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.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

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To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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10 Killer Facts About The Evil Dead

Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead (1981).
Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead (1981).
New Line Cinema

From Peter Jackson to Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead has influenced many of today’s biggest directors. As it should. Famous for its practical effects and then-unprecedented amount of gore, the campy 1981 horror flick—about a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods and unleash killer demons—showed the world the power of guerilla-style indie filmmaking.

Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and producer Robert Tapert fought through no CGI, sticky cocktails of blood made from everyday household items, and the reluctance of major studios to get on board to make a cult classic that has since spawned two sequels, Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992); an Army of Darkness video game; a 2013 remake; Ash vs. Evil Dead, a TV series that ran for three seasons on Starz; and an upcoming fifth movie, Evil Dead Rise, that is planning to start production in 2021.

Get to know more about every cinephile’s favorite horror-comedy with this list of things you might not know about the production.

1. The Evil Dead was based on Sam Raimi’s short film, Within The Woods.

Before getting to work on The Evil Dead, good friends Robert Tapert, Sam Raimi, and Bruce Campbell created the 30-minute Super 8 film, Within the Woods. In a 1982 interview with John Gallagher, Raimi—who was 20 when he shot The Evil Dead—explained, “We used [Within the Woods] to show the investors what kind of film they’d be buying into … They needed tangible proof that we could make a movie of professional quality.”

On why the trio chose to make a horror film in the first place, producer Robert Tapert told The Incredibly Strange Film Show, “Sam and I first decided to do horror films after doing research on what did well in the markets ... Horror is the entry level that most people use.”

2. Joel Coen got his first break as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead.

Before becoming the Oscar-winning filmmaking duo he and his brother Ethan are today, Joel Coen got his start as an assistant editor on The Evil Dead. Inspired by Raimi’s DIY filmmaking, Joel and his brother created a pitch trailer (much like Raimi’s Within the Woods) to raise money for their first feature, Blood Simple. While Dan Hedaya stars in the final film, Bruce Campbell plays the lead in the two-minute trailer.

3. The Evil Dead, which is famous for its practical effects, even used real, live ammunition.

The meager budget on The Evil Dead didn’t allow for any star accouterments. As Bruce Campbell detailed to DVD talk, among the many hellish situations the cast and crew dealt with were diving into freezing cold swamps and Raimi getting chased by a bull. “We are going to rural Tennessee, 1979, where there's moonshine, squatters, and it was the real deal,” said Campbell. “The south was the south in 1979. There was no franchise this or franchise that. It was a completely different world and mentality ... We used real ammunition in the shotgun and we shot it at a real cabin in the woods, with hunters and howling dogs in the background.”

4. The Evil Dead’s infamous melting corpse is made up of everything from oatmeal to cockroaches.

Conscious of toeing the line of MPAA ratings, make-up and visual effects supervisor Tom Sullivan used different colors of goo to keep the body from seeming like it was spewing real blood. “I wanted to make it seem like their biology actually changed,” said Sullivan during the film’s 30th anniversary reunion, hosted by Spooky Empire. Among the many ingredients used to concoct the mush coming out of the melting corpse’s skull, Sullivan cites oatmeal, snakes, guts made out of marshmallow strings, and Madagascar cockroaches, which they acquired at Michigan State University.

5. Sam Raimi worked himself so hard on The Evil Dead that he passed out during filming.

Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead (1981).Anchor Bay Entertainment

At Spooky Empire’s reunion, Bart Pierce, who worked on the visual effects of the film, noted just how much filming took a toll on Sam Raimi. As his story goes, Raimi fainted during the shooting of the film’s dismemberment sequence. The director stayed up all night shooting, and wrote all day, basically working himself 24/7. To wake him up, the crew took an ice-cold bucket of water and threw it at him, and left him there until he regained consciousness.

