Trading Places

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This article is about the 1983 comedy film. For other uses, see Trading Places (disambiguation).
Trading Places
Trading Places.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Landis
Produced by Aaron Russo
Written by Timothy Harris
Herschel Weingrod
Starring Dan Aykroyd
Eddie Murphy
Ralph Bellamy
Don Ameche
Denholm Elliott
Jamie Lee Curtis
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Robert Paynter
Edited by Malcolm Campbell
Cinema Group Ventures
Eddie Murphy Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 8, 1983 (1983-06-08)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million[1]
Box office $90,404,800[2]

Trading Places is a 1983 American comedy film directed by John Landis, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. It tells the story of an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate bet. Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliott, and Jamie Lee Curtis also star. The storyline is often called a modern take on Mark Twain's classic 19th century novel The Prince and the Pauper.

The film was written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod and was produced by Aaron Russo. It was released to theaters in North America on June 8, 1983, where it was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film earned over US$90 million during its theatrical run in the United States, finishing as the fourth highest earning film of the year and the second highest earning R-rated film of 1983.

Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis won the British awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively, at the 37th British Academy Film Awards. The film was nominated for several additional awards including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the 41st Golden Globe Awards.


Duke brothers Randolph and Mortimer own a successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia. They hold opposing viewpoints on the issue of nature versus nurture and decide to settle their difference with an experiment. They plan to switch the lives of two people at opposite ends of the social hierarchy and observe the results. The brothers witness an encounter between their managing director Louis Winthorpe III and a poor street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine. Winthorpe has Valentine arrested after a misunderstanding causes him to think Valentine was trying to rob him, and the Dukes decide to use the two men for their experiment.

Winthorpe is framed as a thief and a drug dealer. He is fired from his job, has his bank accounts frozen, and is denied entry to the Duke-owned townhouse he was living in. After being rejected by his fiancée Penelope, he is befriended by a prostitute named Ophelia. She allows him to stay at her apartment on the condition of receiving a reward once he gets back on his feet. Winthorpe tries unsuccessfully to get help from his former friends, ultimately having to sell his watch at a pawn shop to get some money. Meanwhile, the Dukes bail Valentine out of jail and tell him they are operating an assistance program for the poor. They give him Winthorpe's old job, apartment, and even Winthorpe's old butler Coleman. At first Valentine is apprehensive, but he quickly adapts to his new lifestyle. Valentine applies his street smarts to the job and quickly changes from a con artist to a posh, upper-class businessman.

During the firm's Christmas party, Winthorpe is caught planting drugs in Valentine's desk in a poor attempt to get his life back. After a confrontation with Valentine and the Dukes, Winthorpe pulls out a gun and terrorizes the Christmas party before fleeing. Valentine cleans the drugs out of his desk and sneaks a joint into his pocket. He sneaks into the bathroom to smoke it when the Dukes come in. Valentine overhears the brothers discussing their wager, and watches as they settle their bet for $1. They discuss the upcoming crop report on the frozen orange juice market, and both agree to get rid of Valentine after the new year. An upset Valentine attempts to stop Winthorpe and explain but Winthorpe leaves the building.

Valentine follows Winthorpe to Ophelia's apartment, where Winthorpe attempts suicide by overdosing on pills. Valentine takes Winthorpe and Ophelia back to his place where a doctor saves his life. After Winthorpe recovers, Valentine and Coleman explain what happened to his life. They decide together to exact revenge on the Dukes, and are startled to find out that the Dukes have arranged to have their security expert Clarence Beeks steal a secret crop report for them. Winthorpe and Valentine recall large payments made to Beeks by Duke & Duke and realize that the Dukes are planning to obtain this report so they can corner the market on frozen orange juice. Valentine learns of Beeks' travel plans and the four board his train to switch the real crop report with a forgery. Beeks uncovers their scheme and attempts to kill them, but he is knocked out by a gorilla in a nearby cage. The four dress Beeks in a gorilla costume and lock him in the cage before delivering the forged report to the Dukes.

On the commodities trading floor, the Dukes commit all their holdings to buying frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts. Suspecting the Dukes have inside information, other traders follow their lead and greatly inflate the price. Valentine and Winthorpe begin selling futures at the higher price, causing it to drop again when other traders do the same. When the real crop report is broadcast, the price of orange juice futures plummets. Valentine and Winthorpe buy back their futures at the lower price from everyone but the Dukes, reaping a huge profit. The Dukes fail to meet their margin call at the inflated purchase price and are left owing $394 million. Trading officials immediately seize their assets and oust them from the commodities exchange. Valentine and Winthorpe explain to the Dukes that they made a wager on whether or not they could get rich while making the Dukes poor. Valentine collects $1 from Winthorpe, while Randolph Duke collapses and is taken away on a stretcher.

Beeks and the gorilla are shown being loaded onto a ship heading for Africa as the now-wealthy Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia, and Coleman vacation on a tropical beach.


The storyline of Trading Places—a member of society trading places with another whose socio-economical status stands in direct contrast to his own—often draws comparisons to Mark Twain's novel The Prince and the Pauper.[3][4][5][6][7] First published in 1881, the novel follows the lives of a prince and a beggar—both of them of adolescent age—who use their uncanny resemblance to each other as a premise to switch places temporarily; the prince takes on a life of poverty and misery while the pauper enjoys the lavish luxuries of a royal life. Parallels have also been drawn between Trading Places and Mozart's 18th century comic opera The Marriage of Figaro in which a servant (Figaro) foils the plans of his rich master who tried to steal Figaro's bride to be.[8][9] The music from The Marriage of Figaro is used as a cinematic narrative in the film when the viewers are introduced to the daily routine of protagonist Louis Winthorpe's privileged life with the opera's overture playing in the background.[10][11]

David Budd, in his 2002 book Culture Meets Culture in the Movies, writes about the experiences of characters when the expected roles of races in society are sometimes reversed. The 1995 fiction film White Man's Burden and John Howard Griffin's factual book Black Like Me are used as a foundation to show how different the experience of white people can be when subjected to the prejudices faced by black people. In that respect, Budd proclaims Trading Places as "uncannily illustrative if heavy-handed". Beginning from the premise that, in the film, the "expectations of the races also stand upon their head", Budd states that "through even a highly comedic vessel a message loudly asking for a reassessment of prejudice, and for level playing fields, is heard."[4]

American philosopher and professor at Harvard University Stanley Cavell wrote about Trading Places in his 2005 book Cavell on film. Cavell postulates that film is sometimes used as a new technology in the production and experience of an opera. He explains that this axiom asserts its importance not in the fact that "our time" sees an increased expectation of new operas being developed but, rather, in the fact that there is an increased expectation of "new productions of operas." Cavell draws a comparison of themes between Trading Places and the opera The Marriage of Figaro, stating that "what Trading Places wants from its reference to Figaro is mostly the idea of resourceful and sociable young and poor overcoming with various disguises the conniving of the unsociable old and rich but with no sense that the old may be redeemed by a recognition of their faults and no revolutionary desire to see the world formed on a new basis."[8]


The cast also includes Robert Curtis-Brown as Todd, Winthorpe's romantic rival for Penelope; James Belushi as Harvey, a party-goer on New Year's Eve; Jamie Lee Curtis' sister Kelly Curtis cameos as Penelope's friend Muffy; Frank Oz as a police officer; and Bo Diddley as a pawnbroker. Tom Davis and Al Franken, also Saturday Night Live cast members, cameo as train baggage handlers.


Box office[edit]

Trading Places was released theatrically in the United States on June 8, 1983. During its opening weekend, the film earned $7.3 million from 1,375 theaters—an average of $5,334 per theater—ranking as the third highest grossing film of the weekend, behind Superman III ($13.3 million)—debuting the same weekend—and Return of the Jedi ($11.2 million).[2][12]

The film remained in the top ten grossing films for 17 weeks.[13] It went on to earn $90.4 million during its U.S. theatrical run, making it the 4th highest grossing film of 1983, behind Flashdance ($92.9 million), Terms of Endearment ($108.4 million) and Return of the Jedi ($252.5 million),[14] and the second highest grossing R-rated film of 1983, behind Flashdance.[15] Adjusted for inflation, the film remains the number 58 highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.[16]

Critical response[edit]

Trading Places met with positive reviews from critics upon its release. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 88%, based on 38 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Featuring deft interplay between Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places is an immensely appealing social satire."[17] Metacritic gave the film a score of 66 out of 100, based on 9 critics, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[18]

Author and critic Richard Schickel of Time magazine called Trading Places "one of the most emotionally satisfying and morally gratifying comedies of recent times". While admitting Aykroyd's success in demonstrating "perfect prissiness as Winthorpe", Schickel commented on Murphy's performance as Valentine calling Murphy "a force to be reckoned with" and stating that he "makes Trading Places something more than a good-hearted comedy. He turns it into an event."[19] Film critic Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three and a half stars out of four while offering that the film resembles Tootsie and comparing it to comedies of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Ebert stated "This is good comedy", he commended the character development in the film calling the characters "wonderful comic inventions" and explained that its comedic success is because the film "develops the quirks and peculiarities of its characters, so that they're funny because of who they are." He further commented on the cast by favorably commenting on acting as "engaging", stating that "Murphy and Aykroyd are perfect foils for each other", that they're both capable of being "specifically eccentric", that "they both play characters with a lot of native intelligence" and concluding that "It's fun to watch them thinking." Commenting on Bellamy and Ameche in the roles of the Duke brothers, Ebert called their involvement in the film "a masterstroke of casting."[3]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times repeated some of Roger Ebert's sentiments stating that "Preston Sturges might have made a movie like Trading Places - if he'd had a little less inspiration and a lot more money." She, again, also commended the cast by calling it "well-chosen", commenting on Murphy and Aykroyd as "the two actors best suited", stating that the Duke brothers were "played delightfully" by Ameche and Bellamy and—concluding that "the supporting cast is also quite good"—praising Curtis for managing "to turn a hard-edged, miniskirted prostitute into a character of unexpected charm."[20] Jay Carr of The Boston Globe called it "easily the best of the movies I've seen by the various Saturday Night Live alumni."[21] Empire magazine awarded the film a rating of four stars out of five, classifying Trading Places as "Excellent" per the magazine's star rating system, stating that Murphy and Aykroyd are the show-stealers.[22] A review of the film published by Variety magazine called the film "a light romp geared up by the schtick shifted by Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy." The review gave further commendations to supporting actors, stating that Murphy and Aykroyd "couldn't have brought this one off without the contributions of three veterans - Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche and the droll Englishman, Denholm Elliott" and calling the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis "enjoyable."[23]


The film received several award nominations in 1984 including an Academy Award,[24] two Golden Globes,[25] and three BAFTA awards. Elliott and Curtis attracted the film's two wins, earning respectively, the BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.[26]

Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
37th British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Denholm Elliott Won [26]
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Jamie Lee Curtis Won
Best Original Screenplay Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod Nominated
41st Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Trading Places Nominated [25]
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Eddie Murphy Nominated
56th Academy Awards Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score Elmer Bernstein Nominated [24]


Trading Places
Soundtrack album by Elmer Bernstein
Released October 11, 2011
Genre Soundtrack
Length 48:00
Label La-La Land Records

A score album was released by La-La Land Records on October 11, 2011 and was limited to 2000 copies.[27] The album features Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated score, as well as the source material that he wrote and arranged, including traditional Christmas carols that appear in the film. A significant portion of Bernstein's music is based on Mozart's music from The Marriage of Figaro.[28] "Do Ya Wanna Funk," a hit song by Sylvester featured in the movie, was omitted from the album. The song "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva is also heard on the train scene and is credited on the film.

No. Title Length
1. "Main Title"   4:01
2. "Your Breakfast Sir / Good Morning! / Dukes"   3:42
3. "The Club / Bump"   1:44
4. "Wager"   1:05
5. "Moving Out / Plots"   1:59
6. "Philly / Ploy"   0:56
7. "Discovery / Bed"   0:49
8. "Revelation / The Goods / Train"   1:46
9. "Heroes"   2:55
10. "Kicking Ass / Cards"   2:11
11. "Dessert"   2:43
12. "Louis Winthorpe III Blues"   1:39
13. "Jamaican Bye-Bye"   1:32
14. "Andante Cantabile from String Quartet, K. 165"   1:25
15. "Jingle Bells"   2:53
16. "Joy to the World"   1:32
17. "Silent Night"   2:01
18. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"   1:14
19. "O Little Town of Bethlehem"   2:36
20. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (slower version)"   1:49
21. "Good Morning! (alternate)"   1:55
22. "Bump (alternate)"   1:06
23. "Ploy (alternate)"   0:38
24. "Ploy (alternate 2)"   0:37
25. "Train (promotional LP version)"   1:34
26. "Kicking Ass / Cards (alternate)"   1:37


Almost 30 years after its release, the plot for the movie was part of the inspiration for new regulations on the financial markets. On March 3, 2010 Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief Gary Gensler stated, in testimony he gave to the 111th Congress, "We have recommended banning using misappropriated government information to trade in the commodity markets. In the movie Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy, the Duke brothers intended to profit from trades in frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts using an illicitly obtained and not yet public Department of Agriculture orange crop report."[29]

The "Eddie Murphy Rule", as it came to be known, later came into effect as Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, under Section 746, which dealt with insider trading.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Trading Places. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Trading Places". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. Trading Places, Chicago Sun-Times, June 9, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Budd 2002, p. 210
  5. ^ Min 1999, p. 167
  6. ^ Childs 2006, p. 44
  7. ^ Truby 2007, p. 133
  8. ^ a b Cavell 2005, pp. 309–311
  9. ^ Monahan, Mark. Must-have movies: Trading Places (1983), The Daily Telegraph, May 20, 2005. Accessed April 13, 2010.
  10. ^ Chatman 1990, p. 8
  11. ^ Freedman, Richard. "'Trading Places' Is a Hilarious Account of a Bet That Backfires", The Vindicator, June 30, 1983. Accessed January 26, 2011.
  12. ^ June 17-19, 1983 Weekend, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  13. ^ Trading Places - Weekend (1983), Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  14. ^ 1983 Domestic Grosses, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  15. ^ 1983 Yearly Box Office by MPAA Rating - All R Rated Releases, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  16. ^ "DOMESTIC GROSSES BY MPAA RATING". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Trading Places (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Trading Places". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  19. ^ Schickel, Richard. Cinema: Down the Tubes, Up the Ladder, Time, June 13, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  20. ^ Maslin, Janet. Trading Places (1983), The New York Times, June 8, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  21. ^ Carr, Jay. "Trading Places", The Boston Globe, June 9, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  22. ^ Trading Places, Empire. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  23. ^ Trading Places, Variety. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  24. ^ a b Nominees & Winners for the 56th Academy Awards, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Accessed April 9, 2010.
  25. ^ a b The 41st Annual Golden Globe Awards (1984), Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Accessed April 9, 2010.
  26. ^ a b Film Nominations 1983, BAFTA. Accessed April 9, 2010.
  27. ^ La-La Land Records Product Details
  28. ^ La-La Land Records Product Details
  29. ^ First The Volcker Rule, Now The Eddie Murphy Rule!, Market Beat, a part of The Wall Street Journal. Accessed September 7, 2010.
  30. ^ Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, OpenCongress. Accessed September 7, 2010.


  • Budd, David (2002). "Classic Encounters of Black on White". Culture Meets Culture in the Movies: an Analysis East, West, North, and South, With Filmographies. McFarland & Company. p. 210. ISBN 0-7864-1095-7. 
  • Min, Eungjun (1999). "Images of the Homeless in the Motion Pictures". Reading the Homeless: The Media's Image of Homeless Culture. Praeger Publishers. p. 167. ISBN 0-275-95950-3. 
  • Childs, Peter (2006). "Pop Video". Texts: Contemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches. Edinburgh University Press. p. 44. ISBN 0-7486-2043-5. 
  • Truby, John (2007). "Moral Argument". The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-86547-951-7. 
  • Cavell, Stanley (2005). "Opera in (and as) Film)". Cavell on Film. State University of New York Press. pp. 309–311. ISBN 0-7914-6431-8. 
  • Chatman, Seymour (1990). "Narrative and Two Other Text-Types". Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-8014-9736-1. 

Further reading[edit]

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