Beloved by audiences who still quote the film’s iconic lines, Coming to America has grossed over $120 million at the box office since it was released in 1988. Starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall as Prince Akeem and his loyal servant Semmi, respectively, the pair travels from their fictional African country of Zamunda to the United States in order to find a love match for the single royal. Showcasing the actors' comedic range and ability to transform into almost unrecognizable characters, Murphy and Hall reunited for the long-awaited sequel, Coming 2 America (2021). Here are 10 facts about the classic comedy movie:
The film's director clashed with Murphy
At the time of filming, Coming to America director John Landis had worked with Murphy five years previously on the hit comedy Trading Places, but Landis encountered a different ego the second time around. “The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great,” Landis told Collider in 2005. “The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world – the most unpleasant, arrogant, bull**** entourage… just an a******. … We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to kiss his ass. He was a jerk. But great — in fact, one of the greatest performances he’s ever given.”
Six years later, The Blues Brothers director and the 48 Hours star reconciled and teamed again for Beverly Hills Cop III.
There was crossover with 'Trading Places'
Landis and Murphy revisited two central characters from their earlier collaboration. Wealthy brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke lost everything betting against Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) in Trading Places. Actors Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprised their roles as the brothers in penury on the receiving end of Prince Akeem’s largesse in Coming to America. When they discover the envelope given to them is filled with cash, Randolph proclaims, “Mortimer, we’re back!”
It was the first movie in which Murphy played multiple characters
Before The Nutty Professor, Norbit and Bowfinger, Murphy had only ever appeared on film in a singular role. Thanks to the Oscar-nominated makeup creations of Rick Baker and Murphy’s ability to disappear into character, Coming to America featured the star as Prince Akeem, My T Sharp barbershop owner Clarence, shop regular Saul and Sexual Chocolate vocalist Randy Watson. Hall also spent hours in the makeup chair to become Semmi, the effusive Reverend Brown, second barber chair Morris and “Extremely Ugly Girl” in the bar scene.
Louie Anderson was cast to keep the studio happy
According to Murphy, comedian Louie Anderson’s role as a McDowell’s employee was included to appease studio executives who wanted “somebody white” in the film. “Louie Anderson is in the original Coming to America because the whole cast was Black and the studio was like, ‘We have to have somebody white in it. We’re not making the movie without somebody white in it.’” Murphy recounted during a 2021 Today interview. “I was like, ‘Really?’ So I was like, ‘Who’s the funniest white guy around and a friend of mine? Oh, Louie’s perfect!’ And that’s how Louie ended up in the movie.”
James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair got their 'Lion King' roles from the movie
James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair turned in suitably regal performances as Zamunda’s King Jaffe Joffer and Queen Aoleon. So impressed were audiences and Hollywood executives, Jones and Sinclair would be asked to reunite for the 1994 animated blockbuster The Lion King in the roles of Mufasa, king of Pride Rock, and his mate, Sarabi.
McDowell’s restaurant was actually a Wendy’s, not a McDonald’s
Though McDowell’s restaurant intentionally bore an uncanny resemblance to real-life McDonald’s (whose identity was appropriated by Cleo McDowell onscreen but approved by the corporation for participation in the film), the actual restaurant used in Coming to America was a working, Queens Boulevard Wendy’s location. The building remained a restaurant until 2013 when it was demolished to make way for a luxury apartment building.
Paula Abdul created the choreography for the Zamunda wedding scene
Paula Abdul was already acquainted with Murphy and Hall (whom she would later date) as they were Laker season ticket holders. While still a stage and music video choreographer and dancer for the Lakers, 18-year-old Abdul was contacted by the director of Coming to America. “John Landis wanted to meet with the girl who choreographed Janet Jackson,” Abdul said to Yahoo! in 2019. “And I just remember coming in very businesslike with a briefcase that all I had in it was my taped Laker Girl routines and Janet Jackson’s — a couple of her videos, that was it. But I remember [thinking], ‘This could be really exciting.’”
The movie was almost spun-off into a TV series
Trying to cash in on the success of the hit movie, Murphy and Paramount attempted to transfer Coming to America to CBS in 1989 with a weekly show centered on Prince Tariq, the younger brother of Akeem who was sent to America to attend college. Only the pilot episode was ever filmed and starred Tommy Davidson as Tariq, alongside film original Paul Bates as Oha. Critical response was not kind and nothing further became of the planned series.
Murphy and Hall's family members appear in the movie
Both Murphy’s and Hall’s brothers feature briefly in the movie during the basketball game scene in which Prince Akeem is recognized. Hall’s brother Vondie Curtis-Hall plays the keen-eyed vendor and Murphy’s stepbrother, Vernon Lynch, is standing in front of Akeem in the bathroom line.
Coming to America marked the film debut of Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays a barbershop customer, as well as Garcelle Beauvais as a rose bearer, and Shari Headley as Akeem’s love interest Lisa McDowell. Samuel L. Jackson appears as the would-be robber of McDowell’s.
Murphy was accused of stealing the idea for the movie
At the time of the movie’s release, filmmaker and writer Art Buchwald accused Murphy of lifting the idea for the story from a treatment he did in 1982. In Buchwald v. Paramount, the writer said the idea was taken from a script he had been developing called It’s a Crude, Crude World (late renamed King for a Day) that was mired in production difficulties. Buchwald won the lawsuit, accepted a settlement from Paramount and Murphy remains listed as the sole writer for the film.