Movies of 1988 Bracket Game: Coming to America Vs. Big
As this game illustrates, 1988 was a banner year for comedy. In fact, renowned film critic Daffy Stardust wrote “1988 has to be considered one of the greatest years in the history of film comedies.” So there you have it. Case closed. In today’s match-up we have two more successful comedies both of which represented attempts at growth by their leading men. After breaking out as a massive movie star playing fast-talking hustlers on Saturday Night Live and in movies like 48 Hours and Trading Places, Eddie Murphy wanted to be a romantic leading man. Tom Hanks had already established himself in the romantic-comedy, Splash, but Big offered him the opportunity to show a little more range than most of the goofy parts he had played up to that point.
But first, let’s review the results of our Winona Ryder showdown.
They just don’t come much closer than this one! Heathers and Beetlejuice were tied up for most of the day. When I checked the votes before bed, the votes were still split 50/50. The next morning, Beetlejuice had pulled ahead by two votes. Just two votes! While I love both movies and would have been happy to keep either one of them in the game, I am slightly relieved to see Beetlejuice advance instead of Heathers. Why is that? I’ll explain in this week’s Weekly Recap which will post today at noon EST. Regardless of any mistakes I may have made, Beetlejuice will take on Bull Durham in the second round.
Post Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy was arguably the biggest movie star in America. He could have continued making action-comedies and coasted on his previous success for years to come, but Murphy was getting bored. He wanted to do other things. So he came up with a story about an African prince who travels to America and poses as a regular Joe to find a suitable bride. Or did he? It depends on who you ask. Murphy’s is definitely credited with the story for Coming to America, but humorist Art Buchwald successfully sued Paramount for stealing ideas from his script treatment.
Regardless of who wrote what, Coming to America was definitely a step towards moving Murphy into different types of roles. Most of Murphy’s film roles up to that point were loud and overbearing, but Akeem was sweet and sensitive. The movie was still filled with enough bawdy humor to keep Murphy’s fans happy. And to sweeten the pot, Murphy played multiple roles under heavy make-up which allowed him to cut loose in the movie’s margins. Murphy would go back to this approach again in the Nutty Professor movies and Norbit.
Coming to America was hugely successful. It was the third-highest grossing movie if 1988 and performed almost as well as Beverly Hills Cop II. But Murphy’s career hits some snags immediately following Coming to America. His directorial debut, Harlem Knights, was a disappointment critically and commercially which set the tone for his next several releases. Murphy wouldn’t have another unqualified hit until eight years later with The Nutty Professor.
Tom Hanks, on the other hand, was coming off a string of disappointments when he starred in Penny Marshall’s comedy, Big. After having made a splash falling for a mermaid played by Daryl Hannah in Ron Howard’s hit comedy of 1984, Hanks starred in a number of mediocre movies like The Money Pit and Dragnet. He had tried to delve into more dramatic roles with the father-son dramedy, Nothing in Common (directed by Penny’s brother Garry Marshall), but audiences weren’t interested.
There was little reason to think that Big would be the movie to change Hanks’ fortunes. There was a glut of similarly-themed comedies in which young people get to experience adulthood. The previous year saw the release of Like Father Like Son followed by 18 Again! and Vice Versa both released the same year as Big. But while those movies were largely ignored, Big found an audience. It became the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year right behind Coming to America. More importantly, it brought Hanks the respect he was seeking. He received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor which he lost to Dustin Hoffman who won for Rain Man.
Which of these comedies is your favorite?