Beverly Hills Cop Was Gonna Be a Stallone Action Flick

If anything cemented Eddie Murphy’s status as a superstar, it was Beverly Hills Cop. It may be one of those nostalgic films from the comedy gold decade of the 1980s, but the action/comedy was more than just an awesome movie to watch. Financially speaking, it was the number one film of 1984. Its screenplay was even nominated for an Oscar.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

The funny thing is (well, apart from the actual movie) that it was really close to becoming a completely different movie featuring a major action star, with a lot more bang-bang and way less ha-ha. Of course, the film did so well that it earned two sequels. And as of late, a fourth is said to be on its way, which was actually a long time coming as it’s been in the works since the ‘90s.

This is everything you should and need to know about Beverly Hills Cop.

The Idea for the Movie Came From a Speeding Ticket

It was 1975, long before Michael Eisner would become the CEO of Disney. Despite having the impressive title of president at Paramount Studios, he was still driving a beat-up station wagon around the streets of Hollywood. One day, he got a speeding ticket from a cop with “an air of superiority and quiet condescension,” as he recalled.

Michael Eisner and Steven Spielberg. Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

After that day, he went ahead and bought himself a Mercedes. The whole thing inspired him to make a movie about a Hollywood police officer. If you asked Paramount executive Don Simpson, though, he would have told you that Eisner was wrong and that he came up with the idea himself.

It Took Years to Get the Script Right

Danilo Bach was the guy hired to write the script of Beverly Hills Cop, and in 1981, he sent a draft entitled Beverly Drive. In the script, a cop from Pittsburgh named Elly Axel shows up in Beverly Hills to investigate his friend’s death. That plot – as loose as it was – remained throughout the rest of the creative process.

Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer
Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

The CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, felt that Bach’s draft, as well as all the others from other screenwriters, just didn’t capture the fish-out-of-water aspect that he was looking for. Then came along a script by Daniel Petrie Jr., which Eisner, Paramount executive Don Simpson, and his fellow Paramount producer Jerry Bruckheimer liked.

The Screenwriter Was Inspired by Actual Cops

With Petrie’s script, there was actual comedy. He inserted humor into his version after he took the time to actually talk to cops. He noticed that they told “tremendously funny stories, punctuated by the most gruesome violence.” Petrie also nailed the outsider quality that Eisner wanted so badly.

Dan Petrie Jr.
Photo by Dan Petrie Jr.

Petrie actually drew from personal experience. He tapped into his past as a poor writer who would walk to his fancy Beverly Hills office past stores with expensive clothes and art that he only wished he could afford. He could never have known at the time that feeling so deprived would work in his favor.

Mickey Rourke Was Supposed to Play Axel Foley

Before Petrie came along and perfected the script, some other major players tried their hand in the film. It was fast-tracked in 1983, and according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the role of Axel Foley was first offered to Mickey Rourke. In those days, Rourke was a hot commodity after his performance as Boogie in Diner.

Diner lobby card
Source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

He signed a $400,000 holding contract, where he, the studio and the writers went back and forth on ideas for his character. But when revisions and preparations took longer than expected, Rourke chose to leave the project and do another film instead. If it’s hard to picture Mickey Rourke as Axel, then you should hear the other main prospect…

Then Sylvester Stallone Came Along

Sylvester Stallone was another major contender for the part of Axel Foley. The action film superstar signed on and gave the script a drastic rewrite. He basically turned it into a straight action film, scrapping the comedy completely.

Sylvester Stallone during Celebrity Polo Matche
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

In one of the drafts written for Stallone, the character of Billy Rosewood was named “Siddons,” and he was killed off halfway through the film in one of the action scenes. Stallone also renamed Foley to Axel Cobretti, where the Michael Tandino character was to be his brother and Jenny Summers would play his love interest. In other words, it was an entirely different movie.

Stallone’s Script Was Pure Action

Stallone recalled first receiving the action/comedy script in the mail and admitted that he thought it was sent to the wrong house. By 1983, he had already written the first three Rocky movies and First Blood, so he wanted to rewrite Beverly Hills Cop to better suit his strengths.

20th Annual Publicists Guild of America Awards
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Stallone once said that his script for Beverly Hills Cop would have “looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy.” He admitted that the finale was him “in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy.”

