The "McDowell's" restaurant was actually a Wendy's on Queens Boulevard 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 one half 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.
Most of the dance that's performed by the royal dancers before presenting Prince Akeem's queen-to-be is a high-tempo rendition of the dance from Michael Jackson: Thriller (1983) (also directed by John Landis).
After the make-up and clothing was applied for the Jewish 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.
Following the success of the film, CBS produced a pilot for a weekly sitcom based on it. The pilot 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).
When King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) visits New York City 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) also starred alongside Jones in The Lion King (1994), as Mufasa's wife, Queen Sarabi.
The one hundred pound banknote issued by the Bank of Zamunda, featuring Prince Akeem's portrait, is derived from the Bank of England one pound 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 a vignette of Britannia. Everything else (apart from "Bank of Zamunda" and the amount), the intricate background, the curlicues, the diamond shape underlying "I Promise to pay the Bearer", and the position of the serial numbers, is exactly the same as the British note.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (John Landis): (breaking the fourth wall): Akeem asks his intended bride to bark like a dog. When she does so, Eddie Murphy looks at the 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 McDowell's house, when Cleo's daughter Patrice said, "Why does she always get the good ones?", the dog does the same thing.
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."
Eddie Murphy's demands for appearing in the film included fifteen hundred dollars per week for his personal trainer, round-the-clock chauffeur service, a valet, and one thousand dollars per week for his brother to appear as his stand-in.
The South African band that sings during the opening credits is Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the same band that appears on Paul Simon's Grammy Award winning album "Graceland". The song that they sing is "Wimoweh", the original African song that had earlier been adapted into "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by several American artists.
The Mercedes, in which the King, Queen, and their staff travel, 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 and unfocused in post-production, to make the letters and digits (which can identify the type of U.N. Diplomat, and his or her country) illegible.
There was a scene featured in the theatrical trailer that was cut from the final film. In it, Cleo McDowell, Akeem, and Semmi walk into Cleo's office, where he asks if either of them have had any fast food work experience. Semmi responds "Certainly not!" Akeem then nudges Semmi, and tells Cleo 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.
Eddie Murphy hand picked John Landis to direct this film. The pair had previously worked together on Trading Places (1983), which was inspired by 1930s social comedies. Similarly, Landis modelled this movie after 1930s romantic comedies. Reprising their roles from Trading Places (1983), Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy play fallen millionaire brothers Mortimer and Randolph Duke, in a scene that shows them panhandling on a New York City street.
When Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) goes to sit with the King and Queen at the breakfast table, the King is surprised to find that Akeem has 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 has grown a mustache.
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 five hundred 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 nineteenth century jungle paintings.
All the scenes filmed in New York City were completed in February 1988, production then moved to Los Angeles, California. 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 thirty million dollars.
Humorist and columnist Art Buchwald sued Paramount Pictures, alleging that they stole his script idea and turned it into this movie. Buchwald won, and was awarded damages. Paramount settled for nine hundred thousand dollars.
The Concorde SST is shown briefly as the plane on which Akeem journeys to America. It was the only commercial plane capable of flight exceeding Mach 2, tickets were expensive, and it was retired in 2003.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (John Landis): (See You Next Wednesday): The poster in the subway reads "See You Next Wednesday". This statement is displayed in all of John Landis' movies, and originated in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Pre-production began in fall 1987, with principal photography starting January 4, 1988 in New York City. There, the 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 Prince Akeem and 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.
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.