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.

HBO Is Offering Nearly 500 Hours of Free Content, From The Sopranos to Succession

Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun talk business and omelettes in Succession.
Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun talk business and omelettes in Succession.
Peter Kramer/HBO

If shelter-in-place orders have you burning through your streaming service selections, HBO might be able to help. The premium network has just announced nearly 500 hours of content will be made available for free beginning Friday, April 3. In a press release, the channel said that content would be unlocked via HBO NOW and HBO GO without a subscription. Viewers can expect a mix of HBO’s original series as well as documentaries and catalog movie titles. For original series, viewers can select these nine shows:

  1. Ballers
  2. Barry
  3. Silicon Valley
  4. Six Feet Under
  5. The Sopranos
  6. Succession
  7. True Blood
  8. Veep
  9. The Wire

Documentary and Docuseries titles include:

  1. The Apollo
  2. The Case Against Adnan Syed
  3. Elvis Presley: The Searcher
  4. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
  5. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
  6. Jane Fonda in Five Acts
  7. McMillion$
  8. True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality
  9. United Skates
  10. We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest

Movies are from the Warner Bros. library and, unlike The Sopranos, are mostly family-friendly. They include:

  1. Arthur
  2. Arthur 2: On the Rocks
  3. Blinded By the Light
  4. The Bridges of Madison County
  5. Crazy, Stupid, Love
  6. Empire of the Sun
  7. Forget Paris
  8. Happy Feet Two
  9. Isn't It Romantic?
  10. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  11. Midnight Special
  12. My Dog Skip
  13. Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase
  14. Pan
  15. Pokémon Detective Pikachu
  16. Red Riding Hood
  17. Smallfoot
  18. Storks
  19. Sucker Punch
  20. Unknown Title To Be Announced

The shows can be viewed directly without a sign-in on the HBO GO and HBO NOW websites or via their apps. (The services are nearly identical, but HBO GO is typically included with a cable subscription; HBO NOW is a standalone streaming service.) If you’d like to sample the full range of HBO series like Game of Thrones, The Outsider, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, the channel is offering a seven-day free trial.

According to the press release, the programming will be available to watch without subscribing through the end of April.

Which Fictional Character Are You? This Online Quiz Might Give You an Eerily Accurate Answer

Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While watching a TV show or movie, you might find yourself trying to draw parallels between you and a certain character you’d want to be. If you’re like many viewers, it’s probably one of the heroic ones—the handsome private investigator with a tortured past and an unerring moral compass or the fearless queen who builds her kingdom from nothing and defends it to the death, etc.

But which character would you actually be? Openpsychometrics.org, a site that develops personality tests, has a new online quiz that might give you an uncannily accurate answer. You’ll be confronted with a series of 28 questions that ask you to pinpoint where you fall between two traits on a percentage-based spectrum. For example, if you’re more playful than serious, slide the bar toward the word playful until you’ve reached your desired ratio. The ratio could be anything from 51 percent playful and 49 percent serious, to a full 100 percent playful and not a single iota of seriousness at all. Other spectrums include artistic versus scientific, dominant versus submissive, spiritual versus skeptical, and more.

Once you’ve completed the quiz, you’ll find out which fictional character your personality most closely matches from a database of around 500 television and film characters. To pinpoint the personalities of the characters themselves, the quiz creators asked survey participants to rate them on a series of traits, and those collective results are then compared to your own self-ratings.

If you scroll down below your top result, you’ll see an option to show your full match list, which will give you a much more comprehensive picture of what kind of character you’d be. My top two results—which, ironically, were the same as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy’s—were The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg and Joey Lucas, suggesting that we both have a no-nonsense attitude, a perfectionist streak, and an apparent aptitude for national politics that (at least in our cases) will likely go unfulfilled.

The fictional twin of managing editor Jenn Wood, on the other hand, is Game of Thrones’s Tyrion Lannister, unofficial king of witty side comments and all-around fan favorite. This was not surprising. As runner-up, Jenn got her personal hero, Elizabeth Bennet, which, in her words “makes me feel better about myself.” (Jenn has Pride and Prejudice-themed “writing gloves,” which seems important to mention.)

Take the quiz here to find out just how much you have in common with your own personal (fictional) hero.

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