The "McDowell's" restaurant was actually a Wendy's on Queens Blvd. that was scheduled to be closed for a complete renovation. Although the production had approval from McDonald's corporate headquarters, they apparently didn't pass the word down to their local outlets. On the day the "McDowell's" sign was erected, the manager of the McDonald's 1/2 mile further up the road arrived with his lawyer and proceeded to take photographs while telling the set dressing crew they were going to be sued for everything they were worth.
The name of the fictional African country the main characters are from is called "Zamunda". This name was taken from a Richard Pryor routine where he referred to a fictional African tribe of the same name.
Cuba Gooding Jr. shot a scene in which his character (Boy Getting Haircut) tells Clarence that he does not have money to pay for his haircut. Clarence responds by cutting a big chunk out of the boy's hair. But to Gooding's disappointment, the scene was deleted.
A television pilot of a weekly sitcom version of the film was produced for CBS following this film's successful release. The series starred Tommy Davidson as Prince Tariq, and Paul Bates reprised his role as Oha. The pilot went unsold, but was televised on July 4, 1989 as an episode of CBS Summer Playhouse (1987).
The £100 banknote issued by the Bank of Zamunda and featuring Prince Akeem's portrait, is derived from the Bank of England £1 Series C design, in use in England and Wales from 1960 to 1979. Akeem's portrait is in the place of Queen Elizabeth II's, and the crest of Zamunda covers the vignette of Britannia. Everything else (apart from "Bank of Zamunda" and the amount) from the intricate background, the curlicues, the diamond shape underlying "I Promise to pay the Bearer", to the position of the serial numbers, is exactly the same as the British note.
When King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) visits New York to bring Akeem back home, he wears a lion skin sash. Years later Jones would portray the voice of the lion king Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King (1994). Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon) would also star alongside Jones in The Lion King as Mufasa's wife, the lioness queen Serabi.
Eddie Murphy's demands for appearing in the film included $1,500 a week for his personal trainer, a round-the-clock chauffeur service, a valet and $1,000 a week for his brother to appear as his stand-in.
Louie Anderson's character, Maurice, has a little monologue at McDowell's that would later be referenced in the 2005 song "Gold Digger" from Kanye West where the lyrics say, "He got that ambition, baby, look in his eyes. This week he mopping floors, next week it's the fries."
After the makeup and clothing was applied for the Yiddish character Saul, Eddie Murphy wanted to test the makeup and costume out. He got a golf cart and drove from one studio department to another in Paramount Studios. He would get out of the cart and say in his regular voice, "Hi. I'm Eddie Murphy." No one believed him.
The South African band that sang during the opening credits was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the same band that sang with Paul Simon a few years earlier on the tracks "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes," and "Homeless," featured on his Grammy Award winning album "Graceland."
The Mercedes that the King, Queen, and their staff travel in around New York City has U.S. diplomatic plates (red, white, and blue) on them, implying that they are cars from the (ficticious) Embassy of Zamunda. However, the numbers on the plates have been slightly blurred/unfocused in post production to make the letters and digits (which can identify the type of UN/Diplomat and their country) illegible.
A scene featured in this movie's theatrical trailer but was cut from the final film shows Cleo McDowell, Akeem, and Semmi walking into Cleo's office where he asks them if either of them have had any fast food work experience, to which Semmi quizzically responds "Certainly not!". Akeem then proceeds to lightly nudge Semmi and then responds to Cleo telling him that this is their first job in the United States.
LOGO GIMMICK: After the stars circle around the Paramount mountain and "Paramount" and "A Gulf+Western Company" appear, the sky becomes sunnier (pink to yellow) and the camera zooms in over the mountain summit. We then see a valley/terrain and the opening credits begin.
When Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) goes to sit with the King and Queen at the breakfast table, the King is surprised to find out that Akeem had grown a mustache. In Beverly Hills Cop (1984), when Axel (also played by Murphy) visits Jenny Summers at the art gallery where she works, she is just as surprised to find out that he grew a mustache.
John Landis was handpicked by Eddie Murphy to direct this film. The pair had previously worked together on Trading Places (1983), which was inspired by 1930s social comedies. Similarly, Landis modeled Coming to America after 1930s romantic comedies. Reprising their roles from Trading Places, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy played fallen millionaire brothers Mortimer and Randolph Duke, in a scene that showed them panhandling on a New York City street.
Pre-production began in fall 1987, with a principal photography start date of 4 Jan 1988 in New York City, where production was plagued by "intermittent blizzards" during five weeks of filming. New York City locations included an apartment exterior in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Madison Square Garden, the Van Wyck Expressway, a car wash in Queens, near the Brooklyn Bridge, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and a Wendy's fast food restaurant on Queens Boulevard that doubled as "McDowell's Restaurant". The brown-tinted windows that wrapped around three sides of the Wendy's restaurant were replaced with neutral density plastic for filming. The subway scene between Murphy's "Prince Akeem" and Shari Headley's "Lisa McDowell" took place on a rented "four-car train on the IND line", which operated on one of the two unused tracks at Brooklyn's Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street station.
Shown briefly as Akeem journeys over to America is a shot of concorde, the only commercial plane capable of flight exceeding Mach 2. Tickets were largely expensive for flights on it. The plane was retired in 2003.
All the scenes filmed in New York City were completed in Feb 1988, production then moved to Los Angeles, CA. There, shooting took place on Stage 18 at Paramount Pictures studios, where Prince Akeem's palace, bedroom, bath and dressing rooms were built. Production for this movie was on schedule and on budget, with production costing roughly $30 million.
Murphy and his co-star Arsenio Hall played multiple cameo roles, undergoing "three to four-hour make-up sessions" for their various cameo characters. During pre-production, make-up artist Rick Baker made "life casts" of the actors' faces, then constructed clay facial sculptures onto which he molded foam rubber appliances that the actors wore, in addition to hand-woven hair, eyebrow, and mustache pieces. Over 500 costumes were designed by Deborah Nadoolman, who was inspired by the early 1950s "new look" of fashion designer Christian Dior, as well as everyday styles from Ivory Coast, Gambia, and Senegal. Jewelry was created by Katherine Post, a costume jeweler, in Thailand. For the design of Zamunda's royal palace, Landis took inspiration from England's Brighton Pavilion and Henri Rousseau's 19th century jungle paintings.
Samuel L. Jackson portrays a robber knocking off a fast food joint (McDowell's) and calls one of the employees (Louie Anderson) "fatboy". In Pulp Fiction (1994) he calls a a restaurant employee "fatman" while it's being robbed.
John Landis: [look to camera] When Patrice tells Daryl he needs to take off his wet clothes after he tells her that Lisa dumped him, he looks directly into the camera. Also, at the Mcdowells house when Cleo's daughter Patrice says "Why does she always get the good ones?", the dog does the same thing.