Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest names in 1980s cinema, with a string of hits including Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. Before these hits, however, Murphy starred opposite Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs, a film which saw a tough cop and an over the top criminal paired up for (you’ve guessed it) exactly two days to try and solve a major case.
The film went down a storm with critics and audiences, and helped start Murphy on the way to his Hollywood success. Let’s take a look back at 48 Hrs. with some facts you may not have known…
20. Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy improvised many of their lines
In the 2008 documentary Nick Nolte: No Exit, Nolte revealed that a lot of the dialogue between himself and Eddie Murphy was actually improvised. This highlighted the natural chemistry between the pair, and just how well the two stars managed to work together on the production.
As surprising as it sounds, at the time of production on 48 Hrs., there were concerns that the film wasn’t funny enough. To overcome this, the writers expanded on the dialogue, tailoring the characters to Murphy and Nolte’s personalities and allowing them to riff.
19. Denise Crosby hit Murphy with a baseball bat for real
One scene in 48 Hrs. sees actress Denise Crosby hit Eddie Murphy with a baseball bat. Despite the bat actually being a rubber prop, Murphy was very nervous that she would hit him by accident. Crosby (who later found fame on TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation) was supposed to stop the bat about a foot away from Murphy, as is procedure when performing movie stunts.
The actress decided to demonstrate her constraint and control over the bat to assure Murphy. However, in doing so, Crosby ended up actually hitting Murphy in the face, much to his chagrin.
18. Murphy took inspiration from Bruce Lee to play Reggie
48 Hrs was Murphy’s first foray into Hollywood movies and he was far from the seasoned actor we all know today. Speaking on TV’s Inside the Actors Studio (1994), Murphy revealed that he had no idea how to act when drawing a gun. To achieve the desired effect, he emulated the facial expression of martial arts legend Bruce Lee when he was ready to go into battle.
The gunfight footage in 48 Hrs. was initially deemed too violent and executives felt it would detract from the film’s humour. They placed the blame on writer-director Walter Hill, telling him he would never work with Paramount again – although things would change once 48 Hrs. became a huge hit.
17. Nick Nolte got paid over half a million dollars more than Murphy for the film
As 48 Hrs was Murphy’s first movie, he received a mere $450,000 for his role (well, ‘mere’ by Hollywood leading man standards). Meanwhile, the then-more established Nick Nolte received a pretty sizeable $1 million. This gap in earnings underlines how experienced and up-and-coming actors were treated differently by the studios at the time.
However, when it came to the sequel – by which time Murphy was a considerably bigger star – the tables were turned. Murphy walked away from Another 48 Hrs. with a hefty $7 million, whilst Nolte received just $3 million (again, ‘just’ by Hollywood standards).
16. James Remar would go days without sleep to make his villain character look more psychotic
We’ve all heard of actors going to extremes to prepare for a part, and James Remar was no exception on 48 Hrs. To get the right look for 48 Hrs bad guy Ganz, Remar (who had previously worked with director Walter Hill on 1979 cult classic The Warriors) fully immersed himself in the role. In order to get into character, Remar would often go without sleep for days before he was due to shoot his scenes.
Remar said he did this in order to give the character a more genuinely psychotic and washed-out look. His rather unorthodox method seems to have paid off, as Remar was widely praised for his chilling performance. Sadly, the actor was also struggling with a drug problem which would later derail his career when he was fired from 1986’s Aliens (and replaced by Michael Biehn).
15. The movie was originally developed to star Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor
We can’t think of a better cop-criminal duo than Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, but it could all have been very different. 48 Hrs. was originally supposed to have been made in the late 70s, and was intended to star Dirty Harry icon Clint Eastwood as the cop and comedy legend Richard Pryor as the criminal.
Eastwood turned the film down to make Escape from Alcatraz instead, as he wanted to play a criminal rather than another cop. As a result, the production went into turnaround and was put on hold for several years. Luckily, producers did not forget the project, and decided to revive 48 Hrs just two years later, starring a different duo.
14. Gregory Hines and Denzel Washington were sought to star before Murphy
The role of 48 Hrs’ Reggie Hammond was first offered to Gregory Hines, who had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. Eddie Murphy has since confessed he was not even second choice for Reggie, with Richard Pryor and the-then largely unknown Denzel Washington both being considered before him. Walter Hill recalls that ‘Paramount felt that the combination of Nick Nolte and a good black actor would be commercial’.
According to Murphy, at the time of casting, his agent was Hill’s girlfriend, which played a part in landing him the role. The film would become Murphy’s lucky break, quickly catapulting him into stardom.
13. Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke and Burt Reynolds were considered for Nick Nolte’s role
We can’t imagine anyone else in the role of Jack Cates, but Nick Nolte wasn’t actually first in line for the part. The role was first offered to several other high-profile actors before casting directors finally turned to Nolte. Actors who were in the running for the role included Mickey Rourke (then a hot up-and-coming newcomer) and Burt Reynolds (one of the biggest stars in the world at the time).
However, perhaps one of the most famous faces to have been considered for 48 Hrs. was legendary Rocky actor Sylvester Stallone. Two years after 48 Hrs., Rourke and Stallone would both come close to starring in the movie that made Eddie Murphy a true superstar: Beverly Hills Cop.
12. It was praised for its ethnically diverse casting choices
We’ve already discussed how the 48 Hrs filmmakers were keen to cast a black actor in the lead role. However, their decision to include non-white actors didn’t end with casting Murphy. There were a total of seven black actors in the movie; relatively groundbreaking for 1980s Hollywood.
Not only this, but 200 of the extras involved were black, as well as a band (The Bus Boys) consisting predominately of black musicians providing much of the soundtrack. According to the November-December 1982 edition of Coming Attractions magazine, the film was ‘one of the rare Hollywood movies in recent years to make major use of black talent.’
11. It started out as a movie about kidnapping
Far from the killer-chasing action-packed movie we know today, 48 Hrs. originally had a different concept. Director Hill revealed that the film was initially set to revolve around a kidnapper. The general idea was that the Governor of Louisiana’s daughter was kidnapped by a criminal, who strapped dynamite to her head and threatened to blow her up in 48 hours if the ransom was not met.
‘The family assigns a top cop to rescue her’, explained Hill. ‘One aspect of the story was the cop getting one of the kidnapper’s old cellmates out of jail to help him.’ Eventually, the story was rewritten and the main character tailored around Clint Eastwood, who would ultimately turn down the part.
10. It received critical acclaim
48 Hrs. is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1982, if not the whole 80s. Its riveting storyline and the chemistry between the actors ensured it received critical acclaim. The film has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has an average rating of 7.3/10.
‘Marking an auspicious feature film debut for Eddie Murphy, 48 Hrs. is a briskly paced action-comedy that succeeds largely due to the outstanding chemistry between its two leads,’ the site’s consensus reads. It was also named the movie the third-greatest buddy cop film by the staff at IGN in 2007.
9. It won several awards
As well as being incredibly well received by critics, 48 Hrs also won several awards. At the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, Walter Hill was awarded the Grand Prix award. Eddie Murphy was also recognised for his performance, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Acting Debut.
Composer James Horner also won an award for his score at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Last but not least, the film’s screenplay was nominated by the Edgar Allen Poe Awards for Best Motion Picture.
8. A song written for the film wasn’t actually included in the soundtrack
The movie’s promotional blurb consisted partially of the phrase The Boys Are Back In Town. If this sounds familiar, it may be because this was also the name of a song written specifically for the film by The Busboys (not to be confused with the Thin Lizzy track of the same name).
The track was not released when the movie came out and wasn’t available on CD until 2000. Later, the phrase was used as the main movie tagline for the film’s sequel Another 48 Hrs. (1990). Though the original song was heard at the end of the sequel, it wasn’t included on the sequel’s soundtrack album either.
