Men in Black (film series)

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Men in Black
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Screenplay by Ed Solomon (1)
Robert Gordon (2)
Etan Cohen (3)
Story by Ed Solomon (1)
Robert Gordon (2)
Barry Fanaro (2)
Etan Cohen (3)
Based on The Men in Black 
by Lowell Cunningham
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Donald Peterman (1)
Greg Gardiner (2)
Bill Pope (3)
Edited by Jim Miller (1)
Richard Pearson (2)
Steven Weisberg (2)
Don Zimmerman (3)
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates 1997 – present
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,653,165,042

Men in Black is a series of American comic science fiction action spy films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and based on Malibu / Marvel comic book series The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham. The first film, Men in Black, was released in 1997, the second film, Men in Black II, in 2002, and the third film, Men in Black 3 was released in 2012. Amblin Entertainment and MacDonald/Parkes Productions produced all three films and distributed through Columbia Pictures.


Men in Black[edit]

Main article: Men in Black (film)

Men in Black is the first film in the series. Men in Black follows the exploits of Agent J and Agent K, members of a top-secret organization established to monitor and police alien activity on Earth. The two Men in Black find themselves in the middle of the deadly plot by an intergalactic terrorist who has arrived on Earth to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies. In order to prevent worlds from colliding, the MiB must track down the terrorist and prevent the destruction of Earth. It's just another typical day for the Men in Black. The film was released on July 2, 1997.

Men in Black II[edit]

Main article: Men in Black II

Men in Black II is the second film in the series. It is set 5 years later. For Agent J, it is another day at the office, monitoring, licensing and policing all alien activity on Earth. One day, J receives a report of an unauthorized landing of an alien spacecraft near New York. It is an old enemy of MIB, a Kylothian named Serleena, who is searching for a powerful artifact called The Light of Zartha. J investigates and quickly realizes he is going to need help. Unfortunately, the other MIB agents do not work up to J's standards. J decides to bring back K,and restore K's memory as an MIB agent to try and stop Serleena. The film was released on July 3, 2002.

Men in Black 3[edit]

Main article: Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is the third film in the series. The film was released on May 25, 2012.


Both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have said that they would "consider" appearing in a Men in Black 4.[1] Director Barry Sonnenfield joked, "...for 'Men in Black 4,' Will is out and [his son] Jaden Smith is in." Jones has said, "It is easy to pick up where we left off. We know what we are doing, we know how to do it. It's just a hell of a lot of fun," confirming his possible inclusion in a fourth film.[2] On October 3, 2012, it was announced Oren Uziel is on board to write the film.[3]

Recurring cast and characters[edit]

Character Released films
Men in Black Men in Black II Men in Black 3
Kevin Brown - Agent K Tommy Lee Jones Tommy Lee Jones
Josh Brolin (young)
James Edwards III - Agent J Will Smith Will Smith
Cayen Martin (young)
Zed Rip Torn Kirk Larsen (Dead Zed)
Jack Jeebs Tony Shalhoub
Newton David Cross
Frank the Pug Tim Blaney Picture only


The film is based upon the comic book The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham. 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.[4]

Much of the initial script drafts were set underground, with locations ranging from Kansas to Washington DC 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. 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. Being the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt MIB HQ had to resemble an airport.[4]

ILM provided most of the special effects. Rick Baker led the special effects of the film, which was the most complex in his career to date. He had to have approval from both director Barry Sonnenfeld and executive producer Steven 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."[5]

Filming began in March 1996. Five months into the shoot, the crew realized their ending was unexciting. It was originally meant to be a humorous existential debate between Agent J and the Bug, and five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent. The change to a fight sequence annoyed Rick Baker, as their animatronic Bug had to be replaced with computer-generated imagery. 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 of the war and steal it to continue the war. Through changing of subtitles, the images on MIB'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 to prevent the bugs getting the galaxy.[4]

