It's a common question these days, unfortunately. Like Tom Cruise, Murphy used to be a pretty big deal. Exploding out of Saturday Night Live, a product of the stand-up comedy circuit of the early 80s, Eddie's hair-trigger comic timing and foul-mouthed, larger-than-life persona had him pegged for everlasting superstardom, and for a while, he rode that train rather well.
He made his film debut in Walter Hill's 48 HRS., a movie often credited for starting the whole "buddy cop" subgenre of action films. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of that 1982 juggernaut will rave about Murphy's signature scene, where he marches into a redneck bar on a dare and lays the verbal smack-down on each and every good ol' boy in the joint. It was a moment that firmly announced Eddie as a motion picture force to be reckoned with, and he all but steals the movie from established movie star Nick Nolte.
Murphy starred next opposite fellow SNL alum Dan Aykroyd in 1983's Trading Places – another hit comedy, directed by John Landis, best described as The Prince And The Pauper Of Wall Street. But it wasn't until the release of Beverly Hills Cop in 1984 that Murphy finally established himself as a stand-alone box office draw; Martin Brest's blockbuster action-comedy even outsold that summer's Ghostbusters in worldwide ticket sales, at $316.3 million vs. $291.6 million, respectively.
Sadly, Murphy would never again reach the same creative heights as those early glory days, despite headlining a series of commercially-viable-yet- critically-reviled projects such as The Golden Child (1986), sequels Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) and Another 48 HRS. (1990), and Boomerang (1992). (A few bright spots stand out among the rest, however, with Coming To America in 1988 and the Nutty Professor remake in 1996.) Since then, he's traded his harder-edged star qualities for "safer" family fare, including Dr. Dolittle and Daddy Day Care, and voice work for Disney's Mulan and DreamWorks' Shrek films. (He might as well change his working name to Eddie Murphy, Slumming; though, to be fair, he did give a rocket-fueled, Oscar-nominated performance in Bill Condon's 2006 magical, musical Dreamgirls.)
Murphy's become softer, blander, less electric; the exact opposite of why fans fell head over heels for the guy in the first place. And while that doesn't qualify him as box office poison, per se, it's a sad fact that he's nowhere as big a star as he was back in the day. (There's hope for Tower Heist, an ensemble caper comedy à la Ocean's Eleven - from the same writer, no less - due this November. But it success hinges less on Murphy's presence than on the star power of its cast, which also includes Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck and Alan Alda.)
The real question here is: Why? Why this backward slope? Unlike, say, "Mad Mel" Gibson or Meg "America's Former Sweetheart" Ryan (about whom I go on about here), Eddie's done nothing, really, to sour our opinion of him – save for some lousy career choices. No hissy-fit hotel room rampages, no drunken public binges, no anti-Semitic rants posted on the Internet... just a rapidly declining interest in what he represents or what he can do.
And he's not the only one. Whatever happened to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, even Burt Reynolds... those products of the 70s, 80s and 90s who used to command our money and respect? What grievous harm did they inflict upon us to vanish from our collective consciousness? Did they grow too old? Did they get too soft? Did they outlive their usefulness? Or, to quote Norma Desmond, was it the pictures that got small? (Even Sly Stallone's moderate success as of late has been a direct callback to his glory days, with follow-ups to Rocky and Rambo, and last year's 80s-testosterone-on-parade action hit The Expendables.)
And so I pose a series of questions to you, dear reader: Which movie stars have you been saddest to see fall by the wayside? Which once-great actor or actress would you most like to see make a comeback? Which stars of today represent the most depressing trend in terms of current public tastes? Which actor or actress would you like to see slip off the public radar? And, most importantly, why?
UPDATE: According to this report, Eddie Murphy has just signed as host for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Now there's an Oscar telecast I might actually watch. As long as he keeps the Doctor Dolittle shtick to a minimum.