1. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 83%
Storyline: This film features Eddie Murphy as Detroit cop Axel Foley, who travels to Beverly Hills, California, to investigate the murder of his best friend. In his quest for justice, he ends up stirring up chaos in the peaceful, disciplined world of Beverly Hills police department.

Why it’s a major performance: One of the significant aspects of this film is Murphy’s comedic yet gritty portrayal of Axel Foley. He manages to balance the character’s humorous side perfectly with the seriousness required for a cop committed to solving a murder case. His quick wit, charming personality, and seamless transition between comedy and intensity enhanced his performance and made the character memorable.

A large part of the film’s success is attributed to Murphy’s dynamic performance. His ability to smoothly combine humour with drama added depth to the character and established a new standard for action-comedy heroes. This role significantly boosted Murphy’s career, solidifying him as a top-tier Hollywood A-lister.

2. Trading Places (1983)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 88%
Storyline: In this comedy, Murphy plays Billy Ray Valentine, a street hustler who becomes part of a social experiment by two rich brothers. The brothers switch the lives of their managing director, Louis Winthorpe III, and Billy Ray to resolve the nature vs nurture debate.

Why it’s a major performance: As Billy Ray Valentine, Murphy expertly portrays a character that’s far from one-dimensional. He showcases his range as he navigates the intricate path from poverty to wealth and finally discovers the harsh realities behind the grand façade of the trading world. His comic timing, coupled with his genuine portrayal of a man forced to evolve rapidly, catapulted the film to success.

Murphy’s performance proved he can handle more serious and layered roles, not just comedic ones. Demonstrating sheer versatility, he holds his own against seasoned actors like Dan Aykroyd and Ralph Bellamy. This film placed Murphy firmly in Hollywood’s sphere of powerhouse talent, showcasing his ability to anchor both comedic and dramatic roles with ease.

3. Coming to America (1988)

IMDB Rating: 7.0/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 69%
Storyline: Murphy stars as Prince Akeem of Zamunda, a wealthy African prince who travels to Queens, New York, to find a wife who loves him for who he is and not his title.

Why it’s a major performance: This film allowed Murphy to exhibit his mastery over comic timing and characterisation. His versatile portrayal of multiple characters displayed his exceptional range as an actor. As Prince Akeem, he exudes charm and humility to beautifully depict his character’s naivety and warmth.

Murphy further impresses by portraying four other characters in the film, showcasing his comedic brilliance and versatility. Each character is unique and humorous in its own way, and Murphy convincingly brings each one to life, adding to the film’s overall appeal. His performance in Coming to America is what truly sets it apart as a classic comedy film.

4. The Nutty Professor (1996)

IMDB Rating: 5.6/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 64%
Storyline: Murphy stars as Sherman Klump, an obese, good-natured university professor who concocts a serum that transforms him into the slim, but obnoxious, Buddy Love.

Why it’s a major performance: Murphy’s multifaceted performance as both the sweet, self-conscious Professor Klump and his charismatic yet rude alter ego, Buddy Love, highlights his ability to range from one extreme character to another seamlessly.

Continuing his tradition of playing multiple roles in a single film, Murphy also portrays each member of the Klump family in impressively distinct ways that showcase his tremendous talent. Despite the film’s mixed reception, Murphy’s performance in The Nutty Professor is widely agreed upon as a comedic tour de force.

5. Dr. Dolittle (1998)

IMDB Rating: 5.4/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 42%
Storyline: Murphy takes on the role of Dr. John Dolittle, a successful doctor and devoted family man who discovers that he can talk to animals. This bizarre skill complicates his life as he’s thrust into the world of interspecies communication.

Why it’s a major performance: Though a departure from his oftentimes raunchy humor, Murphy’s portrayal of Dr. Dolittle capitalised on his comedic capabilities whilst offering a more family-friendly role. His ability to evoke laughter whilst communicating with CGI animals displayed a different side to his comedic skills.

Murphy’s more relaxed and understated approach for this film showed the versatility in his acting. Apart from wielding his signature comedic banter, Murphy displayed a heartwarming depiction of a man committed to his family, indicating his proficiency in balancing both humorous and more serious tonal shifts.

