How to Watch Every ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ Movie

IT’S HARD TO explain to people who weren’t alive in the 1980s exactly how big Beverly Hills Cop, and in turn Eddie Murphy, became. The 1984 buddy cop action comedy, made for an estimated $13 million, brought in about $235 million in domestic grosses—in comparison, the new Netflix sequel Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, now streaming, has a reported budget of about $150 million. When the original came out, Murphy was still a nascent movie actor, with one movie, 48 Hrs., that had done very well, and another, Trading Places, that had done spectacularly well. But it wasn’t until Beverly Hills Cop that everyone suddenly saw the too-cool-for-school stand-up comedian as something else: a blockbuster star.

In the years since, we’ve seen three more Beverly Hills Cop movies, including Axel F, along with a fifth film already in the development stages, a couple video games, and an aborted TV series that never made it to air. Needless to say, they haven’t all been winners, but as buddy cop franchises go, it’s hard to beat the success and longevity of Murphy’s outings as Alex Foley, the rules-averse Detroit cop who keeps traveling West to solve the high-end crimes of one of Los Angeles’s richest enclaves.

Which Beverly Hills Cop entries are essential? Which can you skip? How does Axel F hold up the rich legacy of Murphy’s movies? And who exactly thought a caper involving an amusement park called Wonder World and a cameo by George Lucas was a good idea? We have all of your questions about the entire Beverly Hills Cop movie series answered here.

The Cherished Original: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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The transition from Saturday Night Live cast member to movie star is difficult even for the most versatile comedians. But out of the gate in his film debut, 48 Hrs., it was striking how natural Eddie Murphy felt playing alongside the more seasoned Nick Nolte, both in the funny scenes and—more crucially—the dramatic moments. So maybe it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise that Murphy is so charismatic as a Detroit police officer who goes around his boss to travel to Beverly Hills in an attempt to investigate the murder of his childhood friend. The tone of Beverly Hills Cop, with a screenplay by Daniel Petrie Jr. (Turner & Hooch) and direction by Martin Brest (Midnight Run), emphasizes Murphy’s cocky comedic flow. But the star also nails the stunt-forward action theatrics, making for a thoroughly modern (well, for the time) and amusing thriller that really does deliver on all those fronts.

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The Outsize Action-Forward Sequel: Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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Beverly Hills Cop wasn’t so much a buddy cop movie as an Eddie Murphy-and-two-other-guys comedy. But the balance between his looser, more showboating performance and the straight-guy detectives Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton) turned out to be key. He reunites with the pair in the posh LA zip code in Beverly Hills Cop II, set two years after the events of the first film, to solve a series of robberies marked with encrypted alphabetic letters.

If it all sounds a little Columbo, well, at times it is. Murphy is as charming as ever, and even brasher than in the first outing, but the plot feels a little too close to the original and a little too deferential to the procedural elements. “I’m not even sure it’s intended as a comedy,” Roger Ebert wrote in a scathing one-star review. “It’s filled wall to wall with the kind of routine action and violence that Hollywood extrudes by the yard and shrink-wraps to order.” In retrospect, it’s better than detractors made it out to be, if somewhat unremarkable. While hardly critically beloved, it more than pleased audiences, becoming the most successful entry with about $300 million in global box office earnings. Hey, sometimes the formula just works.

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The Dismal Third Child: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

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Approximately no one was impressed by the sluggish third Beverly Hills Cop movie, even Murphy, who considers it the weakest entry, going as far as calling it “garbage.” It’s not hard to see what he means: Murphy appears uncharacteristically bored and joyless throughout, which sucks any energy the by-the-numbers plot might have generated. Previous producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer dropped out in an apparent budgetary dispute. The talented John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places, Coming to America) loses his way directing the insipid script.

What really seals its fate, though, aside from the childish, funny-in-the-wrong-ways amusement park setting known as Wonder World (shot at California’s Great America in Santa Clara, a long, long way from the 90210), is the ridiculous onslaught of cameos. When your production is so enervated that you feel the need to call in a favor from George Lucas to perform in a cameo role as Disappointed Man, you might as well abandon ship. Which is basically what everyone did when Beverly Hills Cop III was released to pans and weak box office figures. It currently holds an 11% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and a not-much-better 35 % from audiences. It does have one pretty cool set piece involving Murphy jumping his way around a ferris wheel ride as it spins, but only obsessives need to check this one out.

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The Pricey Streaming Reboot: Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (2024)

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Things weren’t looking good for a fourth Beverly Hills Cop, which has been in development limbo since the ‘90s, until Top Gun: Maverick scooped up all the money and Axel F was rushed into production with first-time feature director Mark Molloy and cowriter Will Beall (Gangster Squad, Aquaman) on board. Murphy hasn’t gone anywhere, turning in some of his most audaciously funny work with the sadly-underseen Dolemite Is My Name in 2019, also from Netflix.

This sequel is a big swing with that $150 million budget, but it’s nice to see Murphy back in one of his most widely appreciated roles. The premise is strong, at least as fourth action comedy entries go: Foley returns to Beverly Hills—honestly, he should just live there at this point—when his estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), a criminal defense attorney in the district, is threatened. And yes, Reinhold’s Taggart and Ashton’s Rosewood are back, too. New to the franchise are a shaggy-haired Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Beverly Hills detective and Jane’s ex-boyfriend, who teams up with Foley, and Kevin Bacon as the police captain. Reviews are mixed, though a whole lot better so far than Beverly Hills Cop III, with a 69 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics. The consensus seems to be that the franchise’s energy is back, albeit lacking in the freshness that made the first film unique.

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