The link between Beverly Hills Cop and Cobra

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Eddie Murphy starred in Beverly Hills Cop, Sylvester Stallone in Cobra – but in their own way, they’re joined a little at the hip.

Currently in development for Netflix, now that Paramount has opted not to theatrical pursue a cinema outing for the sequel, is Beverly Hills Cop 4. The movie is set to see Eddie Murphy return in the role of Axel Foley, and it’s been in development for many years. However, belated sequels – even before the last few weeks – had little sign of being box office gold. Netflix was happy to step in, and will co-produce the film with Paramount Pictures.

The Beverly Hills Cop series though may now seem by the numbers, and repeated a million times in a million different guides. But that’s arguably because the original was so successful and trailblazed the way for all the future imitators (including it’s own sequels).

The original story behind the movie was that Danilo Bach, in 1977, was was approached by producer Don Simpson, who had idea about a fish out of water cop in Beverly Hills causing havoc. But in this guise, it was never intended to be a comedy, just a straightforward action film. Bach duly wrote the screenplay – entitled Beverly Drive – and didn’t hear anything for four years. He subsequently got word that his screenplay was going into production, but was being re-written by Daniel Petrie Jr (who would go on to co-write Turner & Hooch and direct Toy Soldiers). Meanwhile, the studio – Paramount – was looking for a star for its film, and the first person it wanted was Mickey Rourke.

As the screenplay was still being rewritten he was given a holding deal where he’d receive $400,000 not to take another film for a certain period of time. But in this case, that time period expired, Rourke banked the cheque, took another job, and moved on.

When the screenplay rewrite finally came in, Petrie Jr had unexpectedly given the film a push more towards the comedic side of things. It proved fortuitous, as it coincided with a chance encounter between Simpson’s producer partner Jerry Bruckheimer and Eddie Murphy in the Paramount car park. Murphy expressed interest in the project.

Simpson and Bruckheimer then went with the screenplay to Paramount saying they wanted Eddie Murphy in the role. But unfortunately Paramount had already offered it to the biggest movie star in the world at that point: Sylvester Stallone. What’s more, Stallone had accepted the job.

The writers were surprised that he’d said yes to the script as it was wasn’t the kind of thing he’d usually be attracted to, Stallone then asked if he could do some tweaks to the screenplay to tailor it more to the way he speaks. Given that Stallone had an Oscar nomination for writing Rocky, and a lot of star power clout, Paramount was happy for that to happen.

Yet when the script came back, so much action had been added that the film it was now way beyond the budget Paramount had to make it. Furthermore, the lead character’s name had been changed from Axel Foley to Axel Cobretti, and was now referred to as ‘The Motor City Cobra’. The film was originally budgeted at $14 million, but with Stallone’s additions it was now looking more like it was going to cost $20m. And Paramount didn’t want to spend that amount of cash on it.

The next version of the screenplay that came back from Stallone sent the bill even higher. What’s more, the (cheaper) comedy had gone too.

While all this was happening Bruckheimer was trying to convince Martin Brest to direct the film. He eventually said yes after lots of calls from Bruckheimer. Legend has it that he eventually flipped a coin to decide if he would take the director’s chair on the movie.

But now the studio, the producers and the original writers were all stuck as to what to do. They knew there was no way they could proceed with Stallone and a film at a budget level well above what they were willing to pay. But also, there was nervousness about approaching Stallone. Not only was he a major star, but legally, he had the power to hold everything up. However, when the eventual difficult conversation took place, he was said to be incredibly gracious and left the project without any fuss. Crucially, he took his parts of the screenplay with him.

With that done, Bruckheimer and Simpson then had a meeting with Eddie Murphy, who committed to the project (Nick de Semlyen’s excellent book, Wild & Crazy Guys, has more on the story of the film). With the rest of the cast pretty much in place and already rehearsing, production could swiftly begin. As filming went on it became very clear that Murphy’s style wasn’t entirely compatible with the now mashed-together script drafts. The star would improvise many of the now classic scenes to put his own spin on the character. Also, Lisa Eilbacher, originally cast in a love interest role for Stallone’s character, would change to become Foley’s friend.

When the film opened in December 1984 it was a smash hit and a half. It was the film that cemented Eddie Murphy as a huge box office star, and, of course, sequels and imitators would follow.

But the Stallone part of the story wasn’t done.

The script that Sylvester Stallone wrote for Beverly Hills Cop in part ended up on the screen, too. Paula Gosling’s book, Fair Game was being adapted for the screen, ultimately by Cannon Pictures. And it would form the basis of the film Cobra. Stallone would of course star in that movie, but he also wrote it. And you can see many of the ideas that he had for Beverly Hills Cop in the script that he ultimately wrote for Cobra. An 80s cult favourite, it’s nonetheless best described as really rather different from Beverly Hills Cop.

One final nugget to round the story off. When Tony Scott directed the first – and most successful – sequel to Beverly Hills Cop, you may well spot a sly and intended wink to the original film’s previous screenplay. Thus, in Beverly Hills Cop 2, Eddie Murphy’s Foley notices a Cobra picture on the wall, and duly comments on it. Who knows? Maybe it was a very early cinematic universe.

And there you have it. Had fate taken a different turn, and Paramount’s bank balance been more generous, we may never have had Axel Foley on the big screen. Mind you, Axel Cobretti doesn’t really quite have the same ring to it.

With that, we’ll leave you with footage from one of the finest videogame movie tie-ins of the 1980s: the ZX Spectrum version of Cobra

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