By 1984, Eddie Murphy had successfully pivoted from Saturday Night Live and stand-up comedy to bankable movie star. But that summer, he and Dudley Moore starred in a flop called Best Defense, and, very quickly, Murphy distanced himself from it.

The movie was originally intended as a starring vehicle for Moore, who played an engineer for a defense contractor; after designing a bad part for a tank, he passes off a murdered colleague's plans as his own.

When the movie tested poorly with early audiences, Paramount Pictures suggested bringing in Murphy, who was under contract to the studio.

Murphy was quickly written into the script, playing a tank commander in scenes set a few years later, where the supposedly better part fails and helps lead the U.S. to interfere in a war between Kuwait and Iraq.

Because Murphy's role was an afterthought -- which was acknowledged by his credit as "strategic guest star" -- and takes place outside of the original plot, there's no interaction between him and the main cast, which also included Kate Capshaw, Helen Shaver and George Dzundza.

The movie was widely panned -- its Rotten Tomatoes score is 13 -- and its box office numbers dropped sharply after a strong first week.

Watch 'Best Defense' Trailer

Later that December, Murphy, who had just left Saturday Night Live in the spring, returned to host the show. In his monologue, he admitted that he did the movie for the money.

"After I did 48 Hours and Trading Places, all these scripts started comin’ from everywhere, and I picked up a script called Best Defense," he said. "There’s a movie that sucked real bad!

"At first, I wasn’t gonna do it because I read the script, and I felt like I was an actor at first. But the money they gave me to do Best Defense, y’all woulda done Best Defense too, okay? ... I was like, 'What?! How dare you give me a script like this! Oh, that much money? Let’s go!'"

Murphy noted from SNL's stage that "Best Defense turned out to be the worst movie ever done in the history of anything, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t that hot no more. So, I called up the producer of Saturday Night Live, and I go, 'Um, you still got my dressin’ room?'"

Fortunately for Murphy, he had already rebounded before the SNL episode. Two weeks earlier, Beverly Hills Cop premiered and restored his status as one of the most successful comic actors of the decade.

 

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