Men in Black (film)

Men in Black (film)
Men in Black

Theatrical 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
Tony Shalhoub
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Donald Peterman
Editing by Jim Miller
Studio Amblin Entertainment
Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90,000,000[1]
Box office $589,390,539[1]

Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Vincent D'Onofrio. The film was based on the Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham, originally published by Aircel Comics. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker. The film was released on July 2, 1997 by Columbia Pictures and grossed over $587 million worldwide against a $90 million budget. It was followed by a 2002 sequel, Men in Black II, an animated series titled Men in Black: The Series as well as a second sequel that will be released in 2012, Men in Black III.



Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is a member of the Men in Black (MiB), a secret agency without ties to any government, whose goal is to maintain Earth as a "neutral zone" for extraterrestrial aliens seeking refuge, whom they disguise as humans around New York City. The agency maintains its secrecy by using a "neuralyzer" to wipe the memories of those that encounter either them or the aliens, and also the memories of former agents when they retire. Operating from a large underground base at a Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ventilation station, they fund themselves by obtaining patents on alien technologies released for consumer consumption.

K's former partner, D, has just retired, but K identifies New York City detective James Edwards (Will Smith) as a potential replacement, due to his agility to follow a disguised alien. After putting Edwards through several tests, K offers him the chance to join the MIB, which Edwards accepts. Edwards' past identity is erased, and he becomes Agent J, assigned to K by the agency director, Zed (Rip Torn). K helps to orient J to the workings of the MIB; during this, they learn that numerous aliens refugees are trying to find a way off of Earth. MIB is contacted by an Arquillian fleet near Earth's orbit; the fleet warns that a "Bug," a member of a giant cockroach-like alien species that are currently at war with another alien race, has crashed down to Earth and is seeking an object known as the Galaxy that would turn the tide in favor of the Bugs. To prevent this, they are willing to destroy the Earth unless the MIB can secure the Galaxy before their deadline within a day.

K and J find the Bug has taken the human skin of a farmer, Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio), as its disguise, and killed two Arquillians it believed to have possession of the Galaxy. The two bodies, along with a pet cat that refuses to leave its owner, are taken to a city morgue, where Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino) discovers one of the Arquillians is barely alive; struggling with English, it mutters that "The Galaxy is on Orion's belt" to her before it expires. K and J arrive to help remove the alien bodies and wipe Dr. Weaver's mind, but not after learning of this message. On route back to headquarters, they realize that Orion refers not to the constellation, but to the cat, and the belt referring to its collar. Racing back to the morgue, they find the Bug there, having realized the same thing. It steals the Galaxy, a small charm, and kidnaps Laurel, getting away on foot while the MIB secure its spacecraft to prevent it from leaving the planet.

As the Arquillian deadline looms, the MIB attempt to determine how the Bug will leave the planet. J recognizes that the observation towers at Flushing Meadows are disguised spacecraft, and he and K race there, finding the Bug attempting to climb into the structures while still holding Laurel for a snack. Their arrival distracts the Bug, forcing it to drop Laurel, but it is able to enter the craft and start takeoff. K and J fire on the ship, forcing it to crash back to Earth. As the two face off against the Bug, the Bug reveals it's true form, devours their guns and knocks them away, preparing to board the second ship. K goads the Bug to devour him which it does; J provokes it closer to him by crushing some cockroaches from a nearby dumpster. Before the Bug can eat J though, K has found his gun while inside the Bug and shoots it from inside, splitting the alien in half. K is revealed to be safe and J acquires the Galaxy from within the Bug's stomach, and the news is relayed to the Arquillian fleet. However, Laurel realizes that the Bug is not dead and uses J's gun to shoot it, finally killing it.

As MIB cleans up the situation, and J prepares to neuralyze Dr. Weaver, K admits that he was not training J as a partner but as his replacement, as he is ready to retire from the agency. J acknowledges this, and neuralyzes him. In the epilogue, Laurel is shown to have become J's new partner Agent L, while K (now Kevin Brown) has returned to civilian life.



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. 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 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.[2]

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."[4]

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.[2]


Two different soundtracks were released in the US: a score soundtrack and an album, featuring various songs. In the UK only the album was released, but the score is readily available for import.

Danny Elfman composed the score for the film, 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.


Galoob released various action figures of characters and aliens in the film. An official comic adaptation was released by Marvel Comics. The official Men in Black game is a third-person shooter developed by Gremlin Interactive and 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 roleplaying 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 Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe of Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[5]

The film received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics, having a 91% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website.[6]

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.[7]

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


External links

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