Despite some initial involvement from David Koepp (who left to work on Spider-Man),[6] the script for Men in Black II was written by Robert Gordon and later revised by Barry Fanaro (who added pop culture references, something which Gordon had deliberately avoided).[7] Sonnenfeld took issue with the producers' focus on the love story between Will Smith's and Rosario Dawson's characters, saying that "I learned on Wild Wild West that audiences didn't want to see Will as the straight man. And until Tommy comes back into the movie, by definition Will's the straight man."[6] Fanaro condensed the first part of the film and brought Agent K in earlier.[6] The climax of the second film was originally to have taken place at New York City's World Trade Center. However, this had to be changed following the destruction of the buildings in the September 11 attacks.[8] The day after the attacks of September 11, a spokesperson for the studio said that the ending would be refilmed.[9]

Supervising sound editor Skip Lievsay used a Synclavier to recreate and improve the original recording of the neuralyzer sound effect from the first film (which was the sound of a strobe flash as it recycles) by removing some distortion.[10] For some of the scenes with the Serleena creature, the sound crew "took tree branches, put them inside a rubber membrane and pushed that around and added some water."[10] For the special effects scene where the subway train is attacked by Jeff the Worm, a specially designed vise was used to crush a subway car and make it look as if it had been bitten in half.[7]

A video game partly based on the film was released in 2002 titled Men in Black II: Alien Escape [1].

The premise of the third film was first proposed to director Barry Sonnenfeld by Will Smith during the filming of Men in Black II in 2002, with Smith suggesting that his character, Agent J, travel back in time to save his partner, Agent K, while at the same time exploring Agent K's backstory. Sonnenfeld said the idea "turned out to be a very long process of development, mainly because of the knotting [sic] issues of time travel...."[11] The film was first announced on April 1, 2009, by Sony Pictures Entertainment president Rory Bruer during a Sony ShoWest presentation.[12] By October 2009, Etan Cohen had been hired to write the screenplay.[13] As of March 2010, Will Smith remained undecided whether to join this film or another, The City That Sailed.[14] Sonnenfeld in May 2010 confirmed the return of the protagonists played by Tommy Lee Jones and Smith.[15] Both had expressed interest in 2008 in reprising their roles.[16][17] Other staff includes Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald as producers, with Steven Spielberg as executive producer; all were producers of the two previous films.[18]

In June, writer David Koepp was hired to rewrite the Cohen script.[19] On June 11, 2010, the fan site posted what it described as a "clip [that] debuted at an exclusive Sony 3D TV launch event at Sony Pictures Studios",[20] showing Smith dressed as Agent J wearing 3-D glasses and stating, "I know what you're thinking — 'M.I.B.', 3-D, we're going to be blowing stuff up and all that. But that's not really what we're doing right now. We're here for one purpose, and for one purpose only: Just to let you know that I'm about to make 3-D look good."[21] A teaser poster for the film was also released on September 21, 2010.[22] A third writer, Jeff Nathanson, was hired in November 2010 to rewrite the time-travel segment of the script in which the story takes place in 1969.[23] Nathanson and Koepp, along with producer Spielberg, had previously worked together on the 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.


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 of Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[24] The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, having a 90% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website.[25] 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.[26]

Men in Black II despite being a financial success, did not gain as positive a critical reception as the original MIB had. The film received mixed reviews from critics, gaining a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as opposed to the 90% rating given for its predecessor, based on 193 reviews and a Metacritic score of 49.[25][27] A. O. Scott of The New York Times said that, "Within the trivial, ingratiating scope of its ambition, though, the sequel is pleasant enough," and, noting the huge array of aliens designed by Rick Baker, said that the film "really belongs to Mr. Baker."[28] A review in The Hindu called the film "worth viewing once."[29] Another review from Digital Media FX magazine praised the spaceships as looking very realistic, but criticized many of the simpler visual effects such as the moving backgrounds composited behind the car windows using blue-screen (which it called a throwback to the special effects of earlier decades).[30] In August 2002, Entertainment Weekly placed the Worm Guys among their list of the best CG characters, and said that the enlarged roles of both Frank the Pug and the Worm Guys in Men in Black II was beneficial for the "tiring franchise".[31] The film earned a Razzie Award nomination for Lara Flynn Boyle as Worst Supporting Actress.[32]

Box office performance[edit]

