10 Facts About Coming to America

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in Coming to America (1988).
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in Coming to America (1988). / Paramount Home Entertainment

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. Before you head back to Zamunda with Coming 2 America, here are 10 things you might not know about Coming to America.

1. Paula Abdul choreographed Coming to America's 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. "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 Coming to America, 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 has 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. Coming to America marked Cuba Gooding Jr.'s feature debut.

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, were also the King and Queen in The Lion King.

James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair in Coming to America (1988).
James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair in Coming to America (1988). / Paramount Home Entertainment

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 make cameos.

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. Except this time, they're playing homeless men who Akeem gives money to.

10. Coming to America 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.

This story has been updated for 2021.