Men in Black (1997 film)

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Men in Black
Two gentlemen both wearing suits and sunglasses a Caucasian and an African American are faced toward the viewer.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Written by Ed Solomon
Based on The Men in Black
by Lowell Cunningham
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Don Peterman
Edited by Jim Miller
Amblin Entertainment
Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $589.4 million[1]

Men in Black is a 1997 American science fiction action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. Loosely adapted from 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 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, with an estimated 54,616,700 tickets sold in the US.[2] It received worldwide acclaim, with critics highly praising its witty, sophisticated humor, Jones and Smith's performances, and Danny Elfman's musical score. The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup, winning the latter award. The film spawned two sequels, Men in Black II (2002) and Men in Black 3 (2012), as well as an animated series. A spinoff film, simply titled MIB, is set for a release in 2019.


After a government agency makes first contact with aliens in 1961, alien refugees begin living in secret on Earth, mostly disguised as humans in the New York metropolitan area. A secret agency known as the Men in Black (MIB) polices these aliens, protects Earth from intergalactic threats and uses memory-erasing neuralyzers to keep alien activity a secret. Agents have their former identities erased, and retired agents are neuralyzed and given new identities. After an operation to arrest an alien criminal near the Mexican border by Agents K and D, D decides that he is too old for his job. K neuralyzes him and begins looking for a new partner.

New York Police Department officer James Darrell Edwards III pursues a supernaturally fast and agile suspect into the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, but is unable to stop him from leaping off the roof to his death. K interviews Edwards about his encounter, then neuralyzes him and leaves him a business card with an address. The next day, Edwards and several other candidates visit the address and undergo a series of tests, for which he finds unusual solutions. While the others are neuralyzed, K explains the history of MIB to Edwards and offers him a position within the agency. After much thought, Edwards accepts and gives up his civilian identity to become Agent J.

In upstate New York, an alien illegally crash-lands on Earth and kills a farmer named Edgar to use his skin as a disguise. The alien goes into a Manhattan diner in search of something and kills two aliens disguised as humans eating lunch. After learning about Edgar's death in a tabloid magazine, J and K investigate the crash site and conclude that Edgar's skin was taken by a "bug", a species of aggressive cockroach-like aliens. They visit a morgue to examine the bodies the bug killed and find a dying Arquillian alien within one, who tells them, "To prevent war, the galaxy is on Orion's belt." K fears that the death of this alien, who used the name Rosenberg and was a member of the Arquillian royal family, may start a war.

After finding that the bug has ransacked Rosenberg's jewelry shop without taking anything of value, J and K question Frank the Pug, an alien informant disguised as a dog. Frank explains that the missing galaxy is a massive energy source housed in a small jewel, and the bug wants to destroy the Arquillians with it. He also reveals that the galaxy is on Earth. J deduces that it 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. An Arquillian battleship fires a warning shot in the Arctic and threatens to destroy Earth unless the galaxy is returned within one hour.

The bug arrives at the observation towers of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows, which disguise two flying saucers from the 1961 landing, where Laurel escapes its clutches. It escapes on one saucer, but J and K shoot it down and the ship crashes into the Unisphere. The bug sheds Edgar's skin and swallows both agents' guns, and K provokes it into swallowing him as well. 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 Laurel destroys the remains of the bug with J's gun before it can ambush them. K tells J that he has been training J as a replacement rather than a partner and has J neuralyze him so he can retire from MIB.

Some time later, J reads about K's return to civilian life at a newsstand before he and Laurel (now MIB Agent L, his new partner) continue on to their next mission. After an extensive zoom out shot, it is revealed that the Milky Way itself exists within a marble (much like the galaxy), and is being used by a pair of colossal extra-terrestrial beings in a game of marbles.


  • Tommy Lee Jones as Kevin Brown/Agent K, Agent J's grizzled and humorless mentor. Clint Eastwood turned down the part, while Jones accepted the role only after executive producer 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". Jones felt it did not capture the tone of the comic,[3] which he declared was what motivated him to get into the project.[4] Sonnenfeld was initially reluctant to cast Jones due to his serious personality. However, the two got along really well both on and off the set.
  • Will Smith as James Darrell Edwards III/Agent J, a New York police detective recruited by K to join the Men in Black. 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.[3] 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.[5]
  • Vincent D'Onofrio as Edgar the Bug, a large insect-like alien. He comes to Earth to steal "the Galaxy" and use it to destroy the Arquillians, an alien race. John Turturro and Bruce Campbell were both offered the role, but they turned it down.[3] Makeup was used to simulate steadily worsening damage on D'Onofrio's face, caused by the decomposition of Edgar's skin as the Bug wore it for a disguise.[6]
  • Linda Fiorentino as Dr. Laurel Weaver, a smart and cynical deputy medical examiner who has been visited by MIB a number of times in the past. She eventually joins MIB and becomes Agent L.
  • Rip Torn as Agent Zed, the head of the Men in Black.
  • Mike Nussbaum as Gentle Rosenberg, an Arquillian jeweler who is the guardian of "the Galaxy".
  • Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs, the owner of a pawn shop that deals in illicit alien weaponry. He belongs to a race of aliens that can regrow lost body parts, including heads.
  • David Cross as Newton the morgue attendant. Sonnenfeld himself had considered taking this role, but he cast Cross for his better comic timing.[6]


Development and writing[edit]

The film is 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. 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.[3]

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.[3] 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.[4]


Filming began in March 1996. Many last-minute changes ensued 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.[4] Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent.[3] 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.[4]

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.[3] 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.[7]

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. As the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt M.I.B. HQ had to resemble an airport.[3]

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".[4] 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."[8] 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.[4]


Danny Elfman composed the film's score, making use of his usual combination of orchestra and electronics. 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.[6]

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 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 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 Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[9]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 85 reviews, and an average score of 7.4/10. 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."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[12]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Makeup Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson Won
Best Art Direction Bo Welch and Cheryl Carasik Nominated
Best Original 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 Make-Up Nominated
Best Special Effects Nominated

On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th.[13] 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.[14]

American Film Institute Lists

Home Media[edit]

Men In Black was released on Blu-Ray & DVD on June 17 2008.[15] The entire Men In Black trilogy was released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on December 5 2017.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Men in Black (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  2. ^ "Men in Black". Box Office Mojo. May 30, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h David Hughes (2003). Comic Book Movies. London: Virgin Books. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-7535-0767-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Metamorphosis of 'Men in Black'", Men in Black Blu-ray
  5. ^ "Summer Movie Preview". Entertainment Weekly. 1997-05-16. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  6. ^ a b c Barry Sonnenfeld, Tommy Lee Jones. Visual Commentary. Men in Black.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Steve Daly (1997-07-18). "Men in Black: How'd they do that?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  9. ^ "Men in Black (1997) — Awards and Nominations". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  10. ^ "Men in Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  11. ^ "Men in Black Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2017-03-10.
  12. ^ "Men in Black". CinemaScore. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  13. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-28.
  14. ^ Jane Tallim (2002). "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor... Spend Another Day". Media Awareness Network. Archived from the original on 2008-08-19. Retrieved 2008-10-14.
  15. ^ "Men in Black DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2018-05-19.

External links[edit]