Funny Facts You Probably Never Knew About Coming To America

One of Eddie Murphy‘s most enduringly popular films is Coming to America, which casts the comedy legend as the sheltered prince of an African country who flees to New York and pretends to be a commoner in the hopes of finding his true love. A big hit on release in 1988, Coming to America remains well-loved to this day – but did you know the following facts about this comedy classic?

10. It was the first movie in which Eddie Murphy played multiple characters

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Coming to America marked the first time that Eddie Murphy donned make-up to play multiple characters in a film. On top of playing lead character Prince Akeem Joffer, Murphy also portrays singer Randy Watson, barbershop owner Clarence, and (most surprisingly) white Jewish barbershop customer Saul.

In the years since, Murphy has played multiple roles in many more of his films, including The Nutty Professor movies, Meet Dave and Norbit.

9. There’s a cameo from the Dukes of Trading Places

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At one point, Eddie Murphy’s character gives two elderly vagrants a bag full of money. These men, played by actors Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, identify themselves as Randolph and Mortimer.

This is a callback to Murphy and director John Landis’ earlier film Trading Places, in which Ameche and Bellamy played duplicitous millionaires the Duke Brothers, who were left penniless by the film’s end.

8. McDonald’s gave their blessing for rip-off restaurant McDowell’s

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The set for the McDowell’s restaurant was actually a Wendy’s restaurant that was due to be closed for renovation. McDonalds gave full permission for the McDowell’s name and logo to be used.

In spite of the fast food giant being happy about the use of the name McDowell’s (and the emblem noticeably similar to the famous Golden Arches), when the set was built a manager from a local McDonalds restaurant turned up with his lawyer, threatening to sue.

7. Murphy borrowed the name of his fictitious African nation from Richard Pryor

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Coming to America’s lead character Akeem is the prince of a fictitious African country called Zamunda. Eddie Murphy borrowed this name from a sketch by one of his comedy heroes, Richard Pryor.

The year after Coming to America, Richard Pryor would act alongside Eddie Murphy in Harlem Nights, which was also Murphy’s directorial debut.

6. The dance sequence is a recreation of Michael Jackson’s Thriller

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Near the start of the film there is an elaborate dance sequence from some of the subjects of Zamunda. This scene was choreographed by Paula Abdul, who had enjoyed huge success as a dance choreographer in the 80s (she also broke out as a musical solo artist in 1988).

If you think you recognise the dance, that’s because it’s an up-tempo version of the dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This famous music video was also directed by John Landis.

5. Tensions grew between Eddie Murphy and John Landis during filming

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Credit: Giorgio Montersino via Wikimedia Commons

Coming to America was the second collaboration between Eddie Murphy and director John Landis (who previously made Trading Places), but it was not the happiest reunion. The two men did not get along well during the shoot, and Murphy swore they wouldn’t work together again.

This turned out not to be the case, as Landis would later direct Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III, but this would end their working relationship. Landis was not invited back for sequel Coming 2 America, which was instead directed by Craig Brewer.

4. It was the first collaboration of future Lion King voice actors James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair

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As the parents of Murphy’s Akeem, Coming to America stars James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer, and Madge Sinclair as Queen Aoleon Joffer. This proved to be a winning combination, as Jones and Sinclair would go on to play another royal couple, Mufasa and Sarabi, in Disney’s The Lion King.

Jones reprised the role of King Jaffe in Coming 2 America, and Mufasa in the remake of The Lion King. Sadly, Sinclair passed away from leukemia in 1995, aged just 57.

3. There are early appearances from Cuba Gooding Jr and Samuel L. Jackson

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One of Coming to America’s barbershop scenes features a young Cuba Gooding Jr. Credited simply as ‘Boy Getting Haircut,’ this was the very first film role of the young actor who would rise to fame three years later with Boyz n the Hood, before winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jerry Maguire.

Nor is Cuba Gooding Jr. the only 90s star to make an early appearance in Coming to America, as Samuel L. Jackson also has a cameo as an armed robber.

2. The filmmakers were sued for plagiarism

Funny Facts You Probably Never Knew About Coming To America

Officially, the story for Coming to America was written by Eddie Murphy himself, and developed into a screenplay by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein. However, writer Art Buchwald sued the filmmakers and studio Paramount Pictures, claiming they had stolen the concept from his own script treatment written years earlier.

After a four year legal battle, Buchwald was awarded just $150,000 in damages; a fraction of the millions he had originally demanded.

1. A pilot episode was shot for a TV spin-off series

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With largely positive reviews and reported global box office earnings of $350 million, Coming to America was a big hit. Sequel Coming 2 America would eventually follow in 2020, but long before that a Coming to America TV series was on the cards.

Actor Tommy Davidson was cast in the lead of the pilot episode for a Coming to America sitcom, but it went down badly and was not picked up for a series.