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. 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 reboot of the film series has been discussed and is in development.
After a government agency makes first contact with aliens in 1961, alien refugees live in secret on Earth, mostly disguised as humans in the New York metropolitan area. Men in Black is a secret agency that polices these aliens, protects Earth from intergalactic threats and uses memory-erasing neuralyzers to keep alien activity a secret. Men in Black 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. 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 unusual solutions. While the other candidates are neuralyzed, K offers Edwards a position with the Men in Black. Edwards accepts and his identity is erased, becoming 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 New York restaurant and kills two aliens disguised as humans. He takes a container from them, searching for something, but finds 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 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 war.
Men in Black informant Frank the Pug, an alien disguised as a pug, 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 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. An Arquillian battleship fires a warning shot in the Arctic and delivers an ultimatum to Men in Black: return the galaxy within a "galactic standard week", or an hour of Earth time, or they will destroy Earth.
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, where Laurel escapes its clutches. It escapes on one saucer, 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 are about to be attacked by the bug again, but Laurel shoots it with J's gun.
At Men in Black headquarters, K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner but a replacement. K bids J farewell before he neuralyzes him at his request; K returns to his civilian life and Laurel becomes J's new partner, L.
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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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 and Magic, who was responsible for the visual effects and computer-generated imagery, for more mobile digital versions of the aliens.
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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.
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.
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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.
The film received critical acclaim and currently holds a 92% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website, with an average score of 7.4/10 based on 85 reviews 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." The film holds a 71% on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews". On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th.
American Film Institute Lists
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