Coming to America (1988) Poster


(at around 23 mins) Airport scenes in this film and Into the Night (1985) have a call over the P.A. system for a "Mr. Frank Oznowicz" to pick up the white courtesy phone. This is Frank Oz's real name.
Jump to: Cameo (3) | Director Trademark (1) | Spoilers (1)
This film marks the first time Eddie Murphy played multiple characters in the same film, something which has become a trademark of his.
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 patch out of the boy's hair. But to Gooding's disappointment, the scene was deleted.
All of the characters in the barber shop (including the Jewish man) were played by Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Clint Smith, and Cuba Gooding Jr..
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 restaurant remained in business until early 2013. The building has since been demolished.
The homeless men that receive the money from Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) are the Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) from Trading Places (1983) (also directed by John Landis). In that movie, Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) was responsible for The Dukes losing their fortune.
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.
John Landis and Eddie Murphy did not get along, and Murphy vowed to never work with Landis again. However, the two later reconciled, and Eddie personally asked John to direct Beverly Hills Cop III (1994).
The barbers call Akeem "Kunta Kinte", a reference to Roots (1977). John Amos, who played Cleo McDowell (Lisa's father), played the adult Kunta Kinte in Roots (1977). Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon), played Kunta Kinte's wife and James Earl Jones (King Jaffe Joffer) played Alex Haley, Jr. in Roots: The Next Generations (1979).
(at around 14 mins) 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).
In the credits, the fictitious Zamundun Film Commission is thanked.
According to John Landis, it was his idea to have Eddie Murphy wear make-up to play a Jewish man, as a sort of payback for Jewish comedians wearing blackface in the early 1900s.
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.
(at around 34 mins) The song, "I Got It", that plays in the background, when Semmi and Akeem walk into the club, was sung by Eddie Murphy.
Cuba Gooding Jr., an Oscar winner, and Vondie Curtis-Hall, an Emmy and SAG Award nominee, made their first on-screen appearances in this film.
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).
Sidney Poitier was originally considered for the role of King Jaffe Joffer.
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.
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. When Akeem & Semmi are on the ledge of their apartment, Semmi looks at the camera also.
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.
(at around 1h 30 mins) 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.
Vanessa Williams was originally considered for the role of Lisa McDowell.
(at around 52 mins) The game that Akeem mentions to McDowell at the restaurant, between the Giants and Packers, actually happened. It was a 23-20 win by the Packers on September 15, 1985.
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" a few years earlier on which they achieved worldwide recognition. The song they sing is their cover of "Mbube," an African song which was later adapted in English as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
(at around 1h 11 mins) 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."
Akeem's apartment building is supposed to be in Queens, but it's actually located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at South 5th Street and Hooper.
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 vocals in the Soul Glo Commercials were sung by Christopher Max.
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.
(at around 25 mins) When the taxi arrives in Queens, the driver is going the wrong way on a one way street. All the cars are all facing the other direction.
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.
(at around 1h 4 mins) During the McDowell party, they show a painting on the wall of a woman. This is a spoof on Édouard Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère".
This is the first time Eddie Murphy and Make-up Artist Rick Baker worked together. They would re-team on Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), The Nutty Professor (1996), Life (1999), Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000), and Norbit (2007).
The predatory woman in the bar was played by Arsenio Hall.
(at around 5 mins) The instrumental song playing while Prince Akeem is having his royal penis cleaned was sampled into "That's That Sh!t" performed by Snoop Dogg feat. R. Kelly in 2006.
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.
Eddie 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, John Landis took inspiration from England's Brighton Pavilion, and Henri Rousseau's nineteenth century jungle paintings.
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(at around 20 mins) Prince Akeem calls one of his pet elephants "Babar". Babar the Elephant is a popular children's book character.
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.
(at around 56 mins) The college basketball game that the lead characters attend was a real one, the December 1987 match at Madison Square Garden between St. John's and Marist.
The working title of this film was "The Quest".
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.
(at around 53 mins) Associate Producer and First Assistant Director David Sosna appeared as "Cartier Delivery Man".
(at around 23 mins) 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.
Paul Gleason was asked to reprise his role as Clarence Beeks from Trading Places (1983), but had to turn it down, as he was committed to Die Hard (1988).
(at around 8 mins) 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.
Arsenio Hall voiced the character Winston Zeddemore on The Real Ghostbusters (1986), a role originally written in the film for Eddie Murphy.
In the scene at the Black Awareness Week rally (in the gym), the characters Reverend Brown and Randy Watson are also being played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy, respectively.
The national anthem of Zamunda, which plays at the start of the birthday celebration, is the same melody as the national anthem of Freedonia in the The Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933).
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The IND Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station in Brooklyn was used for the scenes at Sutphin Boulevard.
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.
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Eddie Murphy plays a character who lives in Africa but comes to America seeking a wife. In Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987) he mentions doing the opposite: Going to Africa to find a wife. (Named Umfufu and riding buck naked on a zebra.)
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(at around 1h 30 mins) The McDowell's home address is 2432 Derby Avenue, Jamaica Estates, Queens, New York. Cleo gives the King his home address on the phone, when he calls the King to let him know Akeem is at the house.
(at around 1h 1 min) 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.
Principal photography for this movie lasted eighty-three days. Editing began while filming was underway, and six weeks of post-production were scheduled.
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At the end of the movie as Lisa mcDowell is heading towards the subway train, a poster for the Broadway show fences can be seen on the wall. James Earl Jones starred in that play and also appeared in this movie as the king .
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The Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station in Brooklyn which was used for the scenes at Sutphin Boulevard was also where Michael Jackson filmed the video for "Bad" in November 1986.
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F. Gary Gray: (at around 38 mins) the director of the movies Friday (1995), Set It Off (1996), and The Negotiator (1998), is in the front row of the Black Awareness Program, seated in front of Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and Clint Smith.
Tobe Hooper: (at around 1h 4 mins) To the right of Reverend Brown (Arsenio Hall) and Lisa (Shari Headley), listening to Brown's non-stop preaching during the McDowell party.
Michael Tadross: The Unit Production Manager as a taxi driver.

Director Trademark 

John Landis: [See You Next Wednesday] (at around 1h 45 mins) on a movie poster in the subway station (the movie claims to star Jamie Lee Curtis, who appeared in Trading Places (1983)).


The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

(at around 1h 30 mins) When King Jaffe Joffer meets Lisa's father in the restaurant, he warns him to keep his presence secret from Akeem. As King Joffer leaves the restaurant, he says, "Do not alert him to my presence. I'll deal with him myself," similar to lines Jones delivered as Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).

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