The Long-Lasting Legacy of ‘Beverly Hills Cop’
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The buddy cop movie is so ingrained in our culture that it’s sometimes easy to forget it’s only been a popular subgenre since the 1980s. Although it was preceded by a few other similar movies, Beverly Hills Cop, when it was released in 1984, defined the modern action-comedy and had an indelible impact on every film that followed in its footsteps, giving birth to an enduring franchise and a bevy of movies that were either inspired by it or straight-up ripped it off. 48 Hrs., another Eddie Murphy film, was an earlier action-comedy, but it didn’t lean as heavily on the comedy part of the equation as Beverly Hills Cop did, and it followed a cop/convict pair instead of a team of dissimilar police officers forced to work together. Sure, Beverly Hills Cop makes use of the “angry chief”/”give me your badge and gun” tropes that were already common at the time, but the movie also led to the creation of several buddy movie clichés of its own and pulled off a seamless blend of comedy and high-stakes action that movie executives and screenwriters are still trying to replicate today.
It’s truly impressive how deftly Beverly Hills Cop balances humor, drama, and action throughout its entire runtime. There are a lot of goofy and over-the-top comedic moments throughout, with Axel Foley’s antics seeming like they wouldn’t fit into a movie about a subject as serious as a guy trying to avenge/solve his friend’s murder, but there’s not a second in the movie where the comedic beats seem out of place. It’s a testament to Beverly Hills Cop‘s well-balanced tone that the movie can pull off featuring both a scene with a guy sneaking around and shoving bananas into the tailpipe of a car to the tune of wacky synthesizer pop and a life-or-death shoot-out. It all works because the story and characters are grounded and the comedic and dramatic moments always come at the right times.
Beverly Hills Cop became the highest-grossing film of 1984, besting the box office returns of other iconic movies like Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and The Karate Kid, meaning that Hollywood would be ordering up a lot more action-comedies in the years to come. Movies like Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, Running Scared, and Fletch all followed, but Beverly Hills Cop also served as the blueprint for just about every action-comedy and buddy cop movie that’s come out in the 28 years since. From Rush Hour to Bad Boys, Blue Streak to Pineapple Express, every time a big Hollywood comedy mixes action and comedy, the filmmakers are aiming for the amazing balance of tones that made Beverly Hills Cop so wildly popular.
Axel Foley paved the way for a whole generation of fast-talking, smartass, unorthodox cops, but the actor who played him also had a huge impact. With Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy cemented his status as the first huge black movie star. Sure, Sidney Poitier, Richard Pryor, and even Bill Cosby had starred in movies before Murphy, but they didn’t come close to achieving the larger-than-life popularity with audiences that he did. In his previous movies (48 Hrs., Trading Places), Eddie Murphy shared top billing with a white co-star (Nick Nolte and Dan Aykroyd, respectively), but with Beverly Hills Cop, his was the only name and face on the poster and it led to the film becoming, at the time, one of the highest-grossing movies ever made, proving that black actors could be just as bankable as white actors.
It’s nearly 30 years later and Beverly Hills Cop is still the high-water mark of the action-comedy subgenre, having created a formula that Hollywood is still repeating today. There hasn’t been as effective a movie of its kind made since, nor has there been a funnier action star than Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley.