Twenty years ago, a fantastic, buddy-cop, sci-fi comedy hit the big screen. Men In Black came to cinemas all over, all the way back in 1997. Only one year after Will Smith rocked the box office with Independence Day…and only two years after Tommy Lee Jones made his way into Batman Forever, they both donned their suits and became the Men In Black.
After two decades, one might expect plenty of stories to surface about just what the actors got up to, and how they treated each other. There are actually not so many stories as you might think. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty damn interesting ones out there.
From being covered with gallons of goo, to drunkenly robbing banks (or at least trying to), there were all sorts of crazy stories surrounding Men In Black. And not just the first film. That goes for the entire franchise (though we will mostly stick to the very first film for the sake of the 20th anniversary). So here are twenty behind-the-scenes facts about the Hollywood hit Men In Black.
20. So Many Cameos!
Alright, so the above image is from Men In Black II, and yes, that is actually Michael Jackson. He had a brief cameo in the film as an alien. Which might not surprise a lot of people, considering the incredible transformation he went through in his life. But MIB has seen its share of cameos as well. There is a particular scene where Smith’s character is being shown several of the known aliens currently working in the world. A screen appears, much like the one in the above photo. In that screen, one can see: Steven Spielberg, director Barry Sonnenfeld, singer Dionne Warwick, Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, and even politician Newt Gingrich! And surely everyone could see him being an alien. There are a few other notables on that screen, but these guys are the biggest names for sure. And it’s hilarious to think of these guys as otherworldly creatures.
19. Rip Torn’s Drunken Bank Robbery…Seriously
Throughout the series, Rip Torn has been a pretty big part of the films. He is the head of the Men In Black, playing the role of Zed. However, for some reason or another, the opening of the third movie is Zed’s funeral. There isn’t even a shot of Rip Torn acting in the third film. Why is that? Well, he was in jail, serving a suspended sentence. What did he do? Well he got drunk (three-times-over-the-legal-limit drunk), and took a stroll into a bank…with a gun! He didn’t get very far though. He was arrested in the bank itself, very shortly after the alarm had been pushed. He defended himself in court by saying that he was so drunk, he thought the police were coming in to his home. He thought the bank was his home! But even if that was true…why would his first instinct be to pull a gun on the police?
18. The Humane Society Made Sure Every Cockroach Was Accounted For
The American Humane Society was on set all of the time. Practically lording over the production. Somehow they missed the maltreatment of Mushu the pug, with his chicken and steak dinners, but they really did get into the nitty gritty. Each and every cockroach on set had to be accounted for by the end of shooting each day. The squishing that you do see Will Smith do is not of cockroaches. He’s squishing mustard packets. It’s very interesting to think that the Humane Society had really only two creatures to worry about. Cockroaches and Mushu. But of those two, they were far more concerned somehow with the cockroaches. Perhaps they decided to look away from Mushu because of his diva treatment. But ultimately, I’m willing to suggest that that was part of the reason he didn’t get to shoot the third film.
17. 25 Gallons Of Goo And Will Smith Hated The Stuff
In the opening scene of the very first film, an alien called Mikey, is taken into the desert for questioning with Tommy Lee Jones, and his first partner. He was originally part of a police bust, catching Mexican “aliens” being smuggled across the border. Tommy Lee Jones sends the “aliens” back into the truck, and tells the police to leave as he goes to have a chat with a real alien. But one of the cops decides to stick around to watch. As he gasps at the sight of an alien, Mikey goes nuts, and charges the cop. And because Tommy Lee Jones is so badass, he guns down the alien, saving the officer, and covering him (and a good portion of the desert) with 25 gallons of blue goo. This is not the only time goo is used in the film. As it happens, apparently Jones didn’t mind being covered in the stuff, but Will Smith admittedly despised it.
16. The Real Men In Black…
Going all the way back to the technological advancements of the 1940s and 50s (and the beginning of all those UFO scares), the notion of “Men In Black” has been a mainstay in pop culture. Some people really believe that there are these Men In Black to prevent us from seeing the “truth”. MIB is an actual abbreviation that was first used by the author of the Mothman Prophecies (so you know it’s bogus). But so pervasive is the notion of these Men In Black, that even the comic book creator of the original series truly believes they exist! Comic writer Lowell Cunningham said of his work: “I was taken with the whole idea of these powerful men who show up and keep the peace.” So it’s not just crazy conspiracy theorists who buy into this stuff. It’s also crazy comic book writers. But to be fair, Will Smith did buy into Scientology for a time.
15. D’Onofrio Used Knee Braces To Get Edgar’s Signature Walk
Vincent D’Onofrio had a very interesting time researching his Edgar-Bug, alien character. He spent a lot of time watching insect documentaries to get an idea of how to work on his character movement. And then to achieve that stilted, signature walk that he has, he went to a sports store, and found himself a pair of knee braces for basketball. As he was playing with them, he discovered that he could lock them in place in the centre, rather than allowing for some flexibility. And this is what gives him the stiff-legged movement that is so absolutely his character. “I slightly bent my leg and locked off the braces so I couldn’t move either way, but it was slightly bent and I taped off both my feet and I tried to walk and it created this restrained, physical odd thing.” And voila…that’s how acting is done.
