"Coming to America" Movie Facts

by David Harris

"Coming to America" is a comedy from 1988 that stars Eddie Murphy. It was directed by John Landis, who also directed the popular comedies "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers." "Coming to America" was based on an original screenplay by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, which was taken from a story written by Murphy.


Eddie Murphy plays Akeem Joffer, the prince of an African country called Zamunda. Bored with his spoiled existence, he decides to go to America and find a wife who will love him for himself and not for his social status. Traveling with his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to Queens, New York, Akeem finds work at a fast-food restaurant and soon falls in love with the owner's daughter, Lisa (Shari Headley). Once Lisa falls for Akeem, he must figure out a way to marry her and somehow reveal his true identity.


Despite mixed critical reviews, "Coming to America" was a huge box-office success. Murphy was in the prime of his career and one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, and the film grossed more than $128 million, according to Box Office Mojo. However, not all the critics were convinced. Richard Schickel of "Time" magazine commented that Landis' direction felt "distracted," and Vincent Canby of the "New York Times" quipped that the screenplay "escaped its doctors before it was entirely well."

Fun Facts

Both Murphy and Hall played multiple characters in the film, including Murphy as a white man in the barbershop scenes and Hall as a woman in a bar sequence. Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprised their roles from "Trading Places" in a cameo; Murphy also starred in that film. The writers of the movie took the name Zamunda from an imaginary country used by Richard Pryor in his comedy routine. The Zamundan Film Commission is even thanked in the end credits.


Two years after the film's release, humorist Art Buchwald and his partner Alain Bernheim sued Paramount Pictures for $6.2 million over "Coming to America." Buchwald and Bernheim claimed that the idea for the film was stolen from their earlier screen treatment "King for a Day." After a three-year ordeal, Buchwald was awarded $150,000 for breach of contract. However, the trial cost Buchwald more than $200,000, and it cost Paramount Pictures more than $3 million.

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