Coming to America is a 1988 American romantic comedy film directed by John Landis. It was based on a story originally created by Eddie Murphy (who also starred in the lead role). It was released in the United States on June 29, 1988.

The film also co-stars Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Shari Headley and John Amos. It is allegedly set in the same universe as Trading Places.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) the crown prince to the throne of the wealthy African nation of Zamunda, lives a pampered lifestyle with every daily facet performed by servants. Akeem has become fed up with this and wishes to do more for himself.

The final straw comes when his parents, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aeoleon (Madge Sinclair), present him with an arranged bride-to-be named Imani Izzi, whom he has never met and who has been trained to obey Akeem's every command.

Akeem concocts a plan to travel to the United States to find an intelligent, independent-minded woman he can both love and respect and who will love Akeem for who he is and not for his wealth and social status as a prince.

Akeem and his best friend/personal aide, Semmi (Arsenio Hall) flip a coin to decide between going to either Los Angeles or New York City and end up going to New York City.

They end up in the borough of Queens and rent a run-down apartment in the neighborhood of Long Island City, passing themselves off as poor foreign students. They begin working at a local fast food restaurant called McDowell's—an obvious ripoff of McDonald's—owned by widower Cleo McDowell and his two daughters, Lisa and Patrice.

Akeem soon falls in love with Lisa (Shari Headley) who possesses all the qualities that the prince is looking for in a woman, as first seen by Akeem at a rally where she makes a strong plea to renovate a playground.

The rest of the film centers on Akeem's attempts to win Lisa's hand in marriage, which is complicated by Lisa's lazy and obnoxious boyfriend, Darryl Jenks (Eriq La Salle) whose father owns "Soul Glo" (a Jheri Curl–like hairstyling aid).

Lisa eventually breaks up with Darryl and starts dating Akeem. Although Akeem thrives on hard work and learning how commoners live, Semmi is not comfortable with living the life of a poor man.

When Akeem donates their travel money to the homeless Randolph and Mortimer Duke (characters in the previous Eddie Murphy film Trading Places), Semmi transmits a plea to the King of Zamunda for financial help. This causes Akeem's parents to travel to Queens and expose Akeem's identity as a prince to the McDowells.

Mr. McDowell (John Amos) (initially disapproving of the match as he did not want to see his daughter with a man of poor means) is ecstatic that she has in fact attracted the interest of an extremely wealthy prince, but Lisa becomes angry and confused as to why Akeem lied to her about his identity as he had told her before that he was actually a Zamundan goat herder.

Still hurt and angry that Akeem lied to her, Lisa refuses to marry him, even after he offers to renounce his throne and he returns home with a broken heart, resigned to marry the woman chosen for him by his parents.

On the way to the airport, King Jaffe remarks that Akeem can't marry Lisa anyway because of "tradition" and tries defending himself by saying, "Who am I to change it?" with Queen Aeoleon curtly responding, "I thought you were the King."

At the final scene's wedding procession, Akeem (still heartbroken) waits dejectedly at the altar as his soon-to-be consort makes her way down the aisle. However, when Akeem lifts the veil to kiss her, he finds Lisa instead of Imani.

Akeem and Lisa are married and they ride happily in a carriage after the ceremony to the cheers of Zamundans.

Witnessing such splendor, Lisa is both surprised and touched by the fact that Akeem would have given it up just for her. Akeem offers to formally abdicate if she doesn't want a life like this, but Lisa playfully declines and decides to become royalty instead.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem Joffer, the prince of Zamunda; Randy Watson, a soul singer with the fictional band Sexual Chocolate. Eddie Murphy also plays Saul, the Jewish barbershop customer, as well as Clarence, the owner of the barber shop.
  • Arsenio Hall as Semmi, Akeem's friend; Reverend Brown; Morris the barber; and an ugly barfly.
  • James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer, Akeem's father and King of Zamunda.
  • John Amos as Cleo McDowell, Akeem's employer.
  • Madge Sinclair as Queen Aeoleon, Akeem's mother and the Queen of Zamunda.
  • Shari Headley as Lisa McDowell, Cleo's oldest daughter and Akeem's love interest.
  • Paul Bates as Oha, a royal servant.
  • Eriq La Salle as Darryl Jenks, Lisa's boyfriend whom she eventually breaks up with.

Production[edit | edit source]

"Coming to America" reunited star Eddie Murphy with director John Landis. The two had previously worked together on the comedy hit "Trading Places," however, Landis later recalled the differences in working with Murphy on the two movies:

"The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great. The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world... But I still think he's wonderful in the movie."

Despite the experience, Landis and Murphy collaborated again six years later on Beverly Hills Cop III.

Reception[edit | edit source]

After initial negative reactions to a press screening in New York, Paramount cancelled press screenings of the film.

Box Office[edit | edit source]

The film was a commercial box-office success, both domestically and worldwide.

It debuted at number one with $21,404,420 from 2,064 screens, for a five-day total of $28,409,497.

The film made $128,152,301 in the United States and ended up with a worldwide total of $288,752,301.

It was the highest earning film that year for the studio and the third-highest grossing film at the United States box office.

It opened a month later in the UK and earned $7,712,622 during it's seven-week run. It opened on September 2 in West Germany, where it debuted at number one with $3,715,791 from 297 screens. It ended its run after 13 weeks with $15,743,447.

Critical Reception[edit | edit source]

Review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 68%, based on reviews from 37 critics.

Sheila Benson in the Los Angeles Times called it a "hollow and wearying Eddie Murphy fairy tale" and bemoans, "That an Eddie Murphy movie would come to this."

Vincent Canby in The New York Times was also critical of the writing, calling it a "possibly funny idea," but suggesting the screenplay had escaped before it was ready. Canby viewed the film as essentially a romantic comedy but said the romantic elements fell flat and the film instead goes for broad slapstick.

Siskel & Ebert had mixed opinions on the film.

Siskel enjoyed the acting from Murphy and Hall, but Ebert was disappointed that Murphy did not bring his usual more lively performance and Ebert was also critical of the unoriginal script.

Theatrical Trailer[edit | edit source]


Coming to America (1988) Trailer

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