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The film was originally set to star Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder

Iconic comedy duo Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder headlined 1976 hit Silver Streak, 1980’s Stir Crazy and later See No Evil, Hear No Evil. When Trading Places first went into development (originally entitled Black and White), Pryor and Wilder were courted for the lead roles. This changed after Pryor almost died in 1980, burned alive in what the comedian later admitted was a suicide attempt.

Director John Landis didn’t know who Eddie Murphy was

Credit: Paramount

When John Landis was hired to direct Trading Places, executives at Paramount suggested he hire Eddie Murphy, who had recently filmed 48 Hrs. for them. Landis, however, was completely unfamiliar with the comedian, who at that point was best known for his work on TV’s Saturday Night Live. Happily, Landis soon recognised Murphy’s ability and knew he’d be a great fit for the film.

Paramount thought Dan Aykroyd couldn’t carry a movie without John Belushi

The only actor John Landis wanted to play Louis Winthorpe III was Dan Aykroyd, who he’d previously directed in The Blues Brothers. However, Paramount worried Aykroyd couldn’t carry a film without his late co-star John Belushi. Landis recalls, “conventional wisdom was that Aykroyd without Belushi was like Abbott without Costello, and that his career was over.” Thankfully, the director was able to talk them around.

The studio didn’t want Jamie Lee Curtis either

Dan Aykroyd’s casting in Trading Places wasn’t the only thing Paramount had a problem with, as questions were also raised about who John Landis chose for the female lead Ophelia: Jamie Lee Curtis, then best-known for Halloween. The director recalls, “I was called into the head of the studio’s office and he said, ‘This woman’s a B-movie actress,’ and I said, ‘Not after this movie!’”

The writers were inspired by a real-life pair of wealthy and competitive brothers

Although Trading Places is largely based around the three central roles of Louis, Billy Ray and Ophelia, these were not the characters the story was initially built around. Co-writer Timothy Harris says that Trading Places really grew from the characters of Randolph and Mortimer Duke. Harris had real-life inspiration for the Dukes, modelling them on two snobby, wealthy brothers with whom he had played tennis.

The casting agent thought Don Ameche was already dead

When Landis suggested casting Don Ameche as Mortimer Duke, the casting director told him the actor was dead. Landis was fairly sure this wasn’t true, but it took a bit of digging for the director to finally confirm that suspicion. In fact, Ameche, aged 74 at the time, hadn’t made a movie for over a decade, and had fallen off the Hollywood radar.

Landis found Ameche in the phone book and offered him the part

Ameche’s career had slowed down so much that he no longer had an agent, so Landis found him the old-fashioned way: he looked him up in the phone directory, called him directly and offered him the part of Mortimer Duke. Appearing in Trading Places gave Ameche’s film career a second wind; 1985’s Cocoon followed, which won Ameche the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The writers got drunk with real traders as research

As research, writers Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod had to school themselves in the complex art of commodities trading. They also got wild hanging out with Los Angeles traders: “because it was three hours behind New York, (they) had their happy-hours very early in the day. You can imagine what they were like by, maybe, 2pm.”

Sir John Gielgud was offered Denholm Elliott’s part

Denholm Elliott, best known as Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones movies, played Louis’ butler Coleman in Trading Places. The first actor offered the role was Sir John Gielgud, one of the most acclaimed British actors of the time. However, Gielgud had not long since played a butler opposite Dudley Moore in 1981’s Arthur, and he wasn’t too keen to repeat himself.

Jamie Lee Curtis’ Swedish accent was an ad-lib because she really couldn’t do an Austrian one

One scene sees Jamie Lee Curtis’ Ophelia disguise herslef in Austrian lederhosen. However, she introduces herself as “Inga from Sweden” – and the dialogue addresses this inconsistency. These lines were improvised purely because Curtis was unable to do a convincing Austrian accent, but could manage a Swedish one.

Don Ameche apologised to the crew whenever he had to swear on camera

Don Ameche was an old-fashioned gentleman, so he was uncomfortable about using profanity in Trading Places. Jamie Lee Curtis claimed Ameche would show up to set early when shooting scenes that involved curse words, so that he could apologise in person to every crew member beforehand. He also refused to shoot more than one take of his final scene, when Mortimer cries “f*** him!”

