Paramount struggled for a long time to crack Beverly Hills Cop III, starring Eddie Murphy – and it nearly solved a Crocodile Dundee III problem at the same time.
As these words are being penned, the long road to the fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie is nearly complete. It’s a project that’s been mooted and talked about for a long, long time – Brett Ratner for a period of time was set to direct, imagine that – and now Eddie Murphy has shot what’s going to be called Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley.
It was no sure thing that Paramount Pictures would press ahead with a fourth picture, so the fact that the movie exists is something in itself. But then, Paramount also offloaded the project to Netflix after years of trying to get it off the ground. The studio had previously made and funded Coming 2 America, a belated sequel to another Murphy hit, before flogging it to Amazon for streaming in the midst of pandemic lockdowns.
The long journey to the fourth film though is reflective too of the difficulties Paramount had decided on where to go with Beverly Hills Cop 3 all the way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first two films after all were huge hits, and it was inevitable that plans would be afoot for a third chapter in the saga. Yet for a bunch of reasons, there was a seven year gap between film two and film three, compared to the three years between the original and its immediate follow-up.
Murphy for one was reluctant for a while to revisit the role of Axel Foley again when it came to considering a third movie, and wasn’t shy about saying so. It didn’t stop Paramount spending the back end of the 1980s and early 1990s looking for ideas and hiring writers, hoping to lure Murphy back. But against that too, Murphy’s movie career was hitting a bump in the road. His directorial debut, Harlem Nights, was a critical and commercial misfire. When he did then elect to make a sequel to a Paramount feature, he chose Another 48 Hrs, and that too failed to capture the spark of its original.
Yet if Murphy’s film work has shown a talent for backing projects that don’t always go to plan, he’s not that bad at comeback movies either. Teaming with Reginald Hudlin for Boomerang in the early 1990s proved wise and off the back of its success, and the calmer production itself, studios were interested in getting back in the Eddie Murphy game.
Against this backdrop, the script ideas for new Beverly Hills Cop movies kept coming.
One idea that was mooted leaned into another successful franchise, Crocodile Dundee. The first film has been a hit out of nowhere, making a 1980s global megastar out of Paul Hogan. The sequel, too brought the audience back, and studios again were keen to find new projects for him. Hogan too didn’t choose too wisely. The movie Almost An Angel for instance has its intentions in the right place, but it’s not one to instantly pop onto your watchlist.
With Paramount’s own box office fortunes starting to splutter, a plan was formed. Some bright spark, in 1991, had an idea for Paramount to hedge its bets. A film that’d bringing Michael J ‘Crocodile’ Dundee and Axel Foley into the same picture, some 25 years before Sony seriously considering crossing the streams of its Men In Black and Jump Street films.
That bright spark though happened to be the head of the studio at the time, the late Brandon Tartikoff. He was the one who put forward the idea of the crossover, a plan that didn’t get very far across Eddie Murphy’s desk before it was kicked into touch. Reading Paul Hogan’s memoir, it doesn’t even get a mention there, so it’s unclear whether he even got to hear about it at all.
It wasn’t the only leftfield idea out there for Beverly Hills Cop III. As the Los Angeles Times reported towards the end of 1992, another plan would have brought Sean Connery aboard the franchise, playing a detective from Scotland Yard who has to team up with Axel Foley to crack the latest case. It’s unclear quite what happened to that one, but there’s no evidence it got seriously to the scripting stage.
In the end, the two franchises would go their separate ways. It wouldn’t be until a further decade had passed before we got the third Croc film, Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles. Its mantlepiece of Oscars is barren too, as nobody – Hogan included – ultimately seemed to warm to it (he did write about that one in his memoir, and was not particularly upbeat about it).
And then Beverly Hills Cop III became a hot potato at Paramount, when a story for it came together that saw Axel Foley solving crime against the backdrop of a theme park. This was not a frugal idea, and it bubbled to the top of the pile just as Paramount was changing the way it was financing its films. The studio was one of the forerunners when it came to looking for production partners to lessen the risk of a project (something that’s commonplace now), and the escalating budget for Cop III was causing headaches. In the end, relatively new studio head Sherry Lansing put the project on pause while it was retooled and the costs brought under control. It didn’t stop the resultant movie from being something of a dud, and a contributor to Murphy’s career heading back to the doldrums, from which it’d stay for a few years until The Nutty Professor sent him shooting right back to the top of the box office.
The fourth Beverly Hills Cop film meanwhile sees Murphy’s career curve inclining upwards again, not least thanks to the terrific Dolemite Is My Name from back in 2019. Whether Axel Foley continues or hampers that remains to be seen.
As for the Crocodile Dundee saga? It remains dormant, and is unlikely to ever be resurrected. The closest we got was Hogan starring in the 2020 meta comedy The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, that toyed with the character, yet with its focus on the man who played him.
Who knows though? If Netflix is suitably happy with Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley when it finally releases it from its long cocoon of gestation, the idea of a crossover may just raise its head again. Then again, there’s more chance of us getting a Meet Dave and Norbit crossover – and what a treat that’d be…
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