Eddie Murphy’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked

coming to america 1
Paramount Pictures

American actor and comedian Eddie Murphy, who turns 58 today, is best known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live and his performances in movies such as Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Shrek and Dreamgirls.

Born on April 3, 1961, Murphy rose to fame as a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn in the 1970s and 80s, receiving national attention as a regular on Saturday Night Live. In 1982 he made his movie debut alongside Nick Nolte in the “buddy cop” comedy 48 Hrs.

Over the next two years, he starred in two more box-office hits: John Landis’s Trading Places and Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, which was the highest-grossing movie of 1984, according to Box Office Mojo.

For Coming to America (1988), Murphy reunited with Landis to a mixed critical response but solid commercial success, as it grossed $288 million worldwide. (The film also featured a young Samuel L. Jackson as “Hold-Up Man” and an even younger Cuba Gooding, Jr. as “Boy Getting Haircut.”)

For much of the 1990s and 2000s, Murphy featured prominently in lowbrow family-friendly comedies, including The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle and Norbit. He received his best reviews since his 80s heyday as the voice of Donkey in Shrek. Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today called it “the comic performance of his career.” The sequel was a similar story: "Donkey is the comic high point of the movie,” Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.

When Murphy tried to reach more adult audiences, the movies usually failed. The Adventures of Pluto Nash still stands as one of the biggest losers in cinema history, with a budget of over $100 million and box office earnings of just $7.1 million. Frank Oz’s comedy Bowfinger, which he starred in alongside Steve Martin, was a rare critical and commercial success.

In 2006, there were signs his fortunes were shifting when he portrayed the soul singer James “Thunder” Early in the award-winning musical Dreamgirls. Murphy won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for an Academy Award. When he lost to Alan Arkin (for Little Miss Sunshine), he notoriously marched out.

In 2011, he co-starred in Brett Ratner’s ensemble comedy Tower Heist. Murphy withdrew as host of the 2012 Oscars ceremony when Ratner resigned as producer after he received widespread criticism for using a homophobic slur while promoting the film.  

In 2015, Murphy received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, bestowed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in recognition of his life’s work. Murphy’s eclectic career continues. A fourth installment of Beverly Hills Cop and a sequel to Coming to America (entitled Coming 2 America) are on their way.

To celebrate his birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank Murphy’s 15 best movies, which have earned a combined total of more than $2.5 billion at the U.S. box office.

01 Beverly Hills Cop II
Paramount Pictures

15. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). Total score: 53.85%. 
Directed by: Tony Scott. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Jürgen Prochnow, Brigitte Nielsen, Dean Stockwell. 
Plot summary: Axel Foley returns to Beverly Hills to help Taggart and Rosewood investigate Chief Bogomil's near-fatal shooting and the series of "alphabet crimes" associated with it.
Domestic gross: $153,665,000.
What the critics said: "Eddie Murphy is not likable in this movie. He comes across as a loud, arrogant boor; a little of him goes a long way. Somehow they've lost track of their original appealing idea, which was that a smart, funny street cop from Detroit would waltz into Beverly Hills and deflate the Porsche-and-sunglasses set. Doesn't work that way this time." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

02 Coming to America
Paramount Pictures

14. Coming to America (1988). Total score: 56.85%. 
Directed by: John Landis. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding, Jr. 
Plot summary: A pampered African Prince travels to Queens, New York, and goes undercover to find a wife that he can respect for her intelligence and will.
Domestic gross: $128,152,300.
What the critics said: "Superb comic timing, a satirical edge, and Murphy's extraordinary gift for mimicry lift it right out of the trough of mediocrity to which it is all but consigned by its utterly predictable storyline." Time Out

03 Shrek the Third
Paramount Pictures

13. Shrek the Third (2007). Total score: 58.24%. 
Directed by: Chris Miller, Raman Hui. Starring: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Justin Timberlake. 
Plot summary: When his new father-in-law, King Harold falls ill, Shrek is looked at as the heir to the land of Far, Far Away. Not one to give up his beloved swamp, Shrek recruits his friends Donkey and Puss in Boots to install the rebellious Artie as the new king. Princess Fiona, however, rallies a band of royal girlfriends to fend off a coup d'etat by the jilted Prince Charming.
Domestic gross: $320,706,665.
What the critics said: "Those of us charmed by the original Shrek and its ability to mix fairy-tale sweetness with some hilariously grown-up cleverness will leave disappointed. Much of this feels like a retread, a cash cow without enough ideas to justify its existence." Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

