Eddie Murphy’s Success With Trading Places Was Worrying For Robin Williams

The general public wasn’t as obsessed with box-office returns in June 1983, so no one realized that there was a battle of two-hander comedies looming between John Landis’ “Trading Places” and Michael Ritchie’s “The Survivors.” The former was a buzzy pairing of former (Dan Aykroyd) and current (Murphy) “SNL” stars, while the latter boasted the odd-couple clash of Williams and Walter Matthau. Landis’ film was first out of the gate on June 6, and built off the momentum of Murphy’s December 1982 smash, “48 Hrs.” Critics dug it, and moviegoers, who were once again staying home on Saturday nights to watch one particular Not Ready for Primetime Player, flooded theaters.

Two weeks later, “The Survivors” was DOA. It opened in eighth place to an anemic $3 million and was drubbed critically by everyone save for, surprisingly, The New Yorker’s finicky Pauline Kael.

Entertainment journalists might not have been keeping score, but Williams was. According to Dave Itzkoff’s biography “Robin:”

“The comedy marketplace, as Robin saw it, was a zero-sum game: for someone to rise, it meant that someone else had to fall, and if Aykroyd and Murphy were in ascendance, what did that mean for him? Murphy, in particular, seemed to be making the transition from television to movies so effortlessly, with an ease that eluded Robin. ‘Eddie is ideal — he knows exactly what he does and how to get it out on film perfectly,’ Robin said. ‘I don’t – I keep trying different things.'”

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