Men in Black (film)

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Men in Black
Men in Black Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Ed Solomon
Story by Ed Solomon
Based on The Men in Black 
by Lowell Cunningham
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Linda Fiorentino
Vincent D'Onofrio
Rip Torn
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Donald Peterman
Editing by Jim Miller
Studio Amblin Entertainment
MacDonald/Parkes Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $589,390,539[1]

Men in Black is a 1997 American comic science fiction action spy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The film was based on Lowell Cunningham's The Men in Black comic book series, originally published by Aircel Comics, with a plot following two agents of a secret organization called 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 on July 2, 1997, by Columbia Pictures and grossed $589,390,539 worldwide against a $90 million budget.

An animated series based on the film, titled Men in Black: The Series, ran from 1997 to 2001 on The WB. A live-action sequel, Men in Black II, was released in 2002. This was followed by Men in Black 3 in 2012. The success of the film inspired Marvel (who, by 1997, owned the property) to option other properties for development, later collaborating with Columbia Pictures to produce Spider-Man among other projects.


The movie opens with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his partner, D (Richard Hamilton) intercepting a truck containing illegal immigrants, and they allow everyone to cross into America except for an extraterrestrial, who is disguised as a human because he is an intergalactic fugitive. When a suspicious, United States Border Patrol agent, who saw K and D pose as fellow Border Patrol agents, sees the alien without its disguise, the alien attacks him, forcing K to destroy it and use the neuralyzer on the agent and his colleagues, claiming that the alien remains splattered all over them are from when the agent shot an underground gas main with his gun. D, feeling too old, asks K to use the neuralyzer on him so he can retire.

Meanwhile, James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith) is a New York police officer pursuing a man on foot while his out-of-shape colleagues can't catch up. While chasing the incredibly fast and agile fugitive, he corners him and the man throws an odd looking gun away, which disintegrates, and escapes. When Edwards corners the man again at the top of the Guggenheim Museum, the man keeps saying "he's coming," and then tells him that the world's going to end, and then he sees the man blink with a set of secondary eyelids before jumping over the roof and killing himself.

Meanwhile, an alien craft crashes in front of a farmhouse, where the overbearing farmer and husband Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his wife reside. After hearing the crash outside his home, Edgar goes out with his shotgun, and when he arrives at the pit, a voice tells him to put his gun down, but he refuses, and a claw like hand grabs him and pulls him into the pit, and the mysterious alien kills him, rips off the skin, eats his body, and wears the skin as a disguise (and presumably even his eyeballs and mouth), and walks back in the house.

His depressed deadpan wife Beatrice asks him what happened, and instead, he strangely asks for sugar in water. She obeys, and when she notices that his skin is "hanging off his bones," and when he pulls his face back on his skull, Beatrice, to her horror, realizes what happened to her husband and that she was talking to the alien that did it, and faints, and after doing so, the Bug goes back outside and rolls his ship out of the crater. Meanwhile, after investigating the crime scene that James had dealt with earlier, K arrives at the precinct station, (where no one believes Edwards's incredible story), questions Edwards about the incident, then takes him to a pawnshop run by a man named Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), an MIB informant alien who Edwards knew for dealing stolen goods, to identify the strange weapon the criminal drew on him.

While questioning Jeebs, K reveals Jeebs is an alien by blowing his head off with a weapon, which grows back immediately. After Edwards finds a weapon identical to the one he saw among Jeebs' hidden stash of alien technology, K realizes that the gun was meant to be used in an assassination, but Jeebs is unable to provide any further information. K uses the neuralyzer on Edwards, takes him to dinner, and leaves him an MIB business card. The next morning, an exterminator comes to kill a bug infestation in Edgar's barn where the bug confronts him in the barn, takes the exterminator's gas gun, sticking it in his mouth, where the poisonous gas kills him, and shoves his ship into the exterminator's truck, and take's the truck in its aid to hunt.

During that time, Edwards goes to the MIB's secret headquarters and competes with several others to qualify to join the agency. During one part of the test, a written exam, the candidates struggle to complete the test due to the oddly shaped chairs, until Edwards pulls a table over for him to use. At another part involving a shooting gallery, Edwards refuses to shoot several aliens because he thinks that they are doing normal everyday things, but shoots a little girl for carrying suspicious quantum physics textbooks, in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially for her age. After the tests, K takes him aside (while Zed uses the neuralyzer on the others for failing the tests) and offers him the position.

K explains that the catch of joining MIB means he will have to distance himself from any human contact to maintain secrecy, and that he will give him time to think it over. The next day, James accepts, and K shows him around, explaining everything about alien existence, and that the entire universe, and most of the aliens secretly residing on earth is being monitored, and J finally gets proof that he was right that his third grade teacher was from another planet. Meanwhile, Zed takes him aside, and has his identity erased, even burning off the fingerprints on his fingers, and can only eat, wear, and reside what M.I.B. allows him, and becomes Agent J.