04 The Nutty Professor
Universal Pictures

12. The Nutty Professor (1996). Total score: 59.51%. 
Directed by: Tom Shadyac. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Coburn, Dave Chappelle. 
Plot summary: Grossly overweight yet good-hearted professor Sherman Klump takes a special chemical that turns him into the slim but obnoxious Buddy Love.
Domestic gross: $128,814,019.
What the critics said: "Messy, raucous, crude and undisciplined though this remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis vehicle is, it also creates more laughter (and poignancy) than any Eddie Murphy movie has in quite some time." Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

05 Shrek Forever After
Paramount Pictures

11. Shrek Forever After (2010). Total score: 60.21%. 
Directed by: Mike Mitchell. Starring: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, John Hamm, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Walt Dohrn, Jane Lynch. 
Plot summary: Rumpelstiltskin tricks a mid-life crisis burdened Shrek into allowing himself to be erased from existence and cast in a dark alternate timeline where Rumpel rules supreme.
Domestic gross: $238,371,987.
What the critics said: "Mr. Murphy's toothy, shifty-eyed Donkey who distills the series' attitude of cheerfully curdled hipness. In his eternal upbeat cheekiness, he is a creation to rival Peter Pan." Stephen Holden, New York Times

06 Life
Universal Pictures

10. Life (1999). Total score: 61.23%. 
Directed by: Ted Demme. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Obba Babatundé, Nick Cassavetes, Bernie Mac. 
Plot summary: In 1932, two strangers are wrongfully convicted and develop a strong friendship in prison that lasts them through the 20th century.
Domestic gross: $63,844,974.
What the critics said: "Ribald, funny and sometimes sweet, and well acted by Murphy, Lawrence and a strong supporting cast." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

07 Tower Heist
Universal Pictures

9. Tower Heist (2011). Total score: 61.26%. 
Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe. 
Plot summary: When a group of hard-working guys find out they've fallen victim to their wealthy employer's Ponzi scheme, they conspire to rob his high-rise residence.
Domestic gross: $78,046,570.
What the critics said: "When Murphy's on screen in his classic comic mode, it's hard to focus on anyone or anything else. It's as if we've turned back time and erased all those family-friendly duds and lame laughers." Christy Lemire, Associated Press. 

08 Beverly Hills Cop
Paramount Pictures

7. Beverly Hills Cop (1984). Total score: 68.06%. 
Directed by: Martin Brest. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Steven Berkoff, Lisa Eilbacher. 
Plot summary: A freewheeling Detroit cop pursuing a murder investigation finds himself dealing with the very different culture of Beverly Hills.
Domestic gross: $234,760,478.
What the critics said: "Murphy exudes the kind of cheeky, cocky charm that has been missing from the screen since Cagney was a pup, snarling his way out of the ghetto." Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine.

09 Bowfinger
Universal Pictures

8. Bowfinger (1999). Total score: 68.06%. 
Directed by: Frank Oz. Starring: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski. 
Plot summary: When a desperate movie producer fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him.
Domestic gross: $66,384,775.
What the critics said: "Powered by a hilarious, high-octane performance by Eddie Murphy and a witty, boisterous script by his co-star, Steve Martin, Bowfinger offers 90-plus minutes of solid entertainment." James Berardinelli, ReelViews. 

10 48 Hrs
Paramount Pictures

6. 48 Hrs. (1982). Total score: 70.55%. 
Directed by: Walter Hill. Starring: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Annette O'Toole. 
Plot summary: A hard-nosed cop reluctantly teams up with a wise-cracking criminal temporarily paroled to him, in order to track down a killer.
Domestic gross: $78,868,508.
What the critics said: "What makes it work are Walter Hill's switchblade-sharp direction, and the inspired teaming of Nolte and Murphy." Bob Thomas, Associated Press. 

11 Trading Places
Paramount Pictures

5. Trading Places (1983). Total score: 71.68%. 
Directed by: John Landis. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Denholm Elliott, Don Ameche. 
Plot summary: A snobbish investor and a wily street con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.
Domestic gross: $90,404,800.
What the critics said: "What's most visible in the movie is the engaging acting. Murphy and Aykroyd are perfect foils for each other." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times