In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 14 – Coming to America (1988)
Just in time for Valentine’s Day is our recommended Black History Month daily movie watch, Eddie Murphy (and Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy) and multiple Arsenio Halls in the hit comedy classic “Coming to America.”
Coming on the heels of a decade of blockbuster hits from the funny man and world’s biggest movie star, “Coming to America” was in many ways the perfect capper to the Eddie Murphy movie dynasty that included previous hits “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “The Golden Child,” “Beverly Hills Cop 2” and two Eddie Murphy standup specials – “Delirious” and “Raw” (the less said about his other earlier ‘80s entry “Best Defense,” the better). For a guy who was starring on SNL at age 19 at the start of the ‘80s, it was a golden time…that’s still shining three more decades on.
For this project, and for the second time in the ‘80s, Murphy teamed with his “Trading Places” director John Landis (of “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers” and “An American Werewolf in London” fame). Even better, their tale told here is a sweet but simple one about a wealthy, good-hearted prince from a far-off land who comes to America to find the perfect bride, who’ll love him for more than his possessions and social status.
For the first time, but far from last, Murphy plays multiple roles in a movie to great success. He’s first and foremost Akeem Joffer, the crown prince of an imaginary African country called Zamunda (imagine an ‘80s kinder, gentler and just as colorful Wakanda). Along with his pal Semmi (Arsenio Hall, also amazing, and underrated, in multiple roles), Akeem rolls the dice, ditches his parents’ plans for his arranged engagement, and travels to the US, neighborhood of Queens, NYC, to find his one true love.
Among the locals he and Semmi encounter are a group of seasoned and salty barbers (three of whom are played by Murphy and Hall), plus a loud and local preacher, and a jheri-curled soul singer named Randy Watson (both played again, respectively, by Murphy and Hall). Eventually, Akeem also meets and courts the beautiful, smart and equally kindhearted Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley). Lisa’s the daughter of Cleo McDowell (John Amos in another memorable role), who is the owner of a fast-food joint that looks and feels eerily similar to McDonalds…named McDowells.
Akeem’s plans to woo Lisa by his personality alone begin to progress…until Semmi’s needs for the comforts of home prompt an ill-advised message to Wakanda for more funds. Akeem’s parents, King Joffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aoleon (Madge Sinclair), soon arrive, and all chaos erupts. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, a happy ending of sorts is the order of the day.
But what truly sets “Coming to America” apart is seeing Murphy and Hall working at the peak of their powers, against an A-list movie background provided by Landis and the rest of the filmmakers, and surrounded by an almost entirely black cast of A-list acting talent.
The pleasures of “Coming to America” weren’t lost on audiences or critics. Released on June 29, 1988, the film went on to gross nearly $300 million domestic alone, on a modest budget of $39 million. More than 30 years later, the love for the movie is still going strong, so much that the sequel “Coming 2 America” will be released by Paramount to theaters on December 18, 2020.
Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, James Earl Jones and more will all return to their roles, with Craig Brewer (“Dolemite Is My Name,” “Hustle & Flow”) assuming the director’s chair. Also joining in for the sequel fun will be new cast members Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and Wesley Snipes.
Where to Watch
Coming to America
Comedy / 1988 / R
Synopsis: Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is the prince of a wealthy African country and wants for nothing, except a wife who will love him in spite of his title. To escape an arranged marriage, Akeem flees to America accompanied by his persnickety sidekick, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to find his queen. Disguised as a foreign student working in fast food, he romances Lisa (Shari Headley), but struggles with revealing his true identity to her and his marital intentions to his king father (James Earl Jones).