Tomorrow, the anticipated sequel to Coming to America , titled Coming 2 America, will be released from Amazon Studios. Today, we’re taking a look back at where Coming to America was filmed back in 1988, revisiting the filming locations and showing what they look like now! If you are unfamiliar with Coming to America, we highly recommend watching it. Despite the passage of 33 years since it debuted, most of the humor and filming style still works. The main premise is simple: Eddie Murphy is the sheltered Prince Akeem of Zamunda. If you’re wondering where Zamunda is located, it’s a completely fictional African country. Akeem’s father, played by James Earl Jones, is currently king of Zamunda. Akeem is being forced into an arranged marriage with a woman who has been trained her whole life to serve him but he is looking for something more: love.
To find his future bride, Akeem and his friend Semmi, go to the United States. Flipping a coin between Los Angeles and New York City, they end up in New York. Peering at a map, they decide that Queens is obviously where one most go to find a queen. Shenanigans ensue.
You get a sense of nostalgia in the coloring of Coming to America, but overall it holds up pretty well. Many from the original cast from the 1988 movie, including Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones will reprise their roles in the sequel.
In anticipation for the new film, we take a look back at the filming locations in Coming to America and show what they look like now over three decades later! This article was produced in partnership with Highley Varlet, the moniker for a Brooklyn-based duo (Jessie Highley and Mike Varlet) whose project “2020: Total Clarity ” involves a weekly marathon-length walk to discover the five boroughs of New York City. They turn that experience into a multi-disciplinary project which includes a podcast, On a walk recently in Queens, they hit up the filming locations for not only Coming to America but also Men in Black and Goodfellas.
1. JFK Airport Terminal 7
Prince Akeem and Semmi take British Airways and land at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The filming location for the scene is actually Terminal 7, where British Airways is still located today. In the background, as they exit the terminal and hail a cab, you can see the TWA Flight Center in the background. Since Coming to America was filmed, the TWA Flight Center has been transformed into the TWA Hotel.
You also see vintage-looking taxis in Coming to America. During the 1970s and 80s, two types of yellow cabs were on the streets, the Ford Galazy and the Plymouth Fury Threes. “Take me to Queens at once!” Akeem commands his cab driver.
2. The Barbershop and Akeem’s Apartment
The cab drops them off in what’s supposed to be extremely ordinary Queens, “the most common part,” Akeem requests. The filming location for Akeem’s apartment, above the barbershop, is actually located at 392 South 5th Street in Williamsburg at Hooper Street and South 5th Street. The building still remains, painted a yellow instead of the red brick it has in Coming to America and the businesses on the ground floor are now Rosa’s Services, a translating service, and Jose Fashion.
Much of the surrounding area is unrecognizable, however. Many buildings have been demolished and replaced, the empty lots filled in. In the distance as the cab approaches the destination, you can see a tall warehouse building with a water tower. That building still exists, sans water tower, and is now a Hasidic-owned building.
Excitingly, in Coming 2 America Akeem and Semmi return back to this same filming location! A great conversation about gentrification ensues in the barbershop. Akeem, now King, is searching for his bastard son he didn’t realize he conceived on his last visit in Coming to America.
The McDowell’s fast food restaurant, clearly a knockoff of McDonald’s was filmed in Queens at what was then a Wetson’s (a chain restaurant, which later became Wendy’s). The address for the filming location for McDowell’s in Coming to America was at 85-07 Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. The actual address is mentioned in Coming to America during the scene in the auditorium when Akeem sees Lisa McDowell (played by Shari Headley) for the first time. The host of the event, Reverend Brown (also played by Arsenio Hall) helps to advertise McDowell’s.
Today, there is no Wetson’s or Wendy’s at that address at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and Broadway and definitely no McDowell’s. Like much of New York City real estate, it has been turned into….a condo!
4. Madison Square Garden
Akeem ends up on a double date with Darryl Jenks, Lisa and Lisa’s sister, Clarice, to see the St. John’s game at Madison Square Garden. Clarice is clearly into Akeem and Darryl is fulfilling his role as the boyfriend nobody is rooting for. Akeem is waiting on line for the bathroom when two workers who are from Zamunda recognize him.
Madison Square Garden is still there atop Penn Station, but it has undergone a big renovation since 1988 to the tune of $1 billion starting in 2011. In Coming 2 America, Madison Square Garden appears again as a filming location! Akeem’s son Lavelle Junson (played by Jermaine Fowler) is a ticket scalper.
5. The McDowell’s House
The McDowell’s house, a standalone Tudor-revival style home is purportedly located at 2432 Derby Avenue in Jamaica Estates, Queens (where Donald Trump is from). There actually is no Derby Avenue in Queens whatsoever. So where was it filmed? The answer is Los Angeles! There are a few scenes in Coming to America with Los Angeles filming locations and this is one of them. The real house is located at 555 South Muirfield Avenue. The house has gone through a bit of a renovation since 1988 and the Tudor details were covered over in gray stucco but the brick has been retained.
When Akeem and Lisa finally go on a date, they stroll along the DUMBO Brooklyn waterfront before dinner. Akeem gives a wad of cash to two homeless men in the park, as the two walk with the backdrop of Manhattan behind them.
They walk on the promenade between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. In the scene you can also see the former building at Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport which was demolished in 2014 and replaced by the new SHoP Architects-designed building. Today, Lisa and Akeem would have walked past Main Street Park, Jane’s Carousel in Empire Fulton Ferry Park, and then to Pier 1 where Brooklyn Bridge Park begins.
7. Waldorf Astoria
When Akeem’s family, including King Jaffe Joffer and the queen, and entourage arrive in New York City, they stay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Semmi is banished to house arrest inside the Waldorf Astoria, which he does with pleasure. The filming location does indeed take place on the outside of the Waldorf Astoria, and we see the fictional Zamunda flag hanging in front.
The Waldorf Astoria has since been sold and is currently under renovation to be converted into condos and a hotel. Later this month, we will be hosting a free behind-the-scenes virtual tour inside the restoration of the historic hotel and in April we’ll hosting a book talk on American Hotel: The Waldorf-Astoria and The Making of a Century,
8. Queensboro Bridge
King Jaffe Joffer and entourage cross the Queensboro Bridge to go to the McDowell’s house after Lisa’s father alerts him that Akeem is there. Akeem has left, however, by the time the King and his family arrive.
9. Car Wash
After King and company arrive and essentially convince Lisa that Akeem is already engaged, Lisa runs out of the house. We see her passing by a car wash located on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 87 Av. Amazingly, this car wash is still there!
Lisa then runs into a subway station, named the Briarwood station — now the Briarwood-Van Wyck station in Queens. For the exterior shot, a New York City-style subway entrance was added to a street in Los Angeles: in Hollywood in front of 5661 Hollywood Boulevard to be exact.
10. The Subway Station
New Yorkers will be relieved to see that the scenes inside the subway were actually filmed in the New York subway. When Akeem enters the subway station, we see the distinctive blue and yellow tiles that are remnants of the Loeser’s Department store. That tells us that the station it’s filmed in is the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station in Brooklyn, not the actual Briarwood-Van Wyck station in Queens. Hoyt-Schermerhorn has an abandoned platform, making it useful for filming. Not too many stations are used for filming — Bowery and Church Ave in Brooklyn being the two main ones.
When Akeem lets Lisa go, the train has arrived at Sutpin Boulevard which is located near Jamaica station, not too far from the car wash location!