Is there an Eddie Murphy role that isn’t memorable? Hell, even Norbit was nominated for an Oscar. From Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live to Dr. Doolittle, the veteran comedian has embodied some of the most beloved characters to ever hit the screen—not the least of which is Coming to America’s Prince Akeem. As an African prince who relocates to Queens, New York to find the perfect woman to hold down the throne, Murphy’s hilarious performance(s) turned a silly little film into a certified comedy classic. On the 30th anniversary of the film's release, here are 10 things you might not know about Coming to America.
1. PAULA ABDUL CHOREOGRAPHED THE OPENING DANCE SCENE AT THE PALACE IN ZAMUNDA.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Laker Girl-turned-pop star listed her Coming to America scene as one of the top moments of her choreography career. “This was one of my moments of having to really prove myself, because I was still pretty new in my career as a choreographer,” Abdul said. “John Landis, the director, wanted the person that choreographed Janet Jackson. I was still a Laker Girl. I went in and he looked at me and said, 'What are you, a teenager?' And I said, 'Yes, I am!' He basically was telling me, 'What do you know about African dancing?' And this is my whole thing when becoming a choreographer: 'I'll just tell everyone yes, I know exactly what I'm doing, and then I'll figure it out later.'”
2. THE NAME “ZAMUNDA” IS AN ALTERED VERSION OF A FAMOUS WRITER’S NAME.
As noted in the DVD commentary of the film, screenwriters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield named the kingdom of “Zamunda” after Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman’s writing partner and close friend.
3. DIRECTOR JOHN LANDIS AND EDDIE MURPHY CLASHED ON SET.
Despite working together previously on Trading Places, director John Landis and Murphy had a less than amiable professional relationship. “On Coming to America, we clashed quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people,” Landis told Collider. “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.”
4. IN 1989, CBS FILMED A PILOT FOR A TV VERSION OF THE MOVIE, STARRING TOMMY DAVIDSON.
However, according to a report by Fusion, it never aired because it was “terrible.” Other cast members included Paul Bates and John Hancock.
5. MCDOWELL’S WAS ACTUALLY A WENDY’S IN QUEENS.
The real-life location of the McDowell’s is along Queens Boulevard, where a Wendy’s used to be located (it’s since been demolished). In fact, McDowell’s even has its own Yelp page.
6. TOBE HOOPER MAKES A CAMEO AT THE MCDOWELLS’ PARTY.
Only true horror fans might’ve spotted this: Tobe Hooper, the late horror director behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—and a dear friend of Landis’s—appeared in the McDowells’ party scene.
7. IT WAS CUBA GOODING JR.’S FIRST FILM.
According to IMDb, his character is known as “Boy Getting Haircut” in the famous barbershop scene.
8. JAMES EARL JONES AND MADGE SINCLAIR, THE KING AND QUEEN OF ZAMUNDA, ALSO VOICED THE KING AND QUEEN IN THE LION KING.
The duo must’ve truly impressed Disney, because the on-screen couple landed the coveted gig of voicing Mufasa and Sarabi, respectively, in the 1994 animated masterpiece.
9. DON AMECHE AND RALPH BELLAMY CAMEO AS THE HOMELESS MEN AKEEM GIVES MONEY TO.
As a tribute to Landis’s Trading Places (1983), the movie that put Murphy on Hollywood's map, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprised their Trading Places characters for Coming to America.
10. THE FILM PAYS TRIBUTE TO ROOTS WITH A “KUNTE KINTE” REFERENCE.
In the barbershop scene, the Jewish man calls Akeem “Kunta Kinte,” a reference to Roots. In fact, John Amos, the actor who starred in Coming to America as Lisa’s father Cleo, played the adult version of Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries.
Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.
While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)
Mario Tama, Getty Images
The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.
Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Windmade $3.44 billion.
The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.
A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.
But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.
Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.
1. Making a Murderer (2015-)
One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.
In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The Staircase—Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).
If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.
After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.
What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.
Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.
Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.
In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.
David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.
At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.
Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.
13. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)
The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.
Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.
The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.
From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.
Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
CNN's series highlighting the pop culture of the neon-colored decade boasts familiar talking heads like Tom Hanks and enough nostalgia to keep you afloat for weeks. The network's The Seventies and The Nineties are also available.
This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?