Beverly Hills Cop continues to crack viewers up 35 years after its release. It was a pivotal leading role for comedian Eddie Murphy that propelled his acting career to an iconic level. Interestingly, Axel Foley was almost portrayed by Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone, who wanted to turn the script into a straight up action flick. Murphy eventually jumped into the role with the charm, comedic timing, and exceptional flair that only he can bring to the screen. He made Axel what he was truly meant to be: a wisecracking and wayward underdog who makes his mark in unfamiliar territory.
There was a foundation laid for Murphy’s Axel by characters like John Shaft and In the Heat of the Night’s Virgil Tibbs. But, Axel brought something different to the table with his unrefined youthful energy, motor mouth, and sharp instincts. He’s not a smooth-talking ladies’ man with a cool as a fan demeanor nor a cynical seasoned officer who is sick of it all.
Axel is broke, impulsive, and delightfully optimistic no matter what obstacles are thrown his way. His ability to balance the brilliant, constant shifts in a detective’s mind yet still remain refreshingly relatable has led him to be included on several “greatest characters” lists. So, it’s no surprise that Axel Foley laid the foundation for future comedic cops to come.
Axel’s joking cop persona is clearly seen in characters like Men in Black’s Agent J and Bad Boys Mike Lowrey, both played by Will Smith. Agent J, like Axel, is a fish out of water who is used to running behind criminals in New York City. He finds his way into this world and puts a stamp on it with his unorthodox methods and ability to infuse humor into frankly odd situations.
Mike Lowrey certainly has the smoothness of a Shaft and financial privilege but his jokester ways and willingness to go rogue on a mission are reminiscent of Axel. It’s obvious that Murphy’s career paved the way for Smith and opened doors for a big budget action-comedy like Bad Boys with TWO Black male leads to exist. So, it would make sense if Smith purposely infused a bit of Axel into his performance along with his own style of comedy.
There’s also Chris Tucker’s Detective James Carter in the Rush Hour franchise. Carter is essentially an updated (circa the era) version of Axel Foley. He’s a speed-talking detective who makes plans to solve a case himself after being specifically told to stay away from what’s going down. In more recent years, films like Kevin Hart’s Ride Along continue to feed’s viewers incessant love for a fun buddy cop dramedy.
Axel Foley’s influence is obvious when it comes to his boisterous Black predecessors but it extends to others as well. Since Beverly Hills Cop, a slew of wisecracking officers have materialized onscreen: Lennie Briscoe (Law & Order), Allen and Terry (The Other Guys), and even Stranger Things‘ beloved Jim Hopper, among many others.
It’s not to say that these characters (and actors) are not unique and influential in their own right. But, like most things, there is a gold standard and prototype that governs them all. And, when it comes to humorous cop characters who wins the hearts of viewers, no one did it quite like Axel Foley.
In fact, Eddie Murphy is set to reprise his role in a fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie on Netflix so the magic of Foley will come back again. It remains to be seen if Beverly Hills Cop IV will thrill fans, but Axel’s legacy established 35 years will always be worthy of celebration.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures