Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills Cop is a 1984 American action comedy film directed by Martin Brest, written by Daniel Petrie Jr. and starring Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a street-smart Detroit cop who visits Beverly Hills, California to solve the murder of his best friend. Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox, Lisa Eilbacher, Steven Berkoff and Jonathan Banks appear in supporting roles.

This first film in the Beverly Hills Cop series shot Murphy to international stardom, won the People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Motion Picture” and was nominated for both the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1985. It earned $234 million at the North American domestic box office, making it the highest-grossing film released in 1984 in the U.S.

Young and reckless Detroit police detective Axel Foley’s latest unauthorized sting operation goes sour when two uniformed officers intervene, resulting in a high-speed chase through the city which causes widespread damage. His boss Inspector Douglas Todd reprimands Axel for his behavior and threatens to fire him unless he changes his ways on the force. Axel arrives at his apartment to find it has been broken into by his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino. Mikey did time in prison, but ended up working as a security guard in Beverly Hills, thanks to a mutual friend, Jenny Summers. Mikey shows Axel some German bearer bonds and Axel wonders how he got them, but chooses not to question him about it. After hanging out at a bar, they return to Axel’s apartment, where two men knock Axel unconscious and then confront Mikey about the bearer bonds, and kill him.

Axel asks to investigate Mikey’s murder, but Inspector Todd refuses to allow it because of his close ties to Mikey. Axel uses the guise of taking vacation time to head to Beverly Hills to solve the crime alone. He finds Jenny working in an art gallery and learns about Mikey’s ties to Victor Maitland, the gallery’s owner. Posing as a flower deliveryman, Axel goes to Maitland’s office and tries to question him about Mikey, but is thrown out a window by Maitland’s bodyguards and arrested. At the police station, Lieutenant Andrew Bogomil assigns Sergeant John Taggart and Detective Billy Rosewood to follow Axel. Taggart and Rosewood have a humiliating encounter with Axel that night, and do not get along with him at first, but the three do begin to develop a mutual respect after they foil a robbery at a striptease bar.

On the trail of Mikey’s killers, Axel sneaks into one of Maitland’s warehouses, where he finds coffee grounds, which he suspects were used to pack drugs. He also discovers that many of Maitland’s crates have not gone through customs. After being arrested again, this time after a scuffle at Maitland’s country club, Axel admits to Bogomil that Maitland must be a smuggler. Police Chief Hubbard, who has learned of Axel’s ill-advised investigative actions, orders that Axel be escorted out of town. However, Axel convinces Rosewood to pick up Jenny instead and take her with them to Maitland’s warehouse, where a shipment is due to arrive that day.

Axel and Jenny break into the warehouse and discover several bags of cocaine inside a crate. Before Axel can get this new found evidence to Rosewood, Maitland and his associates arrive. Maitland takes Jenny and leaves Axel to be killed, but after some hesitation, Rosewood enters the warehouse and rescues Axel. Taggart tracks Axel and Rosewood to Maitland’s estate, where he joins the two in their efforts to rescue Jenny and bring Maitland to justice. Together, the trio wipe out a number of Maitland’s men, including Zack, Maitland’s right-hand man and Mikey’s killer. With Bogomil’s help, Axel then fatally shoots Maitland and rescues Jenny. Bogomil fabricates a story to Hubbard that covers for all the participants without discrediting the Beverly Hills Police force. Realizing that he may be fired in Detroit, Axel asks Bogomil to speak to Inspector Todd and smooth things over for him. Later, Taggart and Rosewood meet Axel as he checks out of his hotel, and pay his bill. Axel invites them to join him for a farewell drink, and they accept.

Cast

In 1977, Paramount executive Don Simpson came up with a movie idea about a cop from East L.A. who transferred to Beverly Hills. Screenwriter Danilo Bach was called in to write the screenplay. Bach pitched his idea to Simpson and Paramount in 1981 under the name Beverly Drive, about a cop from Pittsburgh named Elly Axel. However, his script was a straight action film and Bach was forced to make changes to the script, but after a few attempts the project went stale.

With the success of Flashdance (1983), Simpson saw the Beverly Hills film as his next big project. Daniel Petrie, Jr. was brought in to rewrite the script and Paramount loved Petrie’s humorous approach to the project, with the lead character now called Axel Elly, from Detroit. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer claimed that the role of Axel Foley was first offered to Mickey Rourke, who signed a $400,000 holding contract to do the film. When revisions and other preparations took longer than expected, Rourke left the project to do another film.

Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the part of Foley. Stallone gave the script a dramatic rewrite and made it into a straight action film. In one of the previous drafts written for Stallone, the character of Billy Rosewood was called “Siddons” and was killed off half-way through the script during one of the action scenes. Stallone had renamed the lead character to Axel Cobretti, with the character of Michael Tandino being his brother and Jenny Summers playing his love interest. Stallone has said that his script for Beverly Hills Cop would have “looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy.”

However, Stallone’s ideas were deemed “too expensive” for Paramount to produce and Stallone ultimately pulled out two weeks before filming was to start. Two days later, the film’s producers, Simpson and Bruckheimer, convinced Eddie Murphy to replace Stallone in the film, prompting more rewrites. Besides Stallone and Rourke, other actors who were considered for the role of Axel Foley included Richard Pryor, Al Pacino, and James Caan.

Beverly Hills Cop received critical acclaim upon its release, and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1984. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote “Beverly Hills Cop finds Eddie Murphy doing what he does best: playing the shrewdest, hippest, fastest-talking underdog in a rich man’s world. Eddie Murphy knows exactly what he’s doing, and he wins at every turn”. Richard Schickel of Time magazine wrote that “Eddie Murphy exuded 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”. Axel Foley became Murphy’s signature role and was ranked No. 78 on Empire magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. Also, Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Beverly Hills Cop as the third best comedy film of the last 25 years. According to Christopher Hitchens, the British novelist and poet Kingsley Amis considered the film “a flawless masterpiece.”

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 45 critics to give the film a score of 82%, with an average score of 7/10. The site’s consensus reads, “The buddy cop movie continues its evolution unabated with this Eddie Murphy vehicle that’s fast, furious, and funny.” In 2003, the film was picked as one of the 1000 Best Movies Ever Made by The New York Times.

Box office

The film was released on December 5, 1984 in 1,532 theaters. It debuted in first place at the U.S. box office, making $15,214,805 in its first five days of release. It stayed at number one for 13 consecutive weeks and returned to number one in its 15th weekend making 14 non-consecutive weeks at number one tying Tootsie for the film with the most weeks at number one. The film earned $234,760,478 in the United States, being the highest-grossing film released in 1984. It also became the highest-grossing R rated film of all-time, a rank it would hold until The Matrix Reloaded in 2003. (Adjusted for inflation, Beverly Hills Cop is the third highest-grossing R rated film of all-time behind The Exorcist and The Godfather.) Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 67 million tickets in the US.

The soundtrack was released on MCA Records and won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media (1986). The instrumental title tune, “Axel F“, composed and performed by Harold Faltermeyer, is a cultural touchstone and has since been covered by numerous artists.

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