During Eddie Murphy’s 1980s period of comedy gold, fans were introduced to the comedy classic Coming to America. Though regarded as a failure before it even released, the movie went on to become one of the most profitable films of 1988 and has earned a permanent place in pop culture. Not only does the film highlight the comedic genius of Murphy and Arsenio Hall but it also introduced audiences to a bevy of up-and-coming actors and actresses that we still see today. Also, we got to see cameos from many famous 1980s stars including comedian Louie Anderson and fitness trainer Jake Steinfeld, famous for his “Body by Jake” line. To further cement its success, this movie received two Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup.
Thanks to this movie, audiences were introduced to the fictional country of Zamunda, the restaurant chain McDowell’s, the product Soul Glo, and the bandRandy Watson and Sexual Chocolate (and the now infamous mic drop!). These and many other film references have now become household names and appear on various fan made clothing and merchandise around the world.
Although you may know the film very well (or even by heart), we plan to highlight 15 Things You Never Knew About Coming To America.
15. Murphy and Director John Landis Did Not Get Along On This Set
When an actor and a director make a successful film together, they are usually happy to reunite on future projects. Such was the case with Eddie Murphy and John Landis. Having just worked on the successful comedy Trading Places in 1983, these two men were pleased to work on another comedy together. However, Landis expressed his disbelief on how much Murphy had changed over the five years since their last collaboration.
In a 2005 interview with Collider, Landis stated, “The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great. The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world…” Wow. In fact, their conflict on Coming to America was so severe that the two stopped talking for several years. It was not until the production of Beverly Hills Cop III that they worked together again.
14. Recurring “See You Next Wednesday” Message
If you are a fan of Landis’s past projects, then you know how he loves dropping one particular Easter egg in each of his films. The phrase, “See You Next Wednesday” is either spoken in his films or see in the background of a scene.
The line originated from the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey as the last line spoken by character Dr. Frank Poole’s father in his videophone conversation. This reference even made it into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, which Landis directed.
During Coming to America, the poster can be seen as a movie poster on a wall in the subway. This version of the recurring gag is a sci-fi movie poster that starred Sybil Danning, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Moe Howard, James Brown, and Kara Young.
13. Trading Places Characters Appear in the movie
Hailing back to their time working together in Trading Places (you know, before they hated each other), Landis brought back two characters that serve as a mini continuation of the story. Brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke set the actions in the movie into motion. They wagered on the outcome of switching the lives of managing director Louis Winthorpe III and street hustler Billy Ray Valentine. In the end, their plan backfired, and they found themselves penniless.
In Coming to America, Prince Akeem passed two homeless men and donated his travel money to them inside of a McDowell’s bag. Upon seeing the money, Randolph tells his brother, “Mortimer, we’re back!” which led the audience to believe that the two brothers would be making a financial comeback in the near future.
Paul Gleason, who played Clarence Beeks, was asked to reprise his role for Coming to America also but had a scheduling conflict with the filming of the movie Die Hard.
12. Beverly Hills Cop “Mustache” Line
Before starring in Coming to America, Eddie Murphy found great success with other comedic movie roles. These films included The Golden Child and two franchise comedies: 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. Those two franchises actually garnered him Golden Globe nominations after their release. With such memorable roles as Reggie Hammond and Detective Axel Foley under his belt, he couldn’t resist incorporating this success in his next role.
For Coming to America, Murphy re-used one of the lines from Beverly Hills Cop for a scene with his royal parents. While seated at the table for breakfast, his father, King Jaffe Joffer, commented on how he was surprised that his son had grown a mustache. Sound familiar? A similar line was spoken in Beverly Hills Cop by Jenny Summers when she saw Axel at the art gallery. Hey, it is the small things we appreciate.
11. The First Movie where Eddie Murphy Played Multiple Characters
While Coming to America has become a cult favorite with fans over the years, the film holds great significance in Eddie Murphy’s comedic history. This classic is the first time we see Murphy take on the role of multiple characters in one film. This multi-character trademark would continue throughout his career in movies such as The Nutty Professor, Bowfinger, and Norbit. To date, Murphy has played multiple characters in seven movies.
For his debut of the multi-character ensemble, Murphy took on the roles of Prince Akeem, Clarence (owner of the barbershop and one of the barbers), Saul (the older Jewish gentleman in the barbershop), and singer Randy Watson of the group Sexual Chocolate. Not to be outdone, Arsenio Hall also took on four roles for the film. Hall can be seen portraying Semmi, the Extremely Ugly Girl (from the multiple dates scene), Morris (another of the barbers), and the overly enthusiastic Reverend Brown.
