35 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Coming to America’ on Its 35th Anniversary
Thirty-five years ago, Prince Akeem Joffer of the African nation of Zamunda came to America in search of a bride. After finding one, he left behind a true classic: Coming to America, a landmark comedy and arguably Eddie Murphy’s best film. It came out on June 29, 1988, becoming a box-office smash and pop-culture staple in the process.
That’s why it’s time for 35 trivia tidbits about the film. And if you can’t make it through all 35, “Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you! Who’s next?”
Its Original Title Was ‘The Quest’
Murphy Didn’t Want to Play ‘Eddie’
“I’ve played Eddie in most of my films,” Murphy said in an interview. His goal for Coming to America was to challenge himself with a character piece.
It Was a Metaphor for Murphy’s Dating Frustrations
Arsenio Hall explained that Murphy’s relationship woes helped inspire the film’s story about an African prince going to America to find a bride. As Hall explained, “People knowing who you are, the perception already exists. It would be nice to meet a woman who doesn’t know who you are and what you have.”
Hall Left the ‘Ghostbusters’ Cartoon for It
Murphy Played More Characters to Get Paramount to Say ‘Yes’
Paramount originally turned down Murphy’s pitch for the film, but when he came back and said he’d play multiple characters, they changed their tune. It was the first time Murphy would do this, which became a staple of his later films like The Nutty Professor.
Director John Landis Wanted Murphy to Play ‘An Old Jew’
“I went to Eddie, and I said, ‘I want you to play an old Jew in this,’” Landis said in an interview. After having seen Murphy’s Gumby character on Saturday Night Live, he knew Murphy could do the accent, and, having worked with makeup artist Rick Baker, he thought Baker could transform Eddie into an old Jewish man.
That Old Jewish Man Was Designed After Baker’s Father-in-Law
Baker based the design for Saul, Eddie Murphy’s old Jewish character, on his father-in-law, who then doubled for Saul for a few shots in the barbershop.
The Head of Paramount Didn’t Recognize Murphy in the Saul Makeup
Landis convinced the studio to pay for a makeup test. Once Murphy was in full makeup, he went around hitting on secretaries as Saul; Landis then took Murphy to the office of Ned Tanen, the head of Paramount, and introduced him to “Saul.” Tanen had no idea who it was until Murphy switched back to his regular voice.
John Amos Was Sold at the Word ‘McDonald’s’
Amos, who played the father of Akeem’s love interest Lisa McDowell, said he was in as soon as he heard that his character ran a McDonald’s knock-off named McDowell’s. Amos had previously worked at a McDonald’s and had appeared in a McDonald’s commercial in 1971.
In Fact, Amos’ Exact Words Were, ‘You Try to Keep Me Out of this Movie; I’ll Kill You’
Amos didn’t have to audition for the part. He met with Landis, who described the scene in Cleo McDowell’s home where three people leave Jheri curl stains on his couch. Amos cracked up and said to Landis, “You try to keep me out of this movie; I’ll kill you.”
Murphy Pranked Amos in the ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Makeup
In between scenes, Amos was hanging around the studio when he was approached by a man he didn’t know. “He said, ‘What do you do?’” Amos recalled. “I said John. ‘John what?’ ‘John Amos.’ ‘John Amos? I never heard of you.’” From there, the man got increasingly confrontational with Amos, asking him if he was sure he was an actor and if he wasn’t just a security guard. Finally, Amos was so annoyed he told the man to go away, and then Murphy began laughing, revealing that it was really him in the Randy Watson character makeup.
Randy Watson Originated the Mic Drop
While some disagree, many, including Murphy, say that the Randy Watson character originated the mic drop. “The very first mic drop ever, ever, where it’s like, ‘What I said was so fly, there’s nothing left to say, and I’m dropping the mic, that’s Randy Watson,” Murphy said on Fallon. “I defy anyone to find any footage of anyone doing that before Randy Watson.”
Questlove Created ‘The Randy Watson Experience’
Hip-hop artists Questlove and James Poyser are such enormous Coming to America fans that they sometimes play together as “The Randy Watson Experience.”
Randy Watson Is Murphy’s Favorite Character in ‘Coming to America’
“If I could figure out a way to do a whole Randy Watson Movie, I would do it,” Murphy has said.
Randy Watson Also Helped Promote ‘Coming 2 America’
The sequel, Coming 2 America, came out on Prime Video in 2021, and to promote the film, Amazon released boxes of chocolate with Randy Watson’s face on them.
