- “MIB: Men in Black” redirects here. For other uses, see MIB (disambiguation) and Men in Black (disambiguation).
Men in Black is a 1997 American science fiction action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and written by Ed Solomon. Loosely based on The Men in Black comic book series created by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers, the film stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as two agents of a secret organization called the Men in Black, who supervise extraterrestrial lifeforms who live on Earth and hide their existence from ordinary humans. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker and visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic.
The film was released in the United States on July 2, 1997, by Columbia Pictures, and grossed over $589.3 million worldwide against a $90 million budget, becoming the year's third highest-grossing film. It received positive reviews, with critics praising its humor, action sequences, Jones and Smith's performances, special effects and Danny Elfman's musical score. The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Makeup, winning the latter award.
After a government agency makes first contact with aliens in 1961, alien refugees live in secret on Earth by disguising themselves as humans. Men in Black (MIB) is a secret agency that polices these aliens, protects Earth from extraterrestrial threats and uses memory-erasing neuralyzers to keep alien activity a secret. MIB agents have their former identities erased while retired agents are neuralyzed. After an operation to arrest an alien criminal named Mikey near the Mexican border by Agents K and D, the latter decides that he is too old for his job, prompting the former to neuralyze him so he can retire.
Meanwhile, NYPD undercover officer James Darrell Edwards III pursues an unnaturally fast and agile suspect into the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Impressed, K interviews James about his encounter, then neuralyzes him and leaves him a business card with an address. Edwards goes to the address and undergoes a series of tests, for which he finds unorthodox solutions, including a rational hesitation in a targeting test. While the other candidates, who are military-grade, are neuralyzed, K offers Edwards a position with the MIB. Edwards accepts and his identity and civilian life are erased as he becomes Agent J.
In upstate New York, an alien illegally crash-lands on Earth, kills a farmer named Edgar and uses his skin as a disguise. Tasked with finding a device called "The Galaxy", the Edgar alien goes into a New York restaurant and finds two aliens (disguised as humans) who are supposed to have it in their possession. He kills them and takes a container from them but is angered to find only diamonds inside. After learning about the incident in a tabloid magazine, K investigates the crash landing and concludes that Edgar's skin was taken by a "bug", a species of aggressive cockroach-like aliens. He and J head to a morgue to examine the bodies the bug killed. Inside one body (which turns out to be a piloted robot) they discover a dying Arquillian alien, who says that "to prevent war, the galaxy is on Orion's belt". The alien, who used the name Rosenberg, was a member of the Arquillian royal family; K fears his death may spark a war.
MIB informant Frank the Pug explains that the missing galaxy is a massive energy source housed in a small jewel. J deduces that the galaxy is hanging on the collar of Rosenberg's cat, Orion, which refuses to leave the body at the morgue. J and K arrive just as the bug takes the galaxy and kidnaps the coroner, Laurel Weaver. Meanwhile, an Arquillian battleship fires a warning shot in the Arctic and delivers an ultimatum to the MIB: return the galaxy within a "galactic standard week", in an hour of Earth time, or they will destroy Earth.
The bug arrives at the observation towers of the 1964 New York World's Fair New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows, which disguise two real flying saucers. Once there, Laurel escapes the bug's clutches when it accidentally drops her. It activates one of the saucers and tries to leave Earth, but K and J shoot it down and the ship crashes into the Unisphere. The bug sheds Edgar's skin and swallows J and K's guns. K provokes it until he too is swallowed. The bug tries to escape on the other ship, but J slows it down by taunting it and crushing cockroaches, angering it. K blows the bug apart from the inside, having found his gun inside its stomach. J and K recover the galaxy and relax, thinking the whole ordeal over, only for the still living upper half of the bug to pounce on them from behind, but Laurel kills it with J's gun.
At the MIB headquarters, K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner, but a replacement. K bids J farewell before J neuralyzes him at his request; K returns to his civilian life, and Laurel becomes J's new partner, L.
- Tommy Lee Jones as Kevin Brown / Agent K: J's grizzled and humorless mentor. Clint Eastwood turned down the part, while Jones only accepted the role after Steven Spielberg promised the script would improve, based on his respect for Spielberg's track record. He had been disappointed with the first draft, which he reportedly said "stank"; he felt it did not capture the tone of the comic.