14. Will Smith Had A Hard Time Fighting Off Invisible Aliens
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of shooting the entire Men In Black series for Will smith, was having to fight non-existent aliens. That’s, of course, aside from being covered in alien goo many times over. But it must be frustrating, taking on all shapes and sizes of creatures, and not having any idea what the final shots will look like. He even said “When you fight something that’s not really there you feel real stupid.” And that’s fair enough. So he must have felt really stupid waving a flaming branch at an invisible, giant cockroach. Especially when he had to talk to it. But hey, especially considering the film came out in 1997, the finished product looks pretty damn good. And it’s not like Smith can complain about the pay cheque.
13. The Comics Were Darker
As it turns out, the comic series was far darker, and far more serious than the film series. This might stem from the fact that the comic creator, Lowell Cunningham, actually believes there to be such a group of people as the Men In Black. But who knows? And it just so happens that the comic series was not just about aliens. There was all manner of supernatural secrets to be covered up as well. And the Men In Black didn’t just protect the planet from knowing about these things. They had a deeper goal of reshaping the world to run the way they wanted, while keeping everyone else in the dark. And it gets even darker still. They wouldn’t just erase peoples’ memories. Oh no. They would go as far as murder, just in order to keep the secrets of the supernatural, and of the aliens. It was also a far more philosophical bit of fiction as well though. Not quite so fun-loving.
12. D’Onofrio Got A Sugar High From This Scene
Vincent D’Onofrio, an American actor you might recognize from Jurassic World, or the new Magnificent Seven, had the joy of playing Edgar (who was really a bug alien underneath Edgar’s ill-fitting skin). There are some wonderful scenes with this awkward character stuttering about. But one thing he knows he wants for sure, is sugar water (as apparently any good cockroach would). So Edgar’s wife mixes for him, a nice big glass of sugar water. Having done fifteen takes of Edgar getting this glass of sugar water, and gulping it down, apparently D’Onofrio got one hell of a high off of the scene. While that might be pretty funny to think about, I think people thought less about D’Onofrio’s likely future with diabetes, thanks to guzzling ounces of sugar so many times over.
11. Will Smith Went To An Alien Convention To Study
A perfect example of something that Will Smith hates is being covered in goo. That aside though, Smith really dug deep to get into this alien mindset for the film. As a matter of research, he spent some of his time attending an alien convention in Las Vegas. Realistically, he probably spent most of his time out on the strip, but he still did log in some time with the believers. It makes you wonder…Scientology is all about aliens, once you get right down into it. Maybe this is where he first encountered believers of that very…interesting faith. Maybe all it took was one alien convention in Vegas to turn him all around on the notion of truth. Though to be fair, he probably just listened to people’s stories about them being abducted, and how they went to Mars, or were probed, or whatever other attention-seeking nonsense there was. But I bet it helped with filming.
10. The 4.5 Million Dollar Bug
There was originally an animatronic version of the Edgar Bug that was built for the final scenes of the film. Apparently there was meant to be a more philosophical ending than an action ending originally. However, pressure from the producers was such that action was required. And instead of going the route of animatronic closeups, mixed with stop motion action (like in Jurassic Park), they opted for a computer generated bug. Now you may already have sussed out where this is going. In order to have the big action scene at the end of the film, the crew spent $4.5 million on just the bug alone. That’s not including the cost of the crew, and talent on the shooting days, and the cost of the gear, and food, and safety, and everything else. $4.5 million on the bug alone!
9. Will Smith Was Not The First Choice
Will Smith might seem like the perfect choice to play the character of “J”, but he was by no means the first choice. Chris O’Donnell was the first to be offered the role. And it makes sense given his recent role of Robin. However, it was because of films like Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin that he turned it down. He didn’t just want to be a sidekick. And while his reasoning seems to have escaped public mention, David Schwimmer was also offered the role before Will Smith. But he turned it down all the same. Now just imagine someone as seemingly awkward as David Schwimmer playing that role. Paired up against Will Smith, there is just no contest. But all the same, Smith was still called up after both of these men had turned the role down. And thank goodness they did.
8. Tommy Had A Temper
Barry Sonnenfeld went on the record saying that he did not want to work with Tommy Lee Jones in any way, when he was first considered for the role of K. “I saw Tommy do a TV interview a few years ago, and he was so mean I remember thinking, ‘Thank god I never have to work with this jerk.'” Why is that? Well anyone who knows anything about Jones’ behind-the-scenes manner will know that he has a bit of a temper. He’s sort of a curmudgeonly old dude. However, Sonnenfeld hired him all the same, and was pleasantly surprised. He and Jones got on swimmingly. And the only time there was ever tension was when Sonnenfeld wasn’t specific enough in his direction. Then Jones would get a little pissy. And in Tommy Lee Jones’ defense, he had only just come out of Batman Forever, not two years earlier, and if you were stuck working with Jim Carrey as long as he was…you’d be a curmudgeon as well.