Film Release date Box office gross Box office ranking Budget Reference
North America Outside North America Worldwide All time North America All time worldwide
Men in Black July 2, 1997 $250,690,539 $338,700,000 $589,390,539 #70 #75 $90 million [33]
Men in Black II July 3, 2002 $190,418,803 $251,400,000 $441,818,803 #137 #135 $140 million [34]
Men in Black 3 May 25, 2012 $179,020,854 $445,005,922 $624,026,776 #161 #65 $215 million [35]
Total $620,130,196 $1,035,105,922 $1,655,236,118 $445 million [36]

Critical response[edit]

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Men in Black 91% (78 reviews)[25] 71 (22 reviews)[37]
Men in Black II 39% (193 reviews)[38] 49 (37 reviews)[27]
Men in Black 3 70% (227 reviews)[39] 58 (38 reviews)[40]
Average ratings 65% 59


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones on 'MIB4' possibility". CNN. May 17, 2012. 
  3. ^ Oren Uziel to Write 'Men in Black 4,' '21 Jump Street' Sequel for Sony (Exclusive)
  4. ^ a b c David Hughes (2003). Comic Book Movies. London: Virgin Books. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-7535-0767-6. 
  5. ^ Steve Daly (1997-07-18). "Men in Black: How'd they do that?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  6. ^ a b c Karger, Dave (July 12, 2002). "Aliens, Smith, And Jones". Entertainment Weekly. p. 2. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b Munson, Brad (2002). Inside Men in Black II. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 16. ISBN 0-345-45065-5. 
  8. ^ Karger, Dave (July 12, 2002). "Aliens, Smith, And Jones". Entertainment Weekly. p. 4. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
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  10. ^ a b Jackson, Blair (July 2, 2002). "Men In Black 2". Mix. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
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  13. ^ Hardawar, Devindra (October 29, 2009). "Men in Black 3 Script in the Works by Tropic Thunder Writer Etan Cohen". / Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  14. ^ Sciretta, Peter (March 23, 2010). "Will Smith’s Next Movie: Men In Black 3 or The City That Sailed". / Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  15. ^ Friedman, Roger (April 21, 2010). ""Men in Black 3-D" Set to Roll with Will Smith". Archived from the original on January 7, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2010. 
  16. ^ Morris, Clint (September 30, 2008). "Are the Men in Black, Back?". Moviehole. Retrieved October 1, 2008. 
  17. ^ Davis, Erik (April 1, 2009). "Sony Announces 'Men in Black 3'!". Cinematical. Retrieved April 1, 2009. 
  18. ^ Horowitz, Lisa (May 7, 2010). "'Men in Black III' = May 25, 2012 -- in 3D". Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  19. ^ Landy, Ben (June 11, 2010). "David Koepp Writing 'Men in Black 3'". Archived from the original on December 8, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
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  21. ^ Marshall, Rick (June 6, 2010). "New 'Men In Black 3' Teaser: Will Smith Will Make 3-D Look Good, New Screenwriter Hired". Splash Page (column), Archived from the original on July 11, 2010. Retrieved July 11, 2010. 
  22. ^ Conterio, Martyn (September 21, 2010). "First Look: Teaser Posters For Spider-Man 3D & Men In Black 3". Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  23. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (November 15, 2010). "Here Comes the 'Men in Black' Hiatus". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2010. 
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  28. ^ Scott, A.O. (July 3, 2002). "Men in Black II (2002) FILM REVIEW; Defending Earth, With Worms and a Talking Pug". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
  29. ^ Mahesh, Chitra (August 2, 2002). "Men in Black-II". The Hindu (Chennai, India). Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
  30. ^ Evans, Noell Wolfgreen. "Digital Media FX Review of Men In Black 2". Digital Media FX. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
  31. ^ "Movie Commentary: The Worm Guys made our list of best CG characters". Entertainment Weekly. August 27, 2002. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  32. ^ "23rd annual Razzie Award nominees". UPI. 10 February 2003. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
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  35. ^ Grover, Ronald; Richwine, Lisa (May 28, 2012). ""Men in Black" sequel powers past "Avengers"". Reuters. Retrieved June 13, 2012. "Sony said it spent an estimated $215 million to make the new "Men in Black" movie." 
  36. ^ "Men in Black Moviesat the Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
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