- Will Smith as James Darrell Edwards III / Agent J: A former NYPD detective, newly recruited to the MIB. Smith was cast because Barry Sonnenfeld's wife was a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Sonnenfeld also liked his performance in Six Degrees of Separation. Chris O'Donnell turned down the role because he found the role of a new recruit too similar to Dick Grayson, whom he played in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. David Schwimmer also turned down the part. Like Jones, Smith said he accepted the role after meeting with Spielberg and cited his success as a producer.
- Linda Fiorentino as Dr. Laurel Weaver / Agent L: A deputy medical examiner, and later J's partner.
- Vincent D'Onofrio as the Bug: A giant alien insect who eats a farmer named Edgar and uses his skin and clothes as a disguise. He comes to earth to kidnap the Galaxy and use it to destroy the Arquillians. John Turturro and Bruce Campbell were both offered the role, but they turned it down, due to scheduling conflicts.
- D'Onofrio also portrays Edgar, the farmer/abusive husband who gets killed by the Bug and has his form used by him.
- Rip Torn as Chief Zed: The head of the MIB.
- Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs: An alien, posing as a pawn shop owner, who deals in illegal weapons.
- Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Beatrice: The psychologically abused wife of the abusive farmer Edgar, whom the Bug killed and used his skin as a disguise.
- Mike Nussbaum as Gentle Rosenberg: An Arquillian jeweler who is the guardian of "the Galaxy".
- Jon Gries as Van Driver
- Sergio Calderón as Jose
- John Alexander as Mikey: An alien who poses as a Mexican being snuck across the border.
- Patrick Breen as Mr. Redgick
- Becky Ann Baker as Mrs. Redgick
- Carel Struycken as Arquillian
- Fredric Lehne as Agent Janus
- Kent Faulcon as Jake Jensen
- Richard Hamilton as Agent D: K's partner at the start of the film, he decides he is too old for the job and has K erase his memory so he can retire.
- David Cross as Newton
- Sean Whalen as Passport Officer
- Tim Blaney as Frank the Pug: A smart-talking pug-like alien.
- Mark Sektrakian as Rosenberg Alien
- Brad Abrell, Thom Fountain, Carl J. Johnson and Drew Massey as the Worm Guys: A quartet of worm-like aliens that work for Men in Black.
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The film is loosely based on Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers's comic book The Men in Black. Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald optioned the rights to The Men in Black in 1992, and hired Ed Solomon to write a very faithful script. Parkes and MacDonald wanted Barry Sonnenfeld as director because he had helmed the darkly humorous The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values. However, Sonnenfeld was attached to Get Shorty (1995), so they instead approached Les Mayfield to direct, as they had heard about the positive reception to his remake of Miracle on 34th Street; they actually saw the film later and decided he was inappropriate.[Citation needed] As a result, Men in Black was delayed so as to allow Sonnenfeld to make it his next project after Get Shorty.
Much of the initial script drafts were set underground, with locations ranging from Kansas to Washington, D.C. and Nevada. Sonnenfeld decided to change the location to New York City, because the director felt New Yorkers would be tolerant of aliens who behaved oddly while disguised. He also felt much of the city's structures resembled flying saucers and rocket ships. One of the locations Sonnenfeld thought perfect for the movie was a giant ventilation structure for the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel, which became the outside of the MIB headquarters.
Principal photography began in March 1996. Many last-minute changes ensued during production. First, the scene where James Edwards chasing a disguised alien was to be filmed at the Lincoln Center, but the New York Philharmonic decided to charge the filmmakers for using their buildings, prompting Sonnenfeld to film the scene at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum instead. Then, five months into the shoot, Sonnenfeld decided that the original ending, with a humorous existential debate between Agent J and the Bug, was unexciting and lacking the action that the rest of the film had. Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent. Eventually it boiled down to the Bug eating K and fighting J, replacing the animatronic Bug Rick Baker's crew had developed with a computer-generated Bug with an appearance closer to a cockroach. The whole action sequence cost an extra $4.5 million to the filmmakers.
Further changes were made during post-production to simplify the plotline involving the possession of the tiny galaxy. The Arquillians would hand over the galaxy to the Baltians, ending a long war. The Bugs need to feed on the casualties and steal the galaxy in order to continue the war. Through changing of subtitles, the images on M.I.B.'s main computer and Frank the Pug's dialogue, the Baltians were eliminated from the plot. Earth goes from being potentially destroyed in the crossfire between the two races into being possibly destroyed by the Arquillians themselves to prevent the Bugs from getting the galaxy. These changes to the plot were carried out when only two weeks remained in the film's post-production, but the film's novelization still contains the Baltians.
Design and visual effects
Production designer Bo Welch designed the MIB headquarters with a 1960s tone in mind, because that was when their organization is formed. He cited influences from Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who designed a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. As the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt the headquarters had to resemble an airport.
Rick Baker was approached to provide the prostethic and animatronic aliens, many of whom would have more otherworldly designs instead of looking humanoid. For example, the reveal of Gentle Rosenberg's Arquillian nature went from a man with a light under his neck's skin to a small alien hidden inside a human head. Baker would describe Men in Black as the most complex production in his career, "requiring more sketches than all my previous movies together". Baker had to have approval from both Sonnenfeld and Spielberg: "It was like, 'Steven likes the head on this one and Barry really likes the body on this one, so why don't you do a mix and match?' And I'd say, because it wouldn't make any sense." Sonnenfeld also changed a lot of the film's aesthetic during pre-production: "I started out saying aliens shouldn't be what humans perceive them to be. Why do they need eyes? So Rick did these great designs, and I'd say, 'That's great — but how do we know where he's looking?' I ended up where everyone else did, only I took three months." The maquettes built by Baker's team would later be digitized by Industrial Light & Magic, who was responsible for the visual effects and computer-generated imagery, for more mobile digital versions of the aliens.
Two different soundtracks for the film were released in the U.S.: a score soundtrack featuring music composed by Danny Elfman and an album of songs used in and inspired by the film, featuring Will Smith's original song "Men in Black" based on the film's plot. In the UK, only the album was released.[Citation needed]
Elfman's music was called "rousing" by the Los Angeles Times. Variety called the film a technical marvel, giving special credit to "Elfman’s always lively score." Elfman was nominated for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score at the 70th Academy Awards for his score.
Elvis Presley's cover of "Promised Land" is featured in the scene where the MIB's car runs on the ceiling of Queens–Midtown Tunnel.
In advance of the film's theatrical release, its marketing campaign included more than 30 licensees. Galoob was the first to license, in which they released various action figures of the film's characters and aliens. Ray-Ban also partnered the film with a $5–10 million television campaign. Other promotional items included Hamilton Watches and Procter & Gamble's Head & Shoulders with the tagline "Keeping the Men in Black in black".
An official comic adaptation was released by Marvel Comics. The film also received a third-person shooter Men in Black game developed by Gigawatt Studios and published by Gremlin Interactive, which was released to lackluster reviews in October 1997 for the PC and the following year for the PlayStation. Also, a very rare promotional PlayStation video game system was released in 1997 with the Men in Black logo on the CD lid. Three months after the film's release, an animated series based on Men in Black, produced by Columbia TriStar Television alongside Adelaide Productions and Amblin Television, began airing on The WB's Kids' WB programming block, and also inspired several games. A Men in Black role-playing game was also released in 1997 by West End Games.
Men in Black was first released on videocassette on November 25, 1997. Its home video release was attached to a rebate offer on a pair of Ray-Ban Predator-model sunglasses. The film was re-released in a collector's series on videocassette and DVD on September 5, 2000, with the DVD containing several bonus features including an interactive editing workshop for three different scenes from the film, extended storyboards, conceptual art, and a visual commentary track with Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld; an alternate two-disc version was also released that had a fullscreen version on the first disc. The Deluxe Edition was also released on DVD in 2002. A Blu-ray edition was released on June 17, 2008. The entire Men in Black trilogy was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on December 5, 2017, in conjunction with the film's 20th anniversary.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 89 reviews, and an average score of 7.47/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Thanks to a smart script, spectacular set pieces, and charismatic performances from its leads, Men in Black is an entirely satisfying summer blockbuster hit." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, praising the film as "a smart, funny and hip adventure film in a summer of car wrecks and explosions." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, giving particular praise to the film's self-reflective humor and Rick Baker's alien creature designs. Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote the film "is actually a shade more deadpan and peculiar than such across-the-board marketing makes it sound. It's also extraordinarily ambitious, with all-star design and special-effects talent and a genuinely artful visual style. As with his Addams Family films and Get Shorty, which were more overtly funny than the sneakily subtle Men in Black, Mr. Sonnenfeld takes offbeat genre material and makes it boldly mainstream."