10. The Lion King Connection
James Earl Jones is the type of actor that commands the screen with his presence and booming voice. His role as the overbearing king in Coming to America suited him quite well. At his side was his more compassionate wife, Queen Aeoleon, played by Madge Sinclair. They were the perfect choices for these roles. So perfect, in fact, that the two brought their stately manner to Disney.
Both Jones and Sinclair “re-created” the roles of King and Queen for the 1994 classic animated film The Lion King. In the film, Jones plays Mufasa, king of the Pride Lands and Sinclair plays his lioness queen Sarabi. In case you missed it, in Coming to America, King Jaffe can be seen in several scenes wearing a stately lion skin sash. Talk about a perfect foreshadowing of his future role!
9. Wasn’t That From Star Wars?
Speaking of revisited roles, one of James’ most iconic roles to date made a brief cameo in the world of Coming to America. Since James is known for voicing the character Darth Vadar throughout the Star Wars movie franchise, the writers included a sort of homage to his iconic role.
One of his lines in the movie echoed the scripting from Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. As King Jaffe, he said, “No. Do not alert him to my presence. I shall deal with him myself.” This line in question sounded very similar to his line as Darth Vader where he stated, “No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.”
8. McDowell’s was actually a Wendy’s Restaurant
McDowell’s will forever be the fake McDonald’s loved by Coming to America fans. Owner Cleo McDowell’s blatantly stole McDonald’s brand and even provided some McDonald’s employee manuals for his own workers. Even the uniforms and menu were a very obvious ripoff.
However, the real life shop was actually a working restaurant. The store was, in fact, a Wendy’s that was soon to be closed. In fact, the Wendy’s menu is visible in the restaurant above the cash registers in the movie. Also, the use of the stolen McDonald’s identity and manuals was approved by the McDonald’s Corporation.
However, a local business owner took the fictional restaurant a bit too seriously. The owner of a nearby McDonald’s hired a lawyer and threatened the production crew with a lawsuit after seeing the initial McDowell’s sign. If the fake McDowell’s was that convincing, that crew deserved a raise!
7. Origins of the Name of Zamunda
The fictional country of Zamunda was the home of Akeem, Semmi, and the King and Queen. Though no real details were given for the country, we did get to see official money and a flag. Since the movie first premiered, dozens of shirts, flags, and other merchandise have been created by various sources celebrating the land. However, the origins of the name “Zamunda” are not completely clear.
One theory tied the origins of “Zamunda” to a comedy routine done by the late great Richard Pryor. During the routine, it is said that he used the name specifically during a routine about Africa. With Eddie Murphy being a huge Pryor fan, it is very likely that he borrowed the name in honor of his idol.
However, during the DVD commentary of Coming to America, screenwriters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield claimed its origin connects to writer Bob Zmuda. They simply altered his name to make it sound like an African country.
6. Paula Abdul was a Choreographer for the Film
Pop legend Paula Abdul became a hot commodity in the 1980s. After being discovered by The Jacksons at an LA Lakers game, she began her professional career as a choreographer. Her dance routines were included in movies such as The Running Man, Action Jackson, and Can’t Buy Me Love. Few people knew that Abdul was the choreographer behind the famous piano dancing scene in the 1988 Tom Hanks classic Big. She also won awards for her choreography on The Tracy Ullman Show and Janet Jackson’s music video for “Nasty”.
In Coming to America, Abdul choreographed the memorable celebratory dance scene at the palace of Zamunda. The performance was in celebration of Akeem’s return to his homeland and his upcoming nuptials. It is also speculated that, due to director John Landis’ presence and influence, some of the dance moves used for this scene are based on the “Thriller” video. Rewatch and tell us what you think.
5. Cameos From Now Famous Actors and Actresses
Coming to America served as the first movie for several actors and actresses, most notably was Cuba Gooding, Jr. In his first ever big screen appearance, he played a barbershop customer. This movie was also the first appearance of actress Shari Hedley, who played Lisa McDowell, Akeem’s romantic interest. The Jamie Foxx Show alum and Spider-Man: Homecoming actress Garcelle Beauvais made her debut as one of the rose bearers. Additional early movie career appearances included ER and Logan star Eriq LaSalle, and Shameless star Vanessa Bell Calloway. Samuel L. Jackson also appeared as a robber in the film but, at that time, this was his 11th career role!