His Script Was Too Expensive, so He Dropped Out

In the end, Stallone’s ideas were ultimately deemed “too expensive” for Paramount to produce, and two weeks before filming was scheduled to start, Stallone left the project. Hollywood legend has it that Stallone abandoned the project because of failed negotiations over what type of orange juice he would get in his trailer. (Of course, that’s ridiculous and not true).

Beverly Hills Cop 2 publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

So, whatever happened to all that action stuff Stallone wrote for his version of Beverly Hills Cop? Well, a majority of his script went into his 1986 movie Cobra. And in honor of Sly, Judge Reinhold’s character Billy Rosewood has posters of Cobra and Rambo in his room in Beverly Hills Cop II.

Eddie Murphy Saved the Day

Two days after Stallone dropped out, the film’s producers, Simpson and Bruckheimer, were able to convince Eddie Murphy to replace Stallone, which prompted yet another rewrite. Just so you know, Stallone and Rourke weren’t the only actors considered for Axel Foley before Murphy came along. Richard Pryor, Al Pacino, and James Caan were all considered for the part.

Portrait Of Eddie Murphy
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Let’s just be thankful that Eddie Murphy agreed to play the part, though, since it’s nearly impossible to think of anyone else nailing the role as he did. At the time, Murphy was fresh off roles in 48 Hours and Trading Places. And he came to save the day.

The Ad-Libbed Scenes Meant Hundreds of Takes

Petrie Jr. showed up to finish a final version of his script, but both he and director Martin Brest weren’t entirely satisfied. Brest encouraged Murphy to improvise on the spot, and the comedian did come through on multiple occasions.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

As it turns out, the most memorable lines in Beverly Hills Cop weren’t scripted. They were the result of improvisation between Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and John Ashton. Hundreds of takes were ruined due to laughter both in front of and behind the camera. It sounds like a fun set to be on, for sure.

Eddie Murphy Improvised the “Super Cops” Monologue

The iconic “Super Cops” monologue that Axel gives in the police station was one of the many ad-libbed lines. Eddie Murphy was actually exhausted while filming. Believe it or not, the former SNL cast member was someone who happened to only rarely drink caffeine.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

So, he refused the crew’s suggestion to drink coffee (apparently, Murphy abstains from stimulants of any kind). Anyway, he finally gave in, and after a few sips of Joe, his hyper monologue was improvised on the spot. (If that doesn’t make you wanna re-watch that part of the movie, then what will?)

When Martin Scorsese Was Considering the Role of Director

Back when Stallone was still signed on to play the lead, the great Martin Scorsese was offered a seat in the director’s chair. Scorsese confessed to having been “bewildered” at the offer and dismissed the concept.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

He saw it as too similar to the movie Coogan’s Bluff (where Clint Eastwood was a deputy sheriff from Arizona who goes to New York City to hand over a fugitive). With Scorsese out, the chair needed to be filled. Martin Brest had just been fired from his second directing job (on WarGames), and the industry saw him as damaged goods.

Martin Brest Kept Declining the Offer to Be Director

Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, however, disagreed. The two Paramount execs wanted Brest in the project and repeatedly called him, asking him to direct Beverly Hills Cop. But he kept declining, that is, before he pulled his phone off the hook. Simpson took the hint. Bruckheimer didn’t.

Don Simpson - U.S. Film Producer - Person.
Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Photo by Philip Wayne Lock/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

He kept trying (aka begging), and to end the harassment, Brest thought he might as well flip a coin to make his decision. Unluckily for him, the coin told him to take the job.

For those who don’t know, Martin Brest is the guy who directed Meet Joe Black and Gigli (among others). Yes, Gigli. Clearly, it was hit or miss with his work.

It Was Supposed to Be a Potato

The good old banana-in-the-tail-pipe scene. Brest mentioned in a commentary for the film that it was originally supposed to be a potato in the tailpipe. The scene was intended to involve Axel sneaking into the kitchen of the hotel to get a potato.

The good old banana-in-the-tail-pipe scene
Source: YouTube 

But, of course, budget and scheduling became an issue, and the scene couldn’t be shot as planned. So, Murphy had to grab something easily accessible in a location that was already ready to be shot. The lobby was that location, so Axel grabbed a banana off the buffet. It was also Murphy’s idea to get Damon Wayans to play the guy working the buffet.

Fun fact: Wayans is credited in the film as “Banana Man.”

This Actor Held the Script in His Hands While Filming

There was one actor in the movie who held the script in his hands while shooting, and it was actually kept in the final edit of the film. Since the screenplay was reworked constantly, it meant that sometimes actors were given their lines right before shooting their scenes.