Writing for Variety, Todd McCarthy acknowledged the film was "witty and sometimes surreal sci-fi comedy" in which he praised the visual effects, Baker's creature designs and Elfman's musical score. However, he felt the film "doesn't manage to sustain this level of inventiveness, delight and surprise throughout the remaining two-thirds of the picture." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film a C+, writing "Men in Black celebrates the triumph of attitude over everything else — plausibility, passion, any sense that what we're watching actually matters. The aliens, for all their slimy visual zest, aren't particularly scary or funny (they aren't allowed to become characters), and so the joke of watching Smith and Jones crack wise in their faces quickly wears thin." John Hartl of The Seattle Times, claimed the film "is moderately amusing, well-constructed and mercifully short, but it fails to deliver on the zaniness of its first half." While he was complimentary of the film's first half, he concluded "somewhere around the midpoint they run out of energy and invention. Even the aliens, once they stop their shape-shifting ways and settle down to appear as themselves, begin to look familiar."
Men in Black grossed $250.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $338.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $589.3 million.
Despite its grosses, writer Ed Solomon has said that Sony claims the film has never turned a profit, which is attributed to Hollywood accounting.
Men in Black won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
|Academy Awards||Best Makeup||Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson||Won|
|Best Art Direction||Bo Welch and Cheryl Carasik||Nominated|
|Best Original Musical or Comedy Score||Danny Elfman||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Comedy or Musical||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||Best Science Fiction Film||Won|
|Best Director||Barry Sonnenfeld||Nominated|
|Best Writing||Ed Solomon||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Will Smith||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Vincent D'Onofrio||Won|
|Best Music||Danny Elfman||Won|
|Best Special Effects||Nominated|
On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th. Following the film's release, Ray-Ban stated sales of their Predator 2 sunglasses (worn by the organization to deflect neuralyzers) tripled to $5 million.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Agent J & Agent K - Nominated Heroes
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Men in Black" - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You know the difference between you and me? I make this look good." - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film
Sequels and spin-off
- List of films featuring extraterrestrials
- Men in Black (1997). Retrieved on December 14, 2007.
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- Donnelly, Billy (May 25, 2012). Things Get A Bit Heated Between The Infamous Billy The Kidd And Director Barry Sonnenfeld When They Talk MEN IN BLACK 3.
- Steve Daly. "Men in Black: How'd they do that?", Entertainment Weekly, 1997-07-18. Retrieved on 2007-09-17.
- Turan, Kenneth. "The Outer Limits of Fun", Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1997. “...its charm is in its attitude and premise (and Danny Elfman’s rousing score)...”
- McCarthy, Todd. "Reviews: Men in Black", Variety, June 29, 1997. “Technically, the film is a marvel... In addition to the many effects hands, special credit should go to Bo Welch’s constantly inventive production design, Don Peterman’s ultra-smooth lensing and Danny Elfman’s always lively score.”
- THE 70TH ACADEMY AWARDS 1998. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (n.d.). “MEN IN BLACK 3 NOMINATIONS, 1 WIN Art Direction - Art Direction: Bo Welch; Set Decoration: Cheryl Carasik – Music (Original Musical or Comedy Score) - Danny Elfman – * Makeup - Rick Baker, David LeRoy Anderson”
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- Gleiberman, Owen (July 11, 1997). Men in Black. Retrieved on June 3, 2019.
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- Butler, Tom. "1997 hit 'Men In Black' is still yet to make a profit says screenwriter", Yahoo!, December 31, 2020. Retrieved on May 21, 2020.
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- Past Saturn Award Recipients.
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