Meanwhile, the bug tracks down what seems like an old jewelry shop owner, and the man goes to a restaurant to meet up with a friend, and the bug follows. The man is then revealed to be an alien in disguise, when they both speak in an alien language. They reveal to each other that a "bug" has landed on the planet, and that they must get them off of Earth, but, before they can even eat, the Bug finds them, and kills them, using his tail to stab them in the necks, grabs an object of what looks like would contain something that whatever the bug was looking for was in the object, and leaves the restaurant, knocking over tables as he leaves.

Meanwhile, at M.I.B, the two agents catch an alien named Reggie leaving past his limit, and K and J go to ask the alien about it. K asks Reggie why he's determined to leave, and Reggie seems disturbed and doesn't tell him much as to why he and his pregnant wife were leaving (while J was humorously trying to deliver Reggie's potential offspring.) Suspicious of why Reggie is so scared of something that he's leaving earth with a newborn, the two agents investigate the New York Tabloids, and notice an article that says "Alien Stole My Husband's Skin," and they track down the address to Edgar's farm, and question his shocked wife. After she tells the story, K neuralyzes Beatrice, and tells her that there was no UFO, and that "Swamp gas got trapped in a thermal pocket and refracted light from Venus.", and that her husband ran away.

J realizes that the neuralizers allow them to make up any story they want to cover things up and adds that Edgar left her for an old girlfriend, but then changes it up saying that she kicked him out, and suggests she do more shopping for herself. Meanwhile, when they scan the dirt in the crater that the ship crashed, and when the "green" light comes up, K, to his dismay, realizes that a bug has landed here, a member of a large, cockroach-like alien race, who have been at war with the Arqullians, a peaceful race of aliens. They decide to check the local morgues to watch for victims that the bug might have killed. They go to one where the body of the disguised aliens are taken and investigated by Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino). During the investigation K and J arrive at the morgue posing as doctors. The face of the dead Arquillian "opens" while being examined by Dr Weaver and J revealing the actual Arquillian prince inside a robot body. Before dying the prince tells J that "to prevent war, the galaxy is on Orion's belt".

M.I.B. continue to research to understand what that meant, and they think J heard wrong, considering that the belt of the constellation Orion is just three stars, and that billions of stars make up a galaxy. Meanwhile, Zed notices that all the residing extra-terrestrials are leaving the planet, due to the fear of the bug being around, and the two agents investigate the Arquillian's Jewelry store and find that the bug has already broken into it, though left everything behind, implying that he is looking for something. After J notices the bug passing by in front of the store, J attempts to shoot him, but misses, and the bug leaves. K angrily confronts him for discharging M.I.B's secret weapons in front of the public, and the two get in an argument about whether it's more important to keep themselves a secret or trying to proceed with the mission. When K calls Zed and tells him about the situation and to send M.I.B's Containment Crew to neuralyze the witnesses, Zed informs K that there's an Arquillian battle cruiser floating over earth, and they are holding M.I.B responsible for returning them the "galaxy" that the alien had brought up.

K decides to take J to the informant Frank the Pug (Tim Blaney), an alien disguised as a small lapdog, explains that the missing galaxy is a massive source of energy housed in a small jewel. After K concludes that if the Galaxy is on earth, then it can't be on Orion's belt. However, J figures out the galaxy is hanging on the collar of Rosenberg's cat Orion, who refuses to leave the prince's body at the morgue. Orion has been taken care of by Dr. Laurel Weaver. J arrives at the morgue just as the Bug grabs the galaxy from the cat's collar, and as the two agents arrive, the bug is holding Weaver hostage, and kidnaps her, and forces her to take her to New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. Unable to track down the bug, the agents go back to headquarters, only to discover that the Arquillians have delivered an ultimatum to M.I.B. to secure the galaxy within an hour, or they will destroy Earth. However, J notices a portrait of the flying saucers disguised as attractions for the Pavilion that K had brought up earlier, when K was introducing him to their alien secrets earlier in the movie, and they realize where the bug is headed next.

The Bug arrives at the site of two disguised flying saucers, and decides to take Laurel with him, saying that he'll need a snack for the long trip, implying he's gonna eat her on the way back. K and J are now on the way to Queens, New York, and they decide to take the tunnel, and K has J press "the little red button," and the car goes into hyperdrive, and drives over the tunnel, an J is struggling to stay put in the car, while K puts on The Promised Land, and when J reminds K that Elvis is dead, K replies that Elvis went home, implying that Elvis was an alien. As the bug climbs up the tower to enter the saucer, Laurel tries to talk him out of it, and when she finally strikes him, the bug accidentally drops her in the trees, and decides not to waste any trouble trying to get her. He climbs into the saucer and flies off, but K and J arrive as he does so, and pulls out space weapons to shoot the saucer down, they do so, causing it to crash through the Unisphere.

