15 Out-of-This-World Facts About Men in Black

© 1997 - Columbia Pictures
© 1997 - Columbia Pictures

On July 2, 1997, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up as Agents Jay and Kay, respectively, to quietly control the large alien population living in New York City. The comic book-adapted buddy comedy spawned two sequels, which as a franchise went on to gross more than $1.6 billion. The original film in the series—which was released 20 years ago today—was the second highest grossing film of 1997, only overshadowed by Titanic’s immense success. Here are some intergalactic facts about the series.

1. WILL SMITH USED TO BE KNOWN AS “THE KING OF THE 4TH."

Smith had back-to-back number one Fourth of July weekend hits in the mid-1990s: In 1996, Independence Day dominated the box office, and the next year Men in Black opened in first place. Though 1999’s Wild Wild West was one of Smith’s lowest openings, bringing in just $27,687,484 during its opening weekend, it was a strong enough total to top the box office charts. In 2002 and 2008, Men in Black II and Hancock, respectively, solidified Smith’s moniker.

2. MEN IN BLACK DIRECTOR BARRY SONNENFELD GOT HIS START AS A CINEMATOGRAPHER FOR THE COEN BROTHERS.

Sonnenfeld cut his teeth as a director of photography on the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller’s Crossing; he also worked with Penny Marshall on Big and Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally… and Misery before segueing into directing the Addams Family films and Get Shorty. Besides all three Men in Black films, Sonnenfeld also directed Smith in 1999’s Wild Wild West.

3. SONNENFELD DIDN’T WANT TO WORK WITH TOMMY LEE JONES, BECAUSE OF HIS ALLEGED TEMPER.


© 1997 - Columbia Pictures

Before Sonnenfeld signed on to direct Men in Black, a director by the name of Les Mayfield was originally hired. Tommy Lee Jones joined the cast in the beginning, back when Chris O’Donnell was being considered for what would eventually become Will Smith’s role. Much to Sonnenfeld’s surprise, he loved working with Jones. “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,”’ Sonnenfeld recalled to Entertainment Weekly. “But I ended up loving every minute of it. He can be difficult if you don’t have clear opinions, but we got along extraordinarily well.”

4. SOME PEOPLE THINK THE MEN IN BLACK REALLY EXIST.

Going back to Ufology in the 1940s and ’50s, several people wrote accounts and books about these so-called "men in black." The Mothman Prophecies author John Keel was the first person credited in using the "MIB" abbreviation in his writings. Albert K. Bender claimed “he was visited by three men in dark suits who threatened him with imprisonment if he continued his inquiries into UFOs,” and Gray Barker wrote several nonfiction books featuring the men in black, including 1956's They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers and 1984's MIB: The Secret Terror Among Us. Barker’s sister, Blanch, recalled how he once told her why he wrote the books: “There’s good money in it.”

5. THE MEN IN BLACK COMIC BOOK WRITER ALSO THINKS THE MEN IN BLACK ARE REAL.

In the early ’90s, Lowell Cunningham penned the Men in Black comic book series, which was based on his own ideas of the men in black agents. “I was taken with the whole idea of these powerful men who show up and keep the peace,” Cunningham told The New York Times in 1997. “I shaped the men in black to be active agents, out there responding to threats, cleaning them up if they’ve already occurred. They describe themselves as the thin black line between reality and chaos.” He goes on to say one day he saw a black car drive by him and thought, “That’s the kind of car the men in black would drive.”

6. FRANK THE PUG GOT THE DIVA TREATMENT.


Columbia Pictures

In real life, Frank was a pug named Mushu, who appeared briefly in the first film but had a more expanded role in the sequel. “I had to find a pug for the original Men in Black," Mushu’s owner, Cheryl Shawver, told The National Enquirer in 2002. "I saw an ad in the paper and bought Mushu for just a few hundred dollars. He travels by crate in business class with Cristie [the trainer]. He goes under the seat. He stays in the hotel room with her, sleeps on her bed. She orders his meals from room service: steak, chicken. He drinks only bottled water when he’s on the road. He’s a VIP!” A website dedicated to Frank describes how difficult pugs are to care for and how not just anybody should rush out and buy one. Unfortunately, Mushu passed away before production began on the third film.

7. A MEN IN BLACK-21 JUMP STREET MASH-UP WAS DISCUSSED.

In the wake of the 2014 Sony hack, reports surfaced that among the leaked documents was an e-mail from former Sony studio head Amy Pascal stating that the studio was planning on mashing up the 21 Jump Street and Men in Black franchises for one star-studded movie. The premise would entail Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum playing cops, but it’s unclear if Jones and/or Smith would reprise their roles. In an e-mail to Pascal, Hill said: “Jump Street merging with MIB—I think that’s clean and rad and powerful.” Back in 2013, it was reported a Men in Black 4 was in the works, with 22 Jump Street scribe Oren Uziel writing the script.

