play of the same name, does feel tied to reality a bit. Dreamgirls feels similar to the story of The Supremes, and Murphy’s character feels in the vein of someone like James Brown or Marvin Gaye. Like the rest of the cast, Murphy even did his own signing for the film. Let’s not forget, he did have a slew of pop songs in the 1980s.

Stream on Paramount+

6 Shrek (2001)

Shrek

Shrek

Release Date
May 18, 2001

Rating
PG

Runtime
90

Shrek is the DreamWorks animated feature film about an odd-looking green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) who is sent out to save a princess (voiced by Cameron Diaz) from the grips of a fire-breathing dragon. In order to complete this mission, Shrek needs the perfect sidekick, a wisecracking donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy).

Is Donkey Eddie Murphy’s Most Beloved Role?

We love Shrek because it was one of the biggest non-Disney animated features for millennials when we were kids. And the cast behind this only enhances this. Again, with the titans of comedy, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy are great as Shrek and Donkey. Shrek hit theaters when Murphy’s career was not at its highest, yet everyone admired his voice-over work here. Donkey and Shrek are two characters that work so well on screen. The ogre, of course, saves Donkey from near death, so, therefore, he is in debt to him. Murphy loved playing this role; he is quoted as saying he would reprise it in two seconds.

Stream on Peacock

5 48 Hrs. (1982)

Walter Hill’s 1982 crime comedy classic, 48 Hrs. is about a detective who utilizes the help of a wise-cracking criminal named Reggie Hammond (Murphy) to help him track down a killer. The killer is on the hunt for a lump of cash, and Reggie Hammond knows where it is.

48 Hours Is One of Eddie Murphy’s Best Action Films

This one belongs high on the list because it kicked off Murphy’s career in movies. Murphy was paid $450,000 for his big-screen debut opposite Nick Nolte. The two have the best kind of cop/criminal chemistry you could ask for in a film like this. It’s a buddy action comedy that would spark many more in the decade to come. Yes, it gets a little vulgar; yes, there’s some bloodshed, but Murphy shines bright in all of it. You can tell why he became the star that he is today based on this movie alone.

Stream on Paramount+

4 Trading Places (1983)

trading places

Trading Places

Release Date
June 7, 1983

Cast
Denholm Elliott , Dan Aykroyd , Maurice Woods , Richard D. Fisher Jr. , Jim Gallagher , Anthony DiSabatino

Rating
R

Runtime
118

Trading Places takes two Saturday Night Live alumni’s and puts them in front of the camera as one of the best comedies of the 1980s. Dan Aykroyd plays Louis Winthrope III, a snobby investor who switches places with a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) due to a bet among some wealthy men. The result of all this is quite interesting.

Trading Places Is Now a Christmas Comedy Classic

Eddie Murphy was only twenty-one years old when he made this film. He holds his own with the likes of Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis and commands the screen under John Landis’ direction. One of the best scenes in the movie is the “I Can See!” scene, where Murphy pretends to be blind in front of a few cops and does his best Stevie Wonder impression. It’s a perfect example of Murphy’s comic timing.

Rent on Prime Video

3 Dolemite Is My Name! (2019)

The Netflix original Dolemite is My Name! stars Murphy in a comedic biopic about the actor Rudy Ray Moore, who was down on his luck with his routine as a club performer and then went on to craft the iconic pimp character known as Dolemite in many films of the 1970s.

Dolemite Is My Name! Is Murphy’s Biggest Oscar Nomination Snub

Dolemite is My Name! showed that Murphy’s career was indeed about to have a bit of a renaissance. Like he had done in the past, this movie shows you the kind of friends Murphy has in show business and the respect he has earned just by being in this movie. Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Wesley Snipes, and Tip Harris all have supporting roles. A fun fact about Dolemite is that there are scenes in the movie where Murphy is reenacting scenes from a Dolemite-starring film, where he is CGI’d into the actual footage from the old films. Therefore, in some shots, we were seeing the real Dolemite-led films with Murphy in them rather than the real Ray Rudy Moore. Dolemite Is My Name! is another great showbiz movie that also doubles as a great underdog story.

Stream on Netflix

2 Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

beverly hills cop

Beverly Hills Cop

Release Date
November 30, 1984

Director
Martin Brest

Rating
R

Runtime
105

Beverly Hills Cop has Eddie Murphy playing the role that launched him into the stratosphere, Axel Foley. Foley is a fast-talking Detroit cop whose best friend is murdered. After their death, he finds himself in sunny California in hot pursuit of the person responsible in the only way he knows how.

Axel Foley Is a Classic Action Here

Culture clashes in movies can sometimes make for great comedy. That is a big help as to why we love Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. The Detroit meets L.A. cop shtick that makes up the movie is so fun to watch. It’s crazy to think Stallone was supposed to play Axel Foley because this was the role that made Murphy a megastar. It was the film that moved any more obstacles in his career for the foreseeable future. It’s a role Taylor made for Murphy, and he wears it well, with a great theme song to go with it.

Stream on Paramount+

Related: Eddie Murphy on Shooting Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley : “I Had a Knee Brace and My Back is Messed Up”

1 Coming to America (1988)

In Coming to America, the crown prince of the fictional African country Zamunda, Akeem Joffer, grows tired of the lavish royal lifestyle. He is bored with his love life and opts to leave his homeland to find a woman who loves him for who he truly is. There is only one place where he can go for that, and that is America.

Why Coming to America Tops This List

By this point in his career, Eddie Murphy was firing on all cylinders. His comedic bits in the movie, like yelling out of his apartment, “Good Morning, My Neighbors,” and someone yelling back, “Hey F*** You!!” is one of the funniest moments in any movie ever made. His use of makeup and playing multiple characters in the barbershop scene with his co-star, Arsenio Hall, are unforgettable. And again, the comedy of the cultural clash is the definitive part of this film and Murphy’s performance. It was a movie that kind of ended his iconic run in the 1980s before a clunky run in the 1990s, but when people want to mention his top three films, there’s just no way you can’t mention Coming to America.

Rent on Prime Video

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