The bug comes out and angrily rants how it's over now, and he's won, but the agents prepare to arrest him, and when J tells him to put his put his hands on his head, the bug sheds Edgar's skin, revealing it's true, cockroach-like form, and the agents prepare to shoot it, but the bug spits out its slime to grab the guns and swallows them, and the bug knocks them aside. K tells J to stop the Bug from getting onto the other ship, and tells J that he's "gonna get his gun back." K then taunts the Bug to swallow him whole, and the bug does so. J does what he can to keep the bug from leaving, including throwing a rock at its head, waving branches on fire in front of him, and even tries tugging on its tail as it climbs up the tower, but the bug just keeps knocking J aside, and when he does one last time, J is knocked into a garbage can, and when he notices that it's full of cockroaches, he frees them and starts crushing them, and starts taunting the bug, infuriating him and falls back off the tower, and starts heading towards J, and just as the Bug prepares to eat J, he is blown open from the inside by K, who located his weapon in the Bug's stomach.

As J and K sit on the ground covered in slime, K calls Zed, and tells him to tell the Arquillians that the bug is dead, and they now have the galaxy, however, the mortally wounded insect tries to attack again, but is finally blown to bits by Weaver using J's weapon. The three return to M.I.B. headquarters and K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner, but rather as a replacement, as he is tired of a life as an agent. J reluctantly uses the neuralyzer on K, using a story that he has been suffering in a coma for 35 years to allow him to return to his civilian life and the young woman he left behind.

A few days later, it is revealed that Weaver also joined M.I.B. and is now J's new partner, Agent L, and after reading some New York Tabloids, L tells J about an alien who wants to go to a sports game, and they drive off to deal with it. As they drive off in their car, the camera rapidly pulls back, showing that Earth and the Milky Way galaxy are also inside an alien marble being used in a marble game, revealing that, like the galaxy in a necklace, we are just a tiny part of something much greater.



Development and writing[edit]

The film is based on Lowell Cunningham'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. Sonnenfeld was attached to Get Shorty (1995), so they 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] Men in Black was delayed so as to allow Sonnenfeld to make it his next project after Get Shorty.[2]

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.[2] 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.[3]


Filming began in March 1996. Many last-minute changes endured during production. First, James Edwards chasing a disguised alien was to occur at the Lincoln Center. But once the New York Philharmonic decided to charge the filmmakers for using their buildings, Sonnenfeld and Welch went for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. 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.[3] Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent.[2] 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.[3]

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.[2] These changes to the plot were carried out when only two weeks remained in the film's post-production, however, the film's novel still contains the Baltians.[6]

Design and visual effects[edit]

Production designer Bo Welch designed the M.I.B. 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. Being the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt M.I.B. HQ had to resemble an airport.[2]

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 Arquilian 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".[3] 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."[7] The maquettes built by Baker's team would later be digitized by Industrial Light and Magic, who was responsible for the visual effects and computer-generated imagery, for more mobile digital versions of the aliens.[3]


Danny Elfman composed the film's score, making use of his usual combination of orchestra and electronics. The score also makes prominent use of jazz for the M.I.B. theme, which consists of an ostinato, usually played on lower instruments. Will Smith recorded a song based on the film's plot, also called "Men in Black". 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.[5]

Two different soundtracks were released in the U.S.: a score soundtrack and an album, featuring various songs. In the U.K., only the album was released.


Galoob released various action figures of the film's characters and aliens. An official comic adaptation was released by Marvel Comics. The official Men in Black game is a third-person shooter developed by Gigawatt Studios and published by Germlin Interactive. Released to lackluster reviews in October '97 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. Men in Black: The Animated Series was created by Sony Pictures Television, and also inspired several games. Men in Black was the inspiration behind the Men in Black: Alien Attack ride at Universal Studios Orlando, in which Will Smith and Rip Torn reprised their roles. A Men in Black role-playing game was also released in 1997 by West End Games.


Men in Black won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[8]

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, having a 91% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website, and the consensus on the site states: "Thanks to a smart script, spectacular set pieces, and charismatic performances from its leads, Men in Black is an entirely satisfying summer blockbuster hit."[9] On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th.[10]

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.[11]

American Film Institute Lists


  1. ^ a b "Men in Black (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Hughes (2003). Comic Book Movies. London: Virgin Books. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-7535-0767-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Metamorphosis of 'Men in Black'", Men in Black Blu-Ray
  4. ^ "Summer Movie Preview". Entertainment Weekly. 1997-05-16. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  5. ^ a b c Barry Sonnenfeld, Tommy Lee Jones. Visual Commentary. Men in Black. 
  6. ^ 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". Ain't It Cool News. 
  7. ^ Steve Daly (1997-07-18). "Men in Black: How'd they do that?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  8. ^ "Men in Black (1997) — Awards and Nominations". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  9. ^ "Men in Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  10. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-28. 
  11. ^ Jane Tallim (2002). "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor... Spend Another Day". Media Awareness Network. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 

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