Coming to America, simply put, is one of the funniest movies ever made.  Eddie Murphy was at his absolute funniest as an actor, and the movie brought us one of the greatest ensemble comedy troupes ever assembled.  Eddie grew up in a town about 5 miles from where I grew up on Long Island, so I have always been biased about him.  But still, I think this movies’ place in history is fairly certain.  So I thought it would be fun to dive deep into this movie with a few questions.

How well did this movie do?  Well it was the 3rd highest grossing movie in the US in 1988 at $128.1MM, behind “Rain Man” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  For Eddie Murphy, one of Hollywood’s most successful actors commerically this was his 9th highest grossing picture.  But since it was launched in 1988 you have to look at adjusted gross and when looking at that figure it’s his 4th highest grossing picture.  I would argue that it was his funniest.  A lot of people love him as the voice of Donkey in the “Shrek” series, and people love “Trading Places” but for me – his best movie was “Coming to America.”

Who made this movie?  It was released by Paramount Pictures right when Eddie started getting his Hollywood Mega-Contracts.  The movie was directed by John Landis.  Landis and Murphy worked on three movies together, “Trading Places,” “Coming to America,” and “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”  Landis and Murphy had a falling out after “Coming to America,” but still worked together once more on BHC3.  “Coming to America” was actually nominated for 2 Academy Awards (Costumes and Makeup).

The troupe?  Incredible, below is a sampling:
  • Eriq La Salle – played Daryl Jenks, prince of the SoulGlo empire.  The scene where he is introduced, the sound track of “SoulGlo” playing with that deep sax line and then shortly after that him throwing his milkshake at Akeem – “Take care of this for me.”  Amazing.  He was absolutely hilarious in this movie.
  • John Amos – I was first introduced to him as the warrior, Seth, in “Beastmaster” but Cleo McDowell was also pretty amazing.  “They have the Big Mac, and we have the Big Mick.”
  • Jake Steinfeld as the cab driver?  Welcome to America Akeem…
  • Samuel L. Jackson – holding up the McDowell’s and getting handled by Akeem, this was his first major motion picture role.
  • Louie Anderson – “I’m on fries now, but one day I will move up to Assistant Manager, and then I will start making the Big Bucks.”
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.?  – he is the kid sitting in the barber shop when Akeem comes in to get his pony tail cut off.
  • Frankie Faison – probably most well known as the orderly in the insane asylum from the “Silence of the Lambs” and subsequent pre-quel sequels.  Or perhaps as the commish in “The Wire.”  He played the landlord, and had this quote…”All right, here we are. There’s only one bathroom on this floor, so you’re going to have to share it. We got a bit of an insect problem, but you boys from Africa are used to that. And another thing, don’t use the elevator. It’s a death trap. This is the place I was telling you about. It’s real f$cked up. Got just one window facing a brick wall. Used to rent it to a blind man… damn shame what they did to that dog. “
  • James Earl Jones as king Jaffe Joffer.  “so you want to sew your royal oats.”  He is so well-known for his VO as Darth Vader, but he is an incredible actor.  If you have never seen “The Great White Hope.”  Pick it up, he is amazing.
  • Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche – performed a cameo as Randolph and Mortimer.
Then of course you have Eddie and Arsenio.  This is where we get down to brass tacks.  These two guys went toe to toe in this movie.  It was like watching a prize-fight, just when you thought one couldn’t be any funnier the other one brought something new to the party.  My question has always been who really stole the show in “Coming to America?”  Both of these guys played a variety of roles.  Has there ever been a single movie where two actors were able to give you so many unique and funny characters?  Below is a photo strip summary.

I think for variety, it goes to Eddie.  He played an old white jewish guy at a barber shop and in the same scene, played a black barber.  That is pretty amazing.  But for the best original character, the winner for me is Arsenio, and his portrayal of Reverend Brown, with Eddie’s Randy Watson in a close second.  Let me leave you with this quote which broke the tie for me:  “Rev. Brown: [at Black Awareness Rally] But you know, when I look at these contestants! For the Miss Black Awareness Pageant, I feel good! I feel good, because I know there’s a God somewhere! There’s a God somewhere! Turn around ladies for me please! You know there’s a God who sits on high and looks down low! Man cannot make it like this! Larry Flynt! Hugh Hefner! They can take the picture, but you can’t make it! Only God above, the Hugh Hefner on high, can make it for ya! ”

It is virtually impossible to top that, “Only the God above, the Hugh Hefner on high, can make it for ya!”

So what do you think?  Any arguments that Coming to America is one of the funniest movies?  Anything I missed.  If you are feeling down and need a laugh, do yourself a favor and watch this movie…you will laugh, even if it is the 50th time you have seen it.

2 Responses to Coming to America, a look back at one of the funniest movies ever made.

  1. kenzo says:

    Hmmm, the first Beverly Hills Cop is pretty dang high up there for “first place” for Eddie Murphy. But what Eddie pulled off in Coming to America (with the costume changes) probably, technically, and sophisticated production-wise, would seem to nose it out. A frequently overlooked awesome Eddie Murphy film is BOWFINGER. Though my favorite line in that movie is delivered by fellow SNL alumnus Steve Martin when Heather Graham asks him if he likes “Smashing Pumpkins” and he replies, “I love to do that!”.

  2. Lutz says:

    The ensemble actors in Coming to America definitely helps make the movie. Great references to Beastmaster with John Amos and The Wire with Frankie Faison. Don’t forget about Vondie Curtis Hall (character actor and the director of the horrific Glitter with Mariah Carey) as the Stadium vendor from Zamunda.
    Although not as funny, I feel the same way with the cast of Boomerang: Halle Berry, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, Grace Jones, Chris Rock, Eartha Kitt, Tisha Campbell, and Lela Rochon.
    By the way, Bill Simmons wrote a great piece on Eddie’s career in Grantland that is worth reading if you are a fan:
    Simmons is obviously a huge Eddie fan. As for me, I am doubtful we will see any more genius out of Eddie Murphy in the future, but you never know. I was disappointed with the Oscar debacle, as seeing him host would have brought new energy to the very boring award show. But his new movies are still missing the mark, including Tower Heist which I didn’t think was as good as people were saying.

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