Stephen Elliott in Beverly Hills Cop
Source: Paramount Pictures 

This happened to be an issue for actor Stephen Elliott, who played police chief Hubbard. He was captured with his rolled-up script in his hand as he was saying his lines. Fortunately for him, the director thought it made the part better, so he kept it in the film.

Bronson Pinchot Wanted to Go to Italy Instead

Pinchot played Serge the gallerist and impressed the director so much that Brest called Pinchot the “American Peter Sellers.” This role helped him get his iconic role of Balki Bartokomous on Perfect Strangers for seven seasons.

Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop
Source: Reddit

Thanks to the movie’s frequent production delays and Pinchot’s scheduled trip to Florence, Italy, the comedic actor grew restless and told producers that if they didn’t start production, he would have to drop out. Let’s remember that, at the time, Pinchot was virtually unknown. So, this ultimatum was particularly gutsy. But, hey, he got his way in the end.

The Reason for the Mumford Shirt

Most of the film scenes that were set in Detroit were actually shot in the city. An off-duty police officer was assigned to accompany Martin Brest and his crew while filming, but he had his limits. The cop reportedly refused to go with the team when they entered a housing project for the shot of the kids spitting up milk.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

Detroit PD was a bit more helpful when the producers were researching police procedures, though. There was one detective who took them to a murder site. And since the murder occurred across the street from Mumford High School, Murphy decided to wear a Mumford shirt throughout the movie.

The Police Department Set Was Based on WarGames

The Beverly Hills PD chose not to provide access to their headquarters, so Brest and the crew simply built a set that would be the exact opposite of Detroit PD’s headquarters, “like private security for all rich people,” as Brest described it.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

The set was actually influenced by Brest’s conceptual designs for the NORAD scenes in his film WarGames (which he got fired from). Like Stallone did with Cobra, Brest recycled his unused work as he felt that he had spent just too much time on it to toss it out.

Is There Going to Be a Beverly Hills Cop IV?

Eddie Murphy, as well as Jerry Bruckheimer, signed on to a fourth installment. But whatever happened to the project? In November 2019, Netflix reportedly signed a deal to make the sequel. So, is it going to happen? Well, apparently, the fourth installment has been in development hell for the past few decades.

Beverly Hills Cop 3 publicity still
Beverly Hills Cop 3. Source: Paramount Pictures

There seem to be some passionate people working on it, including Murphy, who is said to still be enthusiastic about reprising one of his most famous and beloved characters. The process has included a change in directors and an excess of screenplay rewrites. So, all signs are pointing to movie #4.

It Might Have Something to Do With the Third Movie

Beverly Hills Cop III was released in 1994, seven years after the second film. By then, Eddie Murphy was a bonafide star and had proven to be a box office draw. But unfortunately for him, as well as director John Landis and Paramount, it didn’t work in Beverly Hills Cop III’s favor.

Beverly Hills Cop 3 publicity still
Beverly Hills Cop 3. Source: Paramount Pictures

The film was something of a flop for both critics and moviegoers. Years later, Murphy referred to the third installment as “garbage.” It was also a financial failure, only grossing $42.6 million domestically. It ended its run with an international total of $119.2 million on a $70 million budget.

It’s Been in the Works Since the ‘90s

Despite the failure, at some point in the ‘90s, Beverly Hills Cop III was announced as being in development under Eddie Murphy Productions. Despite that announcement, the project was shelved for over a decade. Then, in 2006, the project was re-announced with a new producer.

Beverly Hills Cop 3
Beverly Hills Cop 3. Source: Paramount Pictures

Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to revive the franchise but passed the torch to Transformers and G.I. Joe producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Two years later, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner was hired to take the helm of the film, and he even intended on making it an R-rated feature.

The Script Got Tossed From One Desk to Another

Just as in the first film, the script went through many hands. The screenplay was completed in 2008, and it was titled Beverly Hills Cop 2009. The story was centered on Axel Foley returning to Beverly Hills to probe the death of his friend, Billy Rosewood. Director and producer Brett Ratner ran into problems with getting the other actors – like Judge Reinhold – to sign on.

Beverly Hills Cop III' Screening
Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis/Getty Images

By 2011, the movie was scrapped again. Murphy, however, didn’t give up and had other plans in mind for Beverly Hills Cop. Unsatisfied with the scripts he was seeing for the fourth film, Murphy revealed in late 2011 that he was developing a Beverly Hills Cop TV series.

