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When Paramount Withheld 'Coming To America' From The Press, Not Knowing What They Had

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 5, 2013 at 1:37PM

This may already be widely-known, but I wasn't aware of it until I watched the below video yesterday, so I'll assume others weren't either.
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Coming To America

This may already be widely-known, but I wasn't aware of it until I watched the below video yesterday, so I'll assume others weren't either.

While browsing through YouTube clips of Roger Ebert (in light of his death yesterday), I learned something about Eddie Murphy's Coming To America that I didn't know previously.

He and Gene Siskel appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in May 1988, about a month before Coming To America was released, to preview the summer movie season. 

During their conversation with Oprah, they talked about the film not being screened for the press (as is custom) before it was released in theaters, which, as Siskel opined, meant that the studio wasn't confident in how it would be received.

In fact, Ebert goes on to say that the film was indeed screened once for the press in New York, but reactions to the film by those who attended that screening was so terrible that the studio, Paramount, decided it best to cancel all press screenings for the film, ahead of its release.

So neither Ebert nor Siskel had seen it, even though, as they state, they requested to see the film, but were told it wasn't available. 

Siskel goes on to say that he was offended that the studio withheld the film from the press, and it reflected even worse on the film that they apparently didn't have much confidence in it to screen it for the press.

It's a funny and interesting conversation, and all worth listening to.

What's even more hilarious is that, despite the studio's apparent worries, the film went on to become a blockbuster! In fact, it was the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988, taking home $128,152,301 domestic (adjusted for inflation, that's about $250 million in today's money). Globally, it grossed $288,752,301, or about $550 million in today's dollars.

And it's gone on to become a comedy classic! 

As Siskel emphasized to Oprah, obviously the studios don't always know what exactly they have on their hands.

As for what Siskel and Ebert eventually thought of Coming To America, well, watch their review of the film below, after you watch their appearance on Oprah (the conversation on Coming To America starts at the 8:30 mark):


And here's their review of the film:


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