Bellamy and Ameche didn’t know who Eddie Murphy was either

Like director John Landis, Eddie Murphy’s older co-stars were unfamiliar with his work. Ralph Bellamy once recounted that on the first day of shooting, “I said, ‘Why, this is my 72nd movie.’ And Don [Ameche] answers, ‘Why, this is my 56th.’ And Eddie Murphy looks embarrassed and said, ‘Boys, this is my first. Ever.’ It broke everybody up, and the movie became my biggest hit.”

There are a number of hidden cameos in the film

Trading Places squeezes in a number of fun, fan-pleasing cameos. These include Frank Oz (director, actor and Muppeteer behind Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Star Wars’ Yoda) as a cop. We also see Jim Belushi, brother of Landis and Aykroyd’s late friend John; although he’s unrecognisable behind a gorilla suit. There’s also a cameo from Kelly Curtis, Jamie Lee’s sister, as country club girl Muffy.

Louis’ arrest number is a tribute to John Belushi

Whilst The Blues Brothers sees Belushi’s Jake Blues being released after completing his sentence, Trading Places sees Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe jailed. Take a close look at the mugshots for Belushi’s character and Aykroyd’s character, and you may notice they have the exact same number on their mugshot cards: 7474505B. This was an affectionate tribute to the sadly missed Belushi.

Part of the film was shot during real-life trading hours at the World Trade Center

Some of Trading Places’ most memorable moments take place on the Commodities Exchange floor in New York’s World Trade Center. If these scenes seem realistic, this would be because the cast and crew shot there for real, during actual trading hours. The director recalls being “quite taken aback at how physically rough it was – they really elbowed one another… It was like a contact sport.”

The Duke Brothers return in Coming to America as vagrants

John Landis and Eddie Murphy reunited on 1988 smash hit comedy Coming to America. This film refers back to Trading Places with a brief cameo appearance from Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche as Randolph and Mortimer Duke. The cameo shows that these formerly rich characters are now living rough on the street, where they are given some money by Murphy’s character Prince Akeem.

The film inspired a new financial regulation dubbed ‘the Eddie Murphy rule’

In Trading Places, the Duke brothers’ nefarious scheme is “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.” New regulations introduced in 2010 banned any such activity, and this came to be known as ‘the Eddie Murphy rule.’ Ironically, Murphy himself admitted he didn’t understanding trading at all.

It launched the professional partnerships of Murphy/Landis and Aykroyd/Curtis

The key players of Trading Places haven’t made another movie together, but parts of the team have reunited. Landis directed Murphy again in Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop III, and directed Aykroyd again in Into the Night, Susan’s Plan, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Blues Brothers 2000. Aykroyd and Curtis, meanwhile, reunited in My Girl, My Girl 2 and Christmas with the Kranks.

The film has become perennial Christmas viewing in Italy

Though it opened in July 1983, Trading Places is set at Christmas, and for many fans the film has become a Christmas classic. Interestingly, it has become standard Christmas TV viewing not in the US or UK, but in Italy. It has screened every year during the festive season on channel Italia 1 since 1997, and always draws a huge audience.

It was one of the biggest box office hits of 1983

Having cost $15 million to make, Trading Places ultimately made $90 million at the US box office alone. This made it the second highest-grossing R-rated film of 1983, behind Flashdance (which made just over $92 million), and the fourth-biggest US box office hit of 1983, the top three earners being Flashdance, Terms of Endearment ($108.4 million) and Return of the Jedi (a whopping $252.5 million).

It made Murphy and Aykroyd major movie stars

After the huge success of Trading Places, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy went on to become two of the most bankable stars of the 80s. Aykroyd would next make his signature movie, Ghostbusters, whilst Murphy took the lead in comedy thriller Beverly Hills Cop. These two movies would be the top two highest-earning box office hits of 1984.

It won two BAFTAs

For her turn as Ophelia, Jamie Lee Curtis was named Best Supporting Actress at the 1984 BAFTA Film Awards, the UK’s equivalent of the Oscars, beating significant competition from Maureen Lipman, Teri Garr and Rosemary Harris. Trading Places also landed Denholm Elliott with the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA, with Elliott beating Bob Hoskins, Burt Lancaster and Jerry Lewis.

It’s a new take on an old story

Trading Places is an update of Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince and the Pauper, in which two boys from different walks of life switch places temporarily. The premise has also been compared to that of Mozart’s 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro, in which a wealthy master attempts to marry the bride-to-be of his lowly servant, until the servant strikes back.