The Failed Spin-Off Series

Not only did Beverly Hills Cop lead to a second and third sequel, but it also inspired a TV spinoff series. The film’s popularity persisted long enough for CBS to create a spinoff in 2013. Shawn Ryan was hired to write the script, and Barry Sonnenfeld directed the pilot episode.

Beverly Hills Cop (TV Movie 2013)
Source: IMdb

The show was about Axel Foley’s son, Aaron, played by Brandon T. Jackson. As for Axel (now the chief of police in Detroit), he was going to show up from time to time. The show never made it past the pilot. Unfortunately, CBS didn’t end up ordering the series.

“Now and Then” Just Wasn’t Enough for CBS

There are a few reasons for the pilot’s failure. Jackson claimed it was “too edgy” for CBS, and Ryan blamed politics within the network. In a 2015 interview with IndieWire, Murphy attributed it to his own desire not to appear on the show regularly – something the network would have preferred.

Brandon T. Jackson
Brandon T. Jackson. Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Murphy explained: “The reason that didn’t get picked up was that [the studio] thought that I was going to be in this show, because [the lead] was my son: ‘And you’re going to pop in every now and then.’ I was like, ‘I ain’t popping in sh**.’ ‘Well, we ain’t making this TV show.’ I was in the pilot, but they wanted me to be there every week.”

Pulling the Plug Again

In 2013, Jerry Bruckheimer signed a first-look deal with Paramount, and one of the films in that agreement was Beverly Hills Cop IV. Murphy was also reported to be reprising his role, and Brett Ratner was on board again to direct. The screenplay, written by Josh Appelbaum and Andrew Nemec, changed the script up a bit.

Beverly Hills Cop 3 behind the scenes photo
Source: Paramount Pictures

Now, Axel was to be working in Beverly Hills, returning to Detroit in the heart of winter and taking on criminals there. The film was given a March 2016 release date. Then 2015 rolled around, and Paramount pulled the plug… again.

It’s on Its Way

As of 2019, Murphy confirmed that he was still set to make the fourth movie and would do so after Coming 2 America. Then, 2020 hit us like a storm. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who signed on, gave an optimistic update on the film.

Beverly Hills Cop 3
Source: Paramount Pictures

The directors said: “We’re still involved in that project, and there’s a screenwriter now on it that’s going to try to write a first draft or a first treatment, at least with the story. So we’re going to see what the first version will be, but we’re very excited and hope that we can work with another icon like Eddie Murphy.” So, there you go, folks. Beverly Hills Cop IV is on the road to the big screen.

The Opening Sequence

Brest knew from the very beginning he and the crew were going to have a blast working with Murphy. In the first Beverly Hills Cop, the first sequence in the back of the truck was also the first scene shot. In that opening sequence, the haggling between Murphy and Frank Pesce was actually inspired by the dialogue between Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in the film Mean Streets.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

The truck used in that chase sequence was referred to on set as “The Train.” Why? Because its front bumper was replaced with a steel I-beam in order for it to be able to plow through anything it came into contact with.

Murphy Did Most of His Stunts

Murphy did many of his own stunts in that opening sequence, which was mostly filmed in downtown L.A., not Detroit. Obviously, the shot where Axel Foley flies out the back and hits the side of the truck was a stuntman – and one who didn’t want to get back in the truck after.

Investigaton Operations Division
Source: YouTube 

In the sequence where Axel enters his department, the words “INVESTIGATON OPERATIONS DIVISION” are written on the office window. But the word “Investigation” is misspelled, which really irked Brest. But it was 1984, so he didn’t worry about it too much (home videos weren’t even popular enough back then, so people didn’t really examine things as we do now).

The Bromance Scene

Remember the scene at the bar when Murphy and James Russo, who plays Mikey Tandino, had a bromantic conversation? That scene happened to bring out a mixed reaction from preview audiences. Some people laughed when the two characters expressed their love for each other.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

The studio wanted Brest to cut that scene out altogether, but Brest refused. Instead of cutting it out, he and the editors trimmed it down dramatically, even cutting out a few frames held on Mikey after he says, “I love you.” It was a minor adjustment but made all the difference in the world.

Leave It to Eddie Murphy to Bring It Up

Brest said in a commentary of Beverly Hills Cop that during production, he wanted to shy away from bringing up race. After Stallone stepped out, Brest didn’t want to have to deal with the idea of race when Murphy stepped in.