8. BADASTRONOMY.COM LAID OUT THE FILM’S SCIENTIFIC ACCURACIES AND INACCURACIES.

The scientific website BadAstronomy.com broke down all of the astronomical incidents in the first Men in Black film and discussed what was good (a.k.a. accurate) about the movie and what wasn’t. For instance, Agent Kay 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,” but BadAstronomy corrects the error: “The nearest known star to the Sun is Proxima Centauri, which is roughly 25 trillion miles away. So 17 trillion still falls a bit short. Still, I give them some credit.”

9. MEN IN BLACK IS STILL THE HIGHEST-GROSSING ACTION BUDDY COMEDY OF ALL TIME.


Columbia Pictures

Rush Hour 2 almost dethroned Men in Black from the top spot in 2001, but with a gross of $250 million, Men in Black held onto its position. 22 Jump Street comes in third, and Men in Black II and Men in Black 3 rank fourth and fifth on the list, respectively. On the sci-fi comedy chart, the Men in Black movies hold the top three positions.

10. BASKETBALL BRACES INSPIRED VINCENT D'ONOFRIO’S BUG WALK.

The actor, who played a bug-like alien named Edgar, told Allocine how he came up with his bug walk: In addition to watching bug documentaries, “I was walking by a sporting goods store one day, and I saw these braces that the basketball players wear,” he said. “I went in and I tried one on and I realized you could lock it off, you could tape the hinges so that you can’t bend either way. So I bought two of them and I took them home and I put them on. So, 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.”

11. WILL SMITH CAME UP WITH THE PLOT FOR MEN IN BLACK 3 WHILE FILMING MEN IN BLACK II.

One night while on the set of Men in Black II, Smith told Sonnenfeld his idea for a third film. “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,” Sonnenfeld recalled to CNN. “In doing so, myself and the audience find out all sorts of secrets about the world that we didn’t even know were out there.” All Sonnenfeld could muster was, “Can we just finish this one?” Over a decade later, the plot to Men in Black 3 did revolve around time travel and saving a young Agent Kay, played by Josh Brolin.

12. THE MEN IN BLACK THEME SONG WAS WILL SMITH’S FIRST SOLO HIT.

Smith previously experienced success with his rap-duo group DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, but co-writing and singing the Men in Black theme song was his first taste of solo success. The song was featured on both the film’s soundtrack (which sold more than 3 million copies) and Smith’s debut solo album, Big Willie Style, which was released a few months after the film came out. The theme song won Smith a Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, and cemented Smith as a double threat: a bona fide movie star and a rapper.

13. MEN IN BLACK MAKEUP ARTIST RICK BAKER ANNOUNCED HIS RETIREMENT IN 2015.

With 11 Best Makeup Oscar nominations over the course of 30 years, Rick Baker won seven of them—including one for his Edgar the Bug work on Men in Black—making him the biggest makeup Oscar winner ever. Baker won the inaugural Best Makeup Oscar in 1982 for designing the hirsute creatures in An American Werewolf in London. In 2015, “I said the time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now,” Baker told 89.3 KPCC about why he was getting out of the biz. “I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time to get out.”

14. WILL SMITH AND RIP TORN REPRISED THEIR ROLES FOR AN AMUSEMENT PARK RIDE.

In 2000, Men in Black Alien Attack replaced Back to the Future Part III  Locomotive Display when it opened at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. Smith and Torn filmed a short video and supplied their voices, which play as the riders use laser guns to shoot animatronic aliens. At 70,000 square feet, it was the largest dark ride built for a Universal park at the time.

15. THE RAY-BAN GLASSES WORN IN THE MOVIE ALMOST DIDN’T GET A SHOUT OUT.


Photo by Wilson Webb - © 2011 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

The sunglasses Smith and Jones sport in the film are Ray-Ban Predator II glasses. According to a 1997 article in Promo Magazine, a special coating was applied to the glasses to limit reflection, which meant removing the logo. Without the logo, nobody would know what type of glasses they were (Sonnenfeld edited out a previous line in the movie where Jones says “that’s why they call them Ray-Bans”). Ray-Ban tried to convince the studio to reinstate the logo, but they refused. After some coercing, Smith compromised and name dropped the company in the “Men in Black” song: “Black tie with the black attitude / New style, black Ray-Bans, I’m stunnin’, man.” The popularity of the movie and the song’s music video gave the $100 Predators a four- to five-fold increase in sales, and a boost to Ray-Ban’s entire catalog of shades.

