1986 in Movies – The Golden Child

Release Date: December 12th
Box Office: $77,559,863

The Golden Child (1986) ends up being a middling film. It’s decent, it’s okay. It’s not Eddie Murphy’s best of the 80s but by that same token there was far worse still to come. No, this film lands squarely in the middle.

Eddie Murphy had, by this point, conquered pretty much all forms of media: his comedy albums topped the charts, his movies were box office monsters, he was part of a high watermark period of Saturday Night Live. Of course, his last film was Beverley Hills Cop (1984) which has been a huge hit so people naturally expected a lot to follow it.

Murphy was linked to other films, including Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (1984) before he landed with this film. Initially it was to be directed by cinema legend John Carpenter who pulled out in order to make Big Trouble in Little China (1986). At the time, removing yourself from a big studio film starring Eddie Murphy probably wasn’t the best decision but, you know, hindsight.

Initially the film was a more straight action adventure film, but when Murphy came on board the comedy side was beefed up.

He plays Chandler Jarell, a social worker on a case about a missing child. From this he finds out he is The Chosen One, destined to rescue The Golden Child. The Child is from somewhere in Nepal and has mystical abilities but is targeted for death by the nefarious Charles Dance.

Which is fine. Eastern mysticism is a plot I can get behind, this issue really is that the character Murphy plays hasn’t that pop that an Axel Foley has or a Billy Ray Valentine. That isn’t to say it’s bad, he’s still a charming screen presence that has yet to be tainted by an unbearable smugness that would permeate a lot of his later work.

No, Golden Child is another attempt to do an Indiana Jones that doesn’t quite work. We have effects and action and set pieces to enjoy but nothing feels dangerous or exciting as it should. It’s a safe film, full of cliche.

That can be enjoyable, don’t get me wrong. The film has more of a feel of a cozy warm blanket around it than anything else.

This was reflected in the audience response; the film barely crept into the top ten. Top Gun (1986) and Crocodile Dundee (1986) both made nearly twice as much as Golden Child perhaps showing that the Eddie Murphy lustre was starting to lose its shine. The character he plays in this film is a change in that it doesn’t have that street level feel that Murphy’s characters were known for, a change of pace is always needed to help establish a long career but that’s only if the audience are willing to let you. This would be proven with Beverley Hills Cop II (1987) that would break $300m at the box office.

The Golden Child ends up as a film in a filmography. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s just there. It’s a first chink in what appeared to be unbreakable armour, one that would widen immeasurably by the end of the decade.

But let’s leave it a little differently, let’s leave it as a film that was an experiment by a huge movie star to try and do something a little different that wasn’t quite pulled off. There are much worse things for a film to be.

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