‘Coming to America’ Helped Boost Samuel L. Jackson’s Career
In a 2016 interview, Jackson said, “I played that robber in Coming to America, which caught a lot of attention.” Still, he lamented “always having to play the ‘bad guy’” at that point in his career.
Louie Anderson Got the Role Because He Bought Murphy’s Entourage Dinner
Coming to America was the first noteworthy role for Anderson. He said the part of Maurice, the McDowell’s employee, was written in the script for him after he quietly bought dinner for his friend Murphy and Murphy’s entourage at the Ivy, a fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills. It cost him $660. Anderson would reprise the character in Coming 2 America, his last film role prior to his passing in 2022.
Paramount Forced Murphy to Have a White Guy in the Film
In an interview promoting the sequel, Murphy and Hall revealed that Paramount demanded that they have a white person in the original film. Murphy said he selected Anderson because he knew him and he was “the funniest white guy around.”
It’s in the Same Universe as ‘Trading Places’
In Coming to America, Prince Akeem gives money to two homeless men, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. They’re playing the Duke Brothers, two rich old men who lost their fortunes in the 1983 Murphy film Trading Places, which was also directed by Landis.
Murphy and Hall Went Out Partying as Their Characters
After finishing up a scene late at night, the cast had a two-hour break while the crew was changing up the shots. Murphy and Hall decided to go to a nearby club in costume and brought the whole club back to the set afterward.
It was Cuba Gooding Jr.’s First Movie
Coming to America featured a young Gooding Jr. as a boy getting a haircut in the barbershop. He doesn’t speak in the final film, but he originally ended his scene by trying to hustle Clarence, Murphy’s barber character, out of the haircut he just got.
Zamunda’s Origin Is Disputed
Murphy has said that Akeem’s country, Zamunda, was named for a fictional tribe Richard Pryor talked about in his act. But the other screenwriters of Coming to America claim it was inspired by the last name of comedian Bob Zmuda.
Paula Abdul Choreographed the Dance Scene in the Palace of Zamunda
You know, this one:
It Isn’t Hall’s Favorite Murphy Movie
While Hall loves Coming to America, he says that 1999’s Bowfinger might be Murphy’s best film and was convinced of it by film critic Roger Ebert.
Wesley Snipes Was Rejected from the First Film
Snipes auditioned for a role in the first film but failed to get cast. However, he did play General Izzi in the sequel. Murphy almost played the general himself, but after working with Snipes on Dolemite Is My Name, Murphy thought Snipes would be more menacing for the part.
The ‘Lion King’ Connection
Earl Jones Wanted Amos’ Part
“That’s my kind of role,” he said in an interview, sharing that he originally wanted to play Cleo McDowell. Hall and Murphy convinced him to play the king instead. Jones’ favorite line in the film is, “My son works!?”
Murphy Doesn’t Think It Should Have Been Rated R
He pointed out in an interview that there were just two scenes that warranted the rating: the scene where Clarence says, “Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you!” and the “royal penis is clean” scene, which features two topless women.
It Was the Second Biggest Movie of 1988
It Was the First Movie Starring a Black Actor to Be a Hit in Japan
Landis said movies starring Black actors had always struggled in Japan, yet Coming to America was a hit there. “It was a huge hit all over the world,” Landis commented.
There Could Have Been a TV Spin-Off
After the success of Coming to America, CBS made a pilot for a TV version where comedian Tommy Davidson played “Prince Tariq.” It wasn’t picked up for a series, but the pilot did air as a part of the CBS Summer Playhouse, and it’s on YouTube.
Kevin Hart Was Rumored for a Sequel
Tracy Morgan Almost Played Akeem’s Son in the Sequel
Despite an age difference of only seven years, Morgan was the original casting choice for Akeem’s American son. Murphy said, “In the original idea, Tracy Morgan was gonna be my son. Three years into writing it, Tracy was the son, still. What changed was we met with Tracy a couple times, and it was like, ‘Tracy looks the same age as me. How are we going to make this believable? How are we gonna make this be right? Tracy can’t be Leslie’s (Jones’) son. So how are we gonna do this? Then it turned into, ‘Hey, how about Tracy is the uncle?’”
‘Coming 2 America’ Was a ‘Fairy Tale Interrupted by a Very Modern Problem’
That’s how Murphy saw the plot of King Akeem finding out that he’d fathered a son while he was in America during the first film.
Murphy Has a Third ‘Coming to America’ Film in Mind
In an interview, Murphy said, “There’s an idea for a Coming to America 3 that I have, but it doesn’t happen for 16 years. I have to be 75 to do it.”