20 Facts About Eyes Wide Shut On Its 20th Anniversary

Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus
Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus

In the late 1990s, stories about what was happening on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s already-secretive film Eyes Wide Shut constantly made headlines. Everyone wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with real-life celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and the 15-month shoot only intrigued people more. Finally, the film was released on July 16, 1999—more than four months after Kubrick had passed away. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the movie, here are 20 things we do.

1. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick said. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

2. Production on Eyes Wide Shut began in 1996.

By then, Kubrick had been holding onto the rights to Traumnovelle—which screenwriter Jay Cocks purchased on his behalf, in order to keep the project under wraps—for nearly 30 years. Kubrick had planned to begin working on the film after making 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then got the opportunity to adapt A Clockwork Orange.

3. The studio pushed Stanley Kubrick to cast A-list names.

Terry Semel, then-head of Warner Bros., told Kubrick, “What I would really love you to consider is a movie star in the lead role; you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining].”

4. Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.

Kubrick liked the idea of casting a real-life married couple in the film, and originally considered Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. (He also liked the idea of Steve Martin.) Eventually, he went with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were married from 1990 to 2001.

5. London stood in for New York City.

Though the film is set in New York, it was filmed in London. In order to construct the most accurate sets possible, Vanity Fair reported that Kubrick “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.”

6. Some of the shots in Eyes Wide Shut required no set at all.

In order to give the movie a dream-like quality, the filmmakers used an old-school method of shooting—and a treadmill. “In some of the scenes, the backgrounds were rear-projection plates,” cinematographer Larry Smith explained. “Generally, when Tom’s facing the camera, the backgrounds are rear-projected; anything that shows him from a side view was done on the streets of London. We had the plates shot in New York by a second unit [that included cinematographers Patrick Turley, Malik Sayeed and Arthur Jafa]. Once the plates were sent to us, we had them force-developed and balanced to the necessary levels. We’d then go onto our street sets and shoot Tom walking on a treadmill. After setting the treadmill to a certain speed, we’d put some lighting effects on him to simulate the glow from the various storefronts that were passing by in the plates. We spent a few weeks on those shots.”

7. Eyes Wide Shut holds a Guinness World Record.

The film has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest constant movie shoot, with a total of 400 days, which was a surprise to the cast and crew. Cruise and Kidman had only committed to six months of filming. The extended shoot was a lot to ask of Cruise in particular, who was at the height of his career. He even had to delay work on Mission: Impossible II to finish Eyes Wide Shut. He didn’t seem to mind though. “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed,” Cruise told TIME. “We were going to do what it took to do this picture.”

8. The script for Eyes Wide Shut kept changing.

Todd Field as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

According to Todd Field, who portrayed piano player Nick Nightingale (and is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker in his own right), “We’d rehearse and rehearse a scene, and it would change from hour to hour. We’d keep giving the script supervisor notes all the time, so by the end of the day the scene might be completely different. It wasn’t really improvisation, it was more like writing.”

9. Tom Cruise developed ulcers while shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

“I didn't want to tell Stanley," Cruise told TIME. “He panicked. I wanted this to work, but you're playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can't help.”

10. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman slept in their characters' bedroom.

In order to reflect their real-life relationship, Cruise and Kidman were asked to choose the color for the curtains in their on-screen bedroom, where they also slept.

11. The apartment featured in the movie was a re-creation of Stanley Kubrick's.

According to Cruise, “The apartment in the movie was the New York apartment [Stanley] and his wife Christianne lived in. He recreated it. The furniture in the house was furniture from their own home. Of course the paintings were Christianne's paintings. It was as personal a story as he's ever done.”

12. Stanley Kubrick temporarily banned Tom Cruise from the set.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise star in Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999).
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

Given his penchant for accuracy, it’s quite possible that Kubrick wanted to stir up some real-life jealousy between his stars in order to help them embody their characters. In a fantasy sequence, Kidman’s character has sex with another man, which motivates the rest of the film’s plot. Kubrick banned Cruise from the set on the days that Kidman shot the scene with a male model. They spent six days filming the one-minute scene. Kubrick also forbid Kidman from telling Cruise any details about it.

13. It took 95 takes for Tom Cruise to walk through a doorway.

Six days for a one-minute scene is nothing compared to the time Kubrick had Cruise do 95 takes of one simple action: walking through a doorway. After watching the playback, he apparently told Cruise, “Hey, Tom, stick with me, I’ll make you a star.”

14. Security on the set was tight.

Aside from Kubrick, Kidman, Cruise, and their tiny crew, no one was allowed on the set, which was heavily guarded. In May 1997, one photographer managed to capture a picture of Cruise standing next to a man that the photographer thought was just an “old guy, scruffy with an anorak and a beard.” That man was Kubrick, who hadn’t been photographed in 17 years. After the incident, security on the set was tripled.