7. There were accuracy issues with the guns used
Any gun buffs among us will know that the weapon carried initially by Jack Cates, and then taken by Albert Ganz during the film’s hotel shootout, is a Smith and Wesson model 29 .44 Magnum. At the station house, Cates is issued a Government model Colt 1911 A1, 45 automatic.
Bizarrely, Cates seems to carry this pistol in the same shoulder holster he used for his .44 revolver. In reality, this would prove highly impractical as the two weapons have very different contours.
6. Hill’s later film Brewster’s Millions had a lot in common with 48 Hrs.
Three years after 48 Hrs. was released (and one year after 1984’s poorly received Streets of Fire), Hill directed another hugely successful movie: 1985 comedy Brewster’s Millions. Unsurprisingly given that both films were directed by the same man, it shares some common ground with 48 Hrs. – not least the fact that leading man Richard Pryor came close to playing Eddie Murphy’s role in the earlier film.
Brewster’s Millions also featured a number of the same actors, props, locations (such as Torchy’s Bar) and story elements as 48 Hrs. This also included a light-blue 1964 Cadillac convertible, as well as featuring a number of the same supporting actors.
5. Director Hill collaborated with Nolte a further two times
Nolte and Murphy’s chemistry is often praised in reference to 48 Hrs. However, they are not the only duo to have gotten along famously during filming. 48 Hrs. would mark the first of three collaborations between leading man Nick Nolte and director Walter Hill.
After 48 Hrs., the pair worked together on Extreme Prejudice (1987), in which Nolte plays another enforcer of the law, this time in the form of a Texas Ranger. In 1990, Nolte would return to the 48 Hrs. universe set to reprise his role in Another 48 Hrs.
4. The film’s score is also used in 1985’s Commando
The background score being played in the scene featuring Jack and Reggie tailing Luther was later recycled in 1985’s Commando. This high-octane action movie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Mark L. Lester, came out three years after 48 Hrs. Both films were scored by James Horner, a composer who has worked on many major movies.
Interestingly, in both films the character being tailed is played by actor David Patrick Kelly, who drives a Porsche. In 48 Hrs., it’s a replica Speedster and in Commando, the Porsche is a 911.
3. The film was written as it was being shot
Despite the eventual success of 48 Hrs., it wasn’t given the green light from the get go. Prior to production eventually starting, studio Paramount had rejected early drafts of the screenplay. However, for reasons unknown, Paramount suddenly rushed the project into production in spring 1982.
In their haste, they urged Hill and producer Lawrence Gordon to begin principal photography by mid-May 1982. However, the script unfortunately failed to be completed on time meaning that Hill and co-writer Larry Gross continued to write throughout the shoot.
2. It was a box office hit
As well as being praised by critics, 48 Hrs. was also a huge success at the box office. Although not the biggest movie of the year (that honour went to Steven Spielberg’s E.T.), it still surpassed all expectations. Popular with audiences and critics alike, 48 Hrs. was the seventh highest-grossing film of 1982.
It grossed $4,369,868 in its opening weekend and $78,868,508 overall at the domestic box office; a significant profit given it cost $12 million to make. 1990 follow-up Another 48 Hrs. also performed handsomely, making $153.3 million, although there wasn’t so great a profit margin given the sequel cost $50 million to make and even more to promote.
1. It was Eddie Murphy’s very first film role
When 48 Hrs. was first released, Eddie Murphy was far from the household name he is today, although he had achieved substantial success. Murphy began to make a name for himself when he became the youngest actor to appear on Saturday Night Live aged just 19. As well as performing as a stand-up comedian, Murphy decided to branch out and try his hand at acting.
48 Hrs. was just the challenge Murphy wanted, for while the movie has its lighthearted elements, it gave him a shot at being a ‘serious’ actor. “I do some funny things in the movie,” Murphy explained, “but for all intents and purposes it’s a serious movie.” Murphy followed this with another, more comedy-based hit, Trading Places.