6. Everything in The Evil Dead was real—even the drugs.

Bruce Campbell has said it before: everything was real during filming. At a Spooky Empire event, Campbell playfully recalled, “The illegal substance known as marijuana was somehow forced upon us in Tennessee ... I was forced to ingest this marijuana by a local reprobate and I therefore became, let’s just say, affected by THC ... I therefore lost any sense of time and where I was, and that’s the time that Sam Raimi decided that he needed to shoot Ash having a breakdown.”

7. The Morristown, Tennessee cabin where The Evil Dead was shot has its own real-life horror story.

Adding to the spookiness of filming at an actual cabin in the woods, Raimi noted the location’s inherent eeriness is completely justified. During an interview with John Gallagher, Raimi recounted a horror story involving three generations of women (a grandmother, mother, and daughter) who previously occupied the cabin. “One night, during a thunderstorm, this little girl woke up and was scared by the lightning happening around the cabin. She ran into her mother’s room and pulling back the covers climbing into bed with her, she found that her mother was dead. She was so frightened she ran into her grandmother’s room and somehow that same evening, she had died also,” Raimi recalled. “The little girl ran into the storm ... to this little farmhouse and [the family living there] found her screaming and banging on the doors. They took care of her after that and no one lived in the cabin since. The [little girl], who’s now an old woman, during thunderstorms after that ... would often be found wandering around the woods.”

The kicker, however, was that story came to life during the film’s shoot. Raimi continued, “As we were shooting, this fella [from the farmhouse that took in the little girl] was looking for the [now old] woman, saying that because there was a thunderstorm the night before, he was looking for this woman, because it was possible that she had returned to the cabin ... As far as we know, they never found [her.]”

8. The most difficult moments during The Evil Dead shoot were stopping for months at a time to raise money.

According to Sam Raimi, the most difficult part of production wasn't the physical toll it took on the crew, but that they'd have to stop filming for months at a time to raise more money. “We’d reach stretches where we’d run out of money and have to stop whatever we were doing and put on our suits and get our briefcases and cut our hair short and shave ... and go around knocking on doors asking for more money," Raimi recalled. On initially raising money for the film, Raimi told the Incredibly Strange Film Show, “Tapert, Bruce Campbell, and myself ... all dropped out of school. Then we worked as waiters, bus boys, cab drivers. I was 18, Bruce was 19, and Robert was 22.” Added Campbell: “We’d sit down and pretend we were businessmen. We thought it was part of the process.”

In an episode of Dinner for Five, Campbell note another lucrative source of cash: dentists. “We had one guy give us money because he didn’t go to Vegas that year. He says ‘I usually take two grand and blow it in Vegas. Well, here’s my Vegas money.’ So he sends me 17 times his money. We were pretty happy about that.”

9. Sam Raimi regrets the infamous The Evil Dead scene where a teen girl is assaulted in—and by—the woods.

The initial release of the film was met with plenty of backlash worldwide, including being banned in Finland, Germany, Ireland, and Iceland for its extreme violence. Beyond the excessive blood, the scene in which Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is assaulted by a tree caused an uproar among viewers and critics, and almost got the film banned from being released on home video. To this day, even Raimi regrets that scene. “It was unnecessarily gratuitous and a little too brutal,” Raimi tells the Incredibly Strange Film Show. “My goal was not to offend people ... My judgement was a little wrong at that time.”

10. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell started a rumor about an on-set injury on The Evil Dead as a joke.

Just to see who’d believe it, Campbell and Raimi spread a rumor that Campbell broke his jaw when Raimi accidentally slammed his camera into Campbell’s face while filming one of the final shots. Campbell put this rumor to rest at Dallas Comic Con, saying: “The lie that we put out was that the final shot [where] this evil entity comes racing through the cabin and crashes into my face ... The big lie is that... [Raimi] rode a motorcycle through all the doors and he just had to hit me ... I was willing to do it as long as we got [the shot], took it for the team ... But no, no broken jaw.”

This story has been updated for 2020.