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Coming to America

Coming to America is a 1988 Academy Award-nominated comedy film directed by John Landis. The screenplay was written by David Sheffield & Barry W. Blaustein, from a story by Eddie Murphy, who also stars in the film.


Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy), the prince and heir to the throne of the fictitious African country Zamunda, is discontented with being pampered all his life. The final straw is when his parents (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair) present him with a bride-to-be (Vanessa Bell Calloway) he has never met before, trained to mindlessly obey his every command.

Akeem concocts a plan to travel to America to find a wife he can both love and respect. He and servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) arrive in Queens County, New York, and after several scrapes, find an apartment in a fictional slum, and begin working at a local restaurant called McDowell's, (the restaurateur's attempt to copy McDonald's), passing themselves off as students. When he first meets Akeem and Semmi, owner Mr. McDowell (John Amos) explains all the minute differences between his place and McDonald's, ending with the line, "They use the sesame seed bun. My buns have no seeds." The McDowell's restaurant is based on an actual McDonald's restaurant on Queens Boulevard.

Akeem falls in love with Lisa (Shari Headley), Mr. McDowell's daughter, who possesses the qualities the prince is looking for. The rest of the film centers on Akeem's attempts to win Lisa's hand in marriage, while adjusting to life in America and dodging his royal duties and prerogatives.


Actor Role
Eddie Murphy Prince Akeem Joffer
Randy Watson
Arsenio Hall Semmi
Reverend Brown
Ugly Girl
James Earl Jones King Jaffe Joffer
John Amos Cleo McDowell
Madge Sinclair Queen Aoleon Joffer
Shari Headley Lisa McDowell
Paul Bates Oha
Eriq La Salle Darryl Jenks
Frankie Faison Landlord
Vanessa Bell Calloway Imani Izzi
Louie Anderson Maurice
Allison Dean Patrice McDowell
Sheila Johnson Lady-in-Waiting
Jake Steinfeld Cab Driver
Calvin Lockhart Colonel Izzi
Samuel L. Jackson Hold-Up Man
Vondie Curtis-Hall Basketball Game Vendor
Don Ameche Mortimer Duke
Ralph Bellamy Randolph Duke
Garcelle Beauvais Rose Bearer
Cuba Gooding, Jr. Boy getting haircut in barbershop

A young Alex Rodriguez appears briefly in the holdup scene in the restaurant.


Because of the name similarity, the film's producers had to obtain permission from McDonald's before using the name McDowell's. The McDowell's scenes were filmed at a Wendy's restaurant located at 8507 Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, Queens.

Coming to America features Murphy and Arsenio Hall in several different roles, which following the success of this film became a Murphy film staple. Hall plays Reverend Brown, who introduces Randy Watson (Murphy) and his band Sexual Chocolate, who perform George Benson's song "Greatest Love of All" at the Black Awareness Rally. In the barbershop scenes, Murphy and Hall play the elderly barbers Clarence and Morris, who engage in a furious debate with Sweets about the boxing skills of Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano rather than attending to Akeem's hair. The barber scene is especially notable because Murphy plays both Akeem and Clarence simultaneously, effectively giving himself a haircut. Murphy also plays the old Jewish man in the barbershop who calls Akeem, "Kunta Kinte," referring to the Roots character made famous by LeVar Burton; co-star John Amos played the adult Kunta Kinte later in the Roots series.

Famed South African chorus, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, sings Mbube during the opening sequence (the song is known as The Lion Sleeps Tonight in America). The group has gone on to record several different versions of Mbube; however, the version heard in Coming to America has not been released on its soundtrack or on CD as of 2006.

John Landis' calling card/easter egg, See You Next Wednesday, appears on a science-fiction movie poster in the subway station after Lisa storms off the train and Akeem follows her.

Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprise their roles as the Duke brothers from another Landis and Murphy collaboration, Trading Places. Randolph and Mortimer Duke lost their enormous fortunes in that film. In this film, the two men are now homeless and living on the streets. Akeem gives them a paper bag filled with money, which they gratefully accept and exclaim "We're Back!". A portion of the Trading Places score can be heard during the Bellamy-Ameche cameo.



The film was the subject of the Buchwald v. Paramount civil suit, filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers on the grounds that the film's idea was stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount had optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action and the court ordered money damages. The parties later settled the case before an appeal.


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