The origins of BEVERLY HILLS COP, which opened on Dec. 5, 1984, were in a 1975 L.A. freeway stop for speeding.
The driver, Michael Eisner, soon became president of Paramount Pictures. But when a Beverly Hills police officer stopped him for speeding, he was driving a beat-up station wagon he’d brought from NY. The cop’s condescending attitude quickly taught Eisner that in L.A., you are what you drive. A day later, he had a new Mercedes and thought there might be a good movie about a cop like that.
Two years later, Paramount production executive Don Simpson had an idea about a cop from gritty East L.A. being transferred to swanky Beverly Hills. This led to a screenplay titled “Beverly Drive,” by Danilo Bach, about a Pittsburgh cop called Elly Axel. By now, it was 1981, but it wasn’t yet a buddy cop action comedy, and nobody was talking about casting Eddie Murphy.
Rewrites followed, and the hot idea cooled off. Then in 1983, Paramount had blockbuster success with FLASHDANCE, produced by Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer, who then decided to do their cop project. Daniel Petrie, Jr. did a new rewrite, adding comedy and a lead character who was a Detroit cop named Axel Elly.
Paramount gave it the green light. Mickey Rourke was to play Axel, whose last name became Foley. But everything went too slowly, and Rourke left to do THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. Simpson & Bruckheimer also needed a director. Martin Scorsese, who directed 1980’s RAGING BULL, passed because it reminded him of COOGAN’S BLUFF, a 1968 action crime comedy where an Arizona cop goes to New York to bring back a fugitive.
The producers went to Martin Brest, who’d been fired from his second movie, the 1983 action drama WAR GAMES. Simpson & Bruckheimer felt he was perfect for COP and kept after him. Brest kept saying no and even took his phone off the hook. Then Brest flipped a coin, which told him to do it. He later had that lucky quarter framed and hung in his office.
Sylvester Stallone was considered for Axel and did some rewriting that turned it into a straight-action film about a character called Axel Cobretti. Paramount decided Stallone’s script was too expensive to produce. Stallone used much of what he’d come up with in his 1986 action thriller COBRA.
Two days after Stallone left, Simpson & Bruckheimer landed Murphy, who had been planning to do GHOSTBUSTERS. COP’S budget of $14M included $4M for Murphy. Brest actually brought the picture in for just $13M. It did over $316M worldwide, spawning sequels with Murphy in 1987 & ’94. In 2019 Paramount did a licensing deal with Netflix for a third sequel to star Murphy that’s now in development.
Sequels were in the cards from when Paramount chairman Frank Mancuso first saw COP and told Simpson & Bruckheimer, “This movie will be bigger than GHOSTBUSTERS. Let’s commit to working on a sequel right away.”