Beverly Hills Cop publicity still
Source: Paramount Pictures

However, Murphy, who improvised much of Axel Foley’s dialogue, brings race into his dialogue more than once. There was the scene, for example, when he’s checking into the Beverly Palms Hotel. Despite his initial reservation, Brest felt it worked and left it in the final cut. You just can’t deny comic genius.

The Strip Club Scene

In the scene where Axel, Rosewood, and Taggart go to the club together, there was a dancer named Mouse. Evidently, she was a legendary stripper, and the song playing in this scene – Nasty Girl by Vanity 6 – was the actual song Mouse would dance to.

Beverly Hills Cop
Source: Paramount Pictures

For that scene, Brest channeled his film school days. He tried to get all the shots of who everyone in the scene is looking at, even though they were far from one another. He said he watched scenes from the film 48 Hours to prepare for this scene since he liked how Walter Hill shot the bar scenes in it.

Beverly Hills Cop II Featured Bob Seger’s Only #1 Hit

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band happens to be one of the most popular American rock bands of all time. So, it might be surprising to hear that he had only one #1 hit. Seger never scored a Billboard hit until his song Shakedown was featured in Beverly Hills Cop II.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Source: YouTube 

The Billboard Book of Number One Hits states that the Eagles’ Glenn Frey was originally set to record the track but had to opt out when he suddenly contracted laryngitis and thus lost his voice. Frey, who sang the Heat Is On song in the first Beverly Hills Cop movie, suggested his friend Seger replace him.

One of the First to Be Filmed in the Playboy Mansion

Believe it or not, the second installment of the franchise – filmed in 1987 – marked one of the first times that filming for a feature production was allowed on the premises of Hugh Hefner’s iconic mansion. In a form of cross-promotion, Brigitte Nielsen (who played Karla Fry in the movie) was the December 1987 centerfold model in Playboy.

Beverly Hills Cop 2
Source: Paramount Pictures

Despite appearing in random TV shows throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the film also marks Hefner’s second feature film released in theaters after The Comeback Trail in 1982.

The Director’s Affair

Let’s move on to the other two Beverly Hills Cop movies, and we’ll start with this scandalous fact. After the massive success of the first film, Paramount Studios decided to hire (the late) Tony Scott to make the sequel (based on his success with Top Gun the year before).

Beverly Hills Cop 2
Eddie Murphy, Brigitte Nielsen, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Guilfoyle, Hugh Hefner. Source: Paramount Pictures

But he was never invited back to do the third film, and it was probably because he had an affair with actress Brigitte Nielsen while filming. At the time, Nielsen was married to Sylvester Stallone. We can only wonder what Stallone thought about that…

That’s a Nice Paycheck

When it comes to critics and the box office, Beverly Hills Cop III is by far the worst of the franchise. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1989, Eddie Murphy said he was reluctant to reprise his role as Axel Foley, claiming he would only do it if he was offered too much money to refuse.

Beverly Hills Cop 3
Source: Paramount Pictures

Apart from the multiple script issues and Murphy’s half-hearted commitment to the project, the budget spiraled out of control – so much so that Paramount had to shut down production to get a firm grasp on it. The budget swelled from $55 million to $70 million, and $15 million went straight to Murphy’s bank account.

Sequel Ideas That Were Ultimately Scrapped

There were a number of ideas for the third movie that was seriously considered but eventually discarded. One of the ideas that got more attention than the others was a plot in which Axel Foley goes overseas to work on a criminal case with a Scotland Yard detective, which would have been played by Sean Connery.

Ronnie and Reggie Kray
Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Another one of the ideas was to feature Axel working in London with actor John Cleese (as a Scotland Yard officer). A third idea included Axel tracking down British gangsters (based on the real-life Kray Brothers whose gang was arrested in Detroit in 1968). Another idea was a franchise crossover with Crocodile Dundee.

A Laundry List of Director Cameos

Beverly Hills Cop III, as much of a failure as it was, was actually littered with cameo appearances from little-to-well-known directors. For instance, the man Axel cuts off when he was in line at the theme park is none other than George Lucas. (There you go, Star Wars fans, an Easter egg for you).

George Lucas in Beverly Hills Cop III
Source: YouTube 

Other filmmakers who appeared in the third film in some form or another were: Joe Dante, John Singleton, Martha Coolidge, Barbet Schroeder, Arthur Hiller, Peter Medak, George Schaefer, and the famed animation artist Ray Harryhausen.

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