6. Boomerang (1992)

IMDB Rating: 5.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 51%
Storyline: Murphy portrays Marcus, a womanising advertising executive who receives his comeuppance when he meets a confident, aggressive female executive who gives him a taste of his own medicine.

Why it’s a major performance: Beyond the on-the-nose humour, Murphy’s performance as Marcus offers a narrative on the dynamics of relationships and male conceit. He gives Marcus emotional depth, balancing his charm and brashness with vulnerability and introspection.

This role put Murphy on the map as a romantic leading man, showcasing his versatility as an actor. He displayed commendable range as Marcus, a character who evolves from a cocksure womaniser to a man grappling with love and respect. His performance in Boomerang further substantiated Murphy’s ability as a gifted actor capable of producing well-rounded characters.

7. Dreamgirls (2006)

IMDB Rating: 6.5/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 78%
Storyline: Murphy dazzles as Jimmy Early, an effervescent soul singer in the musical drama Dreamgirls. The film, which explores the evolution of R&B in the 1960s and 70s, follows the rise of a girl group, their trials, successes and the complexities of the music industry.

Why it’s a major performance: It was Murphy’s role in Dreamgirls that arguably revealed his extraordinary depth as a performer. His turn as Jimmy Early, a talented yet flawed entertainer, showed a new side to Murphy. The role required singing, dancing, and a broader emotional range that included darker, dramatic moments.

Murphy’s performance was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. He earned multiple award nominations for this role, including his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor which reflected a personal and professional peak. This film highlighted the breadth of Murphy’s talents beyond comedy, proving his prowess as a dramatic actor and a versatility that few in Hollywood could match.

8. Mulan (1998)

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 86%
Storyline: In Disney’s animated film Mulan, Murphy lends his voice to Mulan’s sidekick and mentor, dragon Mushu. Sent by the ancestors to assist Mulan, his inventive humour and sarcasm provide comic relief amidst the dramatic journey.

Why it’s a major performance: This voice-acting role allowed Murphy to utilise his strong command over comedic timing and vocal variability. His work as Mushu is largely regarded as a highlight of the film, contributing to its widespread success.

Despite only lending his voice, Murphy gives Mushu a distinctive persona that’s brimming with energy, wit and charm. Even without a physical presence, he manages to bring a multi-layered character to life, further showcasing his mastery over comedy and his versatility as a performer.

9. 48 Hrs (1982)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 93%
Storyline: Murphy’s breakout film role, 48 Hrs. pairs him with Nick Nolte in a classic buddy-cop setup. Murphy plays convict Reggie Hammond who teams up with Jack Cates (Nolte) to capture an old business colleague, creating chaos in San Francisco.

Why it’s a major performance: Murphy’s magnetic performance as Hammond marked his transition from television to film, setting the stage for a successful cinematic career. His charismatic portrayal of the sprightly, witty convict provided the comic relief in the otherwise dramatic film.

This role was a massive leap for Murphy and his performance earned him accolades from critics and audiences alike. Murphy’s charisma and comedic genius, coupled with his raw acting talent, affirmed his unique place in Hollywood and paved the way for his illustrious career.

10. Shrek (2001)

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
RottenTomatoes Rating: 88%
Storyline: In the animated fantasy-comedy Shrek, Murphy voices Donkey, the feisty, fast-talking sidekick to the movie’s titular ogre. His lively, comedic performance makes Donkey one of the most beloved characters of the franchise.

Why it’s a major performance: Murphy’s performance as Donkey is one of his most celebrated roles. His expert comedic timing and memorable one-liners made Donkey a standout character. Murphy’s unique voice brings an energy to the character that’s palpable and endearing.

The Shrek franchise is beloved worldwide, and a big part of its success is thanks to Murphy’s memorable performance. His interpretation of Donkey showed his versatility as an actor and his ability to imbue animated characters with a distinct, engaging personality. His voice performance in Shrek solidifies Murphy’s legacy as a versatile actor capable of conquering any genre.