15. Paul Thomas Anderson spent some time on the set.

One person Cruise did manage to sneak onto the set was his future Magnolia director, Paul Thomas Anderson. While there, Anderson asked Kubrick, “Do you always work with so few people?” Kubrick responded, “Why? How many people do you need?” Anderson then recalled feeling “like such a Hollywood a**hole.”

16. Stanley Kubrick makes a cameo in the movie.


Warner Bros.

He’s not credited, but the film’s director can be seen sitting in a booth at the Sonata Café.

17. Stanley Kubrick died less than a week after showing the studio his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of the film to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R (rather than an NC-17) rating. Although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too. "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years," Kidman said. "He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough.”

18. By the time Eyes Wide Shut was released, a dozen years had passed since Stanley Kubrick's last directorial effort.

Eyes Wide Shut came out a full 12 years after Kubrick’s previous film, 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

19. Eyes Wide Shut topped the box office during its opening week.

The film earned $30,196,742 during its first week in release, which was enough to take the box office’s number one spot—making it Kubrick’s only film to do so.

20. Tom Cruise didn't like Dr. Harford.

One year after the film’s release, Cruise admitted that he “didn’t like playing Dr. Bill. I didn’t like him. It was unpleasant. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

Top 50 Best-Selling Artists of All Time

Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Victor Blackman, Express/Getty Images

Who are America’s all-time favorite musicians and bands? When it comes to the best-selling artists of all time, The Beatles still rule—yes, even a half-century after their breakup. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these are the 50 best-selling artists of all time.

  1. The Beatles

Albums sold: 183 million

  1. Garth Brooks

Albums sold: 148 million

  1. Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley is seen playing the guitar in his 1966 film, 'Spinout'
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 146.5 million

  1. Eagles

Albums sold: 120 million

  1. Led Zeppelin

Albums sold: 111.5 million

  1. Billy Joel

Albums sold: 84.5 million

  1. Michael Jackson

Albums sold: 84 million

  1. Elton John

    Elton John plays a concert in 2008.
    LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images

Albums sold: 78.5 million

  1. Pink Floyd

Albums sold: 75 million

  1. AC/DC

Albums sold: 72 million

  1. George Strait

Albums sold: 69 million

  1. Barbra Streisand

    Barbra Streisand
    Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Albums sold: 68.5 million

  1. The Rolling Stones

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Aerosmith

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Bruce Springsteen

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Madonna

Albums sold: 64.5 million

  1. Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey performs during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
    Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Albums sold: 64 million

  1. Metallica

Albums sold: 63 million

  1. Whitney Houston

Albums sold: 58.5 million

  1. Van Halen

Albums sold: 56.5 million

  1. Fleetwood Mac

Albums sold: 54.5 million

  1. U2

    The Edge and Bono of the rock band U2 perform at Bridgestone Arena on May 26, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee
    Jason Kempin, Getty Images

Albums sold: 52 million

  1. Celine Dion

Albums sold: 50 million

  1. Neil Diamond

Albums sold: 49.5 million

  1. Journey

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny G

    Kenny G performs onstage during the "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" Premiere Concert during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall
    Noam Galai, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Shania Twain

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny Rogers

Albums sold: 47.5 million

  1. Alabama

Albums sold: 46.5 million

  1. Eminem

    Eminem performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on TBS, TNT, and truTV at The Forum on March 11, 2018 in Inglewood, California
    Kevin Winter, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 46 million

  1. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Guns N’ Roses

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Alan Jackson

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Santana

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift performs onstage at 2019 iHeartRadio Wango Tango presented by The JUVÉDERM® Collection of Dermal Fillers at Dignity Health Sports Park on June 01, 2019
    Rich Fury, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 43 million

  1. Reba McEntire

Albums sold: 41 million

  1. Eric Clapton

Albums sold: 40 million

  1. Chicago

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Simon & Garfunkel

    Pop duo Simon and Garfunkel, comprising (L-R) singer, Art Garfunkel and singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, performing on ITV's 'Ready, Steady, Go!', July 8, 1966
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Foreigner

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Rod Stewart

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Tim McGraw

Albums sold: 37.5 million

  1. Backstreet Boys

Albums sold: 37 million

  1. 2 Pac

Albums sold: 36.5 million

  1. Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan
    Evening Standard/Getty Images

Albums sold: 36 million

  1. Def Leppard

Albums sold: 35.5 million

  1. Queen

Albums sold: 35 million

  1. Dave Matthews Band

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Britney Spears

    Britney Spears performs at the 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2016
    Christopher Polk, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Bon Jovi

Albums sold: 34.5 million

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