7. Frank (Real Name Mushu) Was A Total Diva
It turns out that the pug who played the role of Frank in the film was a bit of a diva. It’s amazing to know that Hollywood isn’t just like that for their human talent. This pug’s real name was Mushu, and he was treated like a king. He traveled in business class. He lived in hotels. He slept on the bed with his trainer. His meals were even ordered via room service. And he wasn’t just served little cans of dog food. He was given chicken breasts, and nice cuts of steak. “He drinks only bottled water when he’s on the road. He’s a VIP!” Is what his owner had to say about him. Given the extravagant treatment this dog had, it’s no wonder that he never lived to shoot the third film. Which is ultimately very sad. But treating a little pug like a Hollywood diva has got to raise a few red flags. After all, he didn’t get to stick his paw down his throat.
6. Ray Ban Predator II Glasses See Rise In Sales
When it first came to be that the MIB crew were going to use Ray Ban sunglasses to complete their look, the company was ecstatic. But when they were told that the production company was going to also black out the Ray Ban logo, they were less than impressed. How would they get any advertising for their trendy Ray Ban Predator II glasses? They managed to get that in a much cooler way, as it happens. Remember that first, big, solo hit of Will Smith’s? That’s where Ray Ban is mentioned. And did it have any effect in the long run? Well, up to the release of the film, the company had made $1.5 million in sales. Very shortly after the film was released, Ray Ban’s sales on the Predator II glasses tripled, shooting up over $5 million. So it seems things worked in their favour after all.
5. MIB 3 Was Will Smith’s Idea
During the filming of MIB II, Will Smith approached director Barry Sonnenfeld several times about a story with the characters, where J (Smith’s character), has to travel back in time: “At the beginning, something has happened and Agent Kay is missing and I have to go back to the past to go try to save young Agent Kay.” As it turns out, more than ten years after the release of the second film, Men In Black III began production, and did revolve around traveling back in time to save a young Agent Kay. Of course, when Smith originally brought the idea up to Sonnenfeld, all he could say was “Can we just finish this one?” And considering it took over a decade to come back to the Men In Black series, it seems Sonnenfeld was really looking to take some time away after finishing off the second film.
4. Bad Astronomy Points Out Flaws
Badastronomy.com is a site dedicated to pointing out the scientific flaws in films, and television shows. And given that Men In Black was all about aliens (something we still have no proof of, in the way they’re depicted), the film came out rather unscathed. The website actually largely praised the filmmakers for their pretty accurate science, while working in the fictional world. There’s one glaring concern that the site takes up with the film. And that’s based on a line that Jones says: “You want to stay away from that guy. He’s, uh, he’s grouchy. A three-hour delay in customs after a trip for 17 trillion miles is gonna make anybody cranky.” As it turns out, the closest place to us is Proxima Centauri, which is approximately 25 trillion miles away. So essentially, the character was either hitching a ride from floating in space…or the filmmakers got it wrong.
3. Will Smith’s First Solo Hit!
Believe it or not, this was actually Will Smith’s very first solo hit. Yeah, sure he had hits during the early nineties as well. But those weren’t solo hits. Those were hits in the rap duo: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. But co-writing, and performing the theme song for Men In Black solo was the very first hit that Smith ever actually got under his belt as a professional rapper. And while Men In Black wasn’t the very first hit film that Smith was a part of, it was certainly the first film franchise he became known for. So the production in its entirety really help set Smith up to be the star he is now. He progressed quite a bit as a musician from there with “Wild Wild West”, and “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” (though that’s faded since), and he’s been a hit actor from then on in.
2. Biggest Grossing Buddy Comedy Ever!
The closest any recent buddy comedy action film has come to beating Men In Black is 22 Jump Street. It had grossed just shy of $192 million. But that still pales in comparison to Men In Black’s whopping $250 million plus! To this day, it remains the highest grossing buddy comedy action film. It even managed to beat Kevin Hart, and Ice Cube‘s Ride Along, which came in thirteenth place. Hell, even Men In Black two and three are both four and five, respectively, on the box office hit list. Those two beat only by the aforementioned 22 Jump Street, as well as the classic Rush Hour 2, starring Jackie Chan, and Chris Tucker. It’s crazy to think that in twenty years, Hollywood hasn’t been able to come up with anything better than this buddy comedy. Maybe if they stopped producing so many sequels, and tried an original idea for once…
1. Tarantino Almost Directed…Along With A Few Others
I think we can all agree that Men In Black would have been a very different film had Quinton Tarantino accepted the offer to direct. But he was not the only one to have been given the chance to take on this very successful franchise. Steven Spielberg had originally thought of directing it himself, but decided to take a producer’s chair instead. Tarantino turned it down. And John Landis was offered the position, but also turned it down. His reasoning being that the script was just “The Blues Brothers with aliens”. He has apparently since admitted that he regrets not having taken on the project. And then, of course, ultimately Barry Sonnenfeld took the gig. And he has made so much money for, and from this franchise that it just simply beggars belief.