Coming to America

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Prince Akeem: I want a woman who will arouse my intellect as well as my loins!
Semmi: ...but where will you find such a woman?
Prince Akeem: In America!

1988 comedy starring the underrated comedic duo of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall (before his show).

Heir to the throne of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer spends his days being pampered and spoiled by all those who serve him; he is not even allowed to dress himself or tie his own shoes. This lifestyle has grown frustrating for the young prince, especially when it comes to his future bride being chosen for him without his say. Akeem implores his father, King Jaffe Joffer, to allow him to choose his own wife, but the monarch declares that the prince cannot defy tradition and insists that the courtship ceremony continue that evening on Akeem's 21st birthday.

That night, Akeem meets his future bride. She is beautiful, obedient and completely unable to think for herself. Despite his best efforts, Akeem cannot convince her to act as anything other than a mindless slave. He resolves that he will find his own wife; a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture who loves him for his personality, while still having the kind of strength of will he can respect -- a woman suitable for a king. Tricking his father into letting him travel before getting married, Akeem takes his best friend and servant, Semmi, and heads out to find his future queen. Never having been to North America, the duo decide to conduct their search in the most logical place they can think of: Queens, New York City.

Akeem and Semmi pose as poor African students while they conduct their search, but being naive to the way America works they can only attract women with serious emotional problems. Akeem is almost ready to give up until, one night, he attends a rally where he lays eyes on Lisa McDowell. She is his dream in every way and Akeem is convinced that he has found his future Queen, but there's only one problem: she's already taken...

Considered something of a Spiritual Sequel to Trading Places (also directed by John Landis), the story was conceived by Eddie Murphy and Art Buchwald (though Murphy was given sole credit for its conception in the credits, something that Buchwald wasn't too happy about). It enjoyed both domestic and worldwide success when it was released, even grabbing a couple of Academy Award nominations for costumes and makeup. The film is also notable for being the first in which Eddie Murphy plays more than one role, a trend that he would continue throughout the rest of his career.

A pilot for a sitcom series based in the film was filmed but not picked. A sequel, Coming 2 America, was released on the Amazon Prime streaming service in March 2021. It involves a newly crowned Akeem discovering that he had a son in America that he didn't knew about and, since Zamunda's succession rules invokes Heir Club for Men, he must retrieve him and groom him as a heir.

Tropes used in Coming to America include:

Cleo: Look... me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's... I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.

  • Bowdlerised: This film has been shown on TV on channels such as Comedy Central and ABC Family with some of the most profane lines redubbed.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Briefly; after convincing his empty-headed bride to start barking like a dog and hop up and down like an imbecile, Akeem stares at the camera in exasperation.
    • Darryl does this when he realizes Lisa's sister is trying to have sex with him.
  • Bulungi: Zamunda.
  • Burger Fool: Semmi and Akeem (Akeem wanted to find a girl who would like him, not the Crown Prince).
  • Butt Monkey: Semmi.
  • Chalk Outline: "Damn shame what they did to that dog."
  • Chekhov's Gun: At the beginning, Semmi and Akeem spar with staffs, with Semmi taunting Akeem throughout. These become important in thwarting the hold-up at the McDowell's restaurant.
  • City Mouse: Semmi.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you! Who's next?
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Akeem discusses his reservations about getting married (pointing out that he's never even been outside the kingdom), his father assumes Akeem wants to bed as many women as possible before getting married.
    • King Jaffe Joffer does this throughout the movie. For instance, after angering Lisa and Cleo McDowell:

King Jaffe: I know you have been inconvenienced, and I am prepared to compensate you. Shall we say one million American dollars?
Cleo: (furiously) No way!
King Jaffe: Very well then, two million.

Cleo: Say, leave Sunday night open. I'm having a little get-together at my house.
Akeem: (to Semmi) You see? It is working! He has accepted us as equals!
(cut to Akeem and Semmi standing outside in the cold as valets)

Semmi: [looking at America on a globe] The land is so big. The choices so infinite. Where shall we go: L.A. or New York?

Sweets: That's boy's good!
Clarence: Mmm, good and terrible.

Lisa's sister: Why are you hugging [Akeem]? (points) [Semmi]'s the prince!
King Jaffe: Who told you that?!
(Everyone looks at Semmi, who is morbidly frightened)

  • One-Scene Wonder: Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate.
  • Papa Wolf: Cleo McDowell surprisingly enough. He may want his girls to marry rich guys but insult her and offer to give him money for troubling you and he'll "break a foot off in your royal ass." Plus the fact that he's not a gold digger and genuinely just wants his girls to not have to struggle financially.
  • Parental Abandonment: Though Akeem's parents are still around and the family even eats meals together, this is still effectively in play. Akeem has so little face-to-face interaction with them that when he actually marches down to their end of the table to talk, his father's shocked that he's grown a mustache.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The wedding dress at the end, a pink one.
    • The 'Queen to Be's' glittering golden gown with the enormously long train qualifies as well.
  • Precision F-Strike:

Random person: FUCK YOU!

  • Pretty in Mink: The queen wears a few furs when she is in New York, and the King has his lion skin.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Averted and played straight; although definitely naive, the wealthy Prince Akeem has a good head on his shoulders and adjusts quite well to the life of an American on minimum-wage. However, his lower class servant Semmi, accustomed to the luxuries of the Royal Palace and the privileges of being personal assistant to the prince, spends the movie whining like a Spoiled Brat about everything.
    • It helps that at the beginning of the movie Akeem has dreamed of a life of doing things himself after being pampered his entire life (the guy has never even wiped his own ass!) and thus a life of manual labor is a dream come true for him.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Well, more like Rich Suitor vs. Secretly Richer Suitor Disguised As Poor Suitor.
  • Samuel L. Jackson: He plays a shotgun-toting robber who tries to hold up McDowell's.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: King Jaffe tries to pay off Mr. McDowell for being "inconvenienced."
    • Which only serves to piss him off (fortunately, King Jaffe is understanding).
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them: At Akeem's 21st birthday ceremony.

Oha: The guests are waiting, Sire...
King Jaffe Joffer: (yelling) LET. THEM. WAIT! (softly) I'm talking to my son.

"Ahhh, vadda ya know from funny, ya bastard?"

  • Table Space: Jaffe and his wife sit at one end of a long table, while Akeem sits at the other end. They communicate through an intercom. Akeem getting up to walk to the opposite end to talk to his parents face-to-face is a massive ordeal.
  • Take That: At the entire movie industry and its obsession with stories taking place in only two American cities. Semmi, when planning their trip to America and looking at a map of it, exclaims "But the places are so numerous, the possibilities near-infinite! ... New York, or LA?" Of course, they then go to New York and spend the rest of the movie there.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Akeem and Semmi's attempt to find his queen at a bar:

I have a secret: I worship the Devil!

  • Unishment: King Jaffe Joffer is outraged with how Akeem and his servant Semmi have been living in a squalid New York City apartment, and working for a local fast food restaurant. He tells Semmi "You have disgraced yourself, and you must be punished. You will confine yourself to our royal suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, [to Oha] see that he puts on some decent attire, [to female servants] and I want you to bathe him thoroughly.", making Semmi happily say "Oh, thank you, your majesty!", before shamefully lowering his head again.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Still can be offensive, but references to native African fauna is a bit jarring.
  • Video Credits
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What did King Joffe do about the chosen bride who has just spent her entire life preparing to be a princess?