Both Eddie Murphy’s and Arsenio Hall’s brothers were included in the movie– in the same scene too. During the bathroom scene at the basketball game, Murphy’s stepbrother, Vernon Lynch, can be standing in front of him in line. Hall’s brother, Vondie Curtis-Hall, played the overenthusiastic arena vendor that asked for Akeem’s. Curtis-Hall went on to star in roles on ER, Chicago Hope, and, most recently, Marvel’s Daredevil.
4. Plagiarism Lawsuit
Though quite popular now, Coming to America did not fare very well back in the 1980s. In fact, according to Indiewire, after its New York screening, Paramount “decided it best to cancel all other press screenings for the film, ahead of its release, so as not to influence audience decisions on whether to pay to see the film on opening weekend, which would obviously affect box office.”
Not only was the movie faced with low expectations on its performance but a lawsuit as well. In the case of Buchwald vs. Paramount in 1990, writer Art Buckwald claimed that Paramount Pictures had stolen his script idea for the movie from his 1982 treatment. The treatment, called “It’s A Crude, Crude World” (later renamed “King for a Day”), was stuck in production hell with the company for two years and finally abandoned. Buckwald then took the script idea to Warner Bros. and began working with them on it. However, the project ended when they found out Paramount was developing a too similar idea based on an idea by Eddie Murphy.
3. A TV pilot Based on the Movie was Created for CBS
With any successful movie or franchise, studios usually try to increase their profits by expanding on the property. Though expected to be a failure, Coming to America went on to become the “the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988, taking home $128,152,301 domestic (adjusted for inflation, that is about $250 million in today’s money). Globally, it grossed $288,752,301, or about $550 million in today’s dollars,” according to Indiewire.
Due to its popularity, CBS decided to develop a television sitcom based on the movie. Coming to America the series starred In Living Color alum Tommy Davidson as Prince Tariq and included Paul Bates reprising his role from the movie as Oha. Unfortunately, the pilot was not picked and was quickly forgetten. It was not until 1989 that the pilot saw the light of day during the CBS Summer Playhouse.
In case you feel like you really missed out on some quality television, here is a quote from the show: “I’m a Beverly Hills Cop, You’re a Beverly Hills cop and in 48 hours, we’re Trading Places.” Sigh.
2. Popular Hip Hip/Rap References
Coming to America’s legacy has become a fixture in pop culture including the rap and hip-hop community. In 1997, artist Busta Rhymes incorporated many of the costumes, sets, and themes from the movie into his music video for “Put You Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” Rapper Snoop Dogg sampled a music clip from the bathroom scene movie in his 2006 song “That’s That” featuring R. Kelly.
However, the most famous Coming to America reference went unnoticed by many fans. In the 2005 hit song, “Gold Digger”, Kanye West referenced one of the minor characters from the film. In the scene, McDowell’s worker Maurice (played by Louie Anderson) told Prince Akeem and Semmi that he was washing lettuce that week but soon he would be moving up to fries. Sadly, Akeem and Semmi are even lower than Maurice by McDowell’s standards since they are stuck on mop duty. In West’s song, the lyric went, “He got that ambition, baby/ look in his eyes/This week he mopping floors/ next week it’s the fries.”
1. A Sequel is Rumored to be in the Works
Eddie Murphy is no stranger to profitable franchises and sequels. His multi-movie franchises have included 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, and Shrek. However, fans were surprised to here stars Hall and Murphy dismiss the idea of a sequel for Coming to America.
In a 2013 episode of Hall’s resurrected The Arsenio Hall Show, Murphy stated that due to numerous lawsuits and unnecessary drama from the original film, they would not be pursuing a sequel. However, earlier this year we reported that Muphy tweeted out a picture of Vaness Bell Calloway in costume from the movie with the message, “Coming to America sequel?” Unfortunately, there were rumors that the tweet was a hack and has since been deleted.
Later, we shared the news that Paramount was, in fact, working on developing the sequel and that the original co-writers had signed on to the project. No further updates have been given to confirm or deny this information but, to tell you the truth, we hope this project becomes a reality! We will update you on any further developments with this film.
Would you want to see a Coming to America 2? Let us know in the comments!
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