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.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

1. Multicolor 5-pack of Polyester Face Masks; $22 (56 percent off)

Home Essentials

This set of five polyester masks offers the protection you need in a range of colors, so you can coordinate with whatever outfit you're wearing.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. 3D Comfort Masks 5-Pack; $20 (25 percent off)

Brio

The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Reusable Face Masks 2-pack; $15 (50 percent off)

Triple Grade

This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Active Masks 3-pack; $23 (14 percent off)

RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Washable Protective Cotton Face Masks 2-pack; $13 (35 percent off)

Its All Good

Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Washable 3D Masks 12-pack; $24 (44 percent off)

Elicto

With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Reusable Dust-Proof Mask with 5 Filters; $22 (45 percent off)

Triple Grade

This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Seamless Bandana Mask; $8 (52 percent off)

Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Two-Ply "Love" Face Masks 2-Pack; $18 (40 percent off)

Design Safe

These statement masks allow you to have a voice, even if your mouth is covered.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

11. Neoprene/Fleece Neck and Face Mask (Purple); $10 (66 percent off)

Its All Good

This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

21 Defunct Disney Park Rides and Lands

Some of Disney's most beloved rides and attractions have gone the way of the Dodo.
Some of Disney's most beloved rides and attractions have gone the way of the Dodo.
Paul Rovere/Getty Images

Over the course of their 65-year history, Disney's parks have hosted a lot of rides—including many that didn't last. Here are a few defunct rides and lands you should know about, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Superstar Limo

Did you know that Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cher were once featured in a Disney ride? It sounds fun, but Disney visitors were not a fan of Superstar Limo, which didn’t even make it a single year at California Adventure in the early 2000s. It was a slow ride through Los Angeles featuring audio animatronics of those celebrities and others. Maybe it would have been more successful as one of the later ideas for the ride: Miss Piggy’s Limo Service.

2. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Walt Disney World once had an attraction inspired by the movie Alien. During ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, guests were terrorized in the dark by an escaped alien. It was frightening enough that only people over the age of 12 were recommended to experience the Encounter. While the attraction was in early stages, it was going to be called Alien Encounter and feature a Xenomorph from the Alien movies. But the park’s Imagineers objected to building a ride around R-rated fare in Tomorrowland, which was meant to have an optimistic vision of the future. As a result, the creature ended up just becoming a generic—but still very scary!—alien. It did have another cool Hollywood connection, though: George Lucas was one of the designers. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter lived in the Magic Kingdom from 1995 to 2003, when it was replaced with a Lilo and Stitch attraction (which was itself dismantled in 2018).

3. Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour

This ride in Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1986 and was operational for 20 years. A tour guide took groups on a journey involving confrontations with Disney villains from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, and Pinocchio. These were done the way that Disney does best: a combination of video and animatronics. The big finale featured the Horned King from the film The Black Cauldron. It involved him saying that the guests were now trapped and would be sacrificed to the cauldron. One person who was given a sword earlier on the tour pointed it at the Horned King and "destroyed" him (there was a flash of light, then he disappeared).

4. Submarine Voyage

For almost 40 years, Disneyland maintained the Submarine Voyage ride. Riders would enter a submarine that was on a track. The submarine then looked like it was being submerged in water and proceeded to move slowly past various creatures, like turtles, fish, and mermaids. When the ride opened in 1959, the submarines were gray and named after actual U.S. navy submarines. In the ‘80s, they were painted yellow and given exploration-related names like "Explorer" and "Seeker." In 2007, the ride reopened at Disneyland with a Finding Nemo theme. At that time, more sub names in line with the explorer theme were added, like "Seafarer" and "Voyager." A Walt Disney World version similar to the original lasted from 1971 through 1994.

5. and 6. Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride and Rainbow Caverns Mine Train

Two of the earliest rides at Disneyland were the Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride and the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, which were part of Frontierland. The Stagecoach Ride had actual stagecoaches led by actual horses going through a desert. It opened in the mid-’50s and closed in 1959.

The Mine Train journeyed through illuminated caverns, and would later turn into Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. In 1979, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad took over the spot. But if you ride that roller coaster, you can still see evidence of the Mine Train. In the queue for Big Thunder Mountain, there are pieces from a town that were part of the old ride. The same queue leads you through a Ventilation Service Room where there’s a map with a section labeled “Rainbow Caverns.”

7. Flying Saucers

Flying Saucers existed for five years in the early 1960s at Disneyland. They looked like bumper cars, but they were slightly lifted above the ground thanks to air vents beneath the ride. Like air hockey, but with flying saucers. According to the site Yesterland, Flying Saucers used technology that was developed and patented especially for the ride. When it opened, the Los Angeles Times reported, “The Flying Saucer ride cost $400,000 to build, Each saucer is ‘blown’ 8 inches off the ground and is under constant control of its pilot,” a.k.a., a park guest, who moved the saucer by shifting their body in the direction they wanted to go. Part of the problem was that only people within a specific weight range could do that effectively. Flying Saucers was ultimately closed for a redesign of Tomorrowland.

8. If You Had Wings

Disney is really into flying. Between 1972 and 1987, Walt Disney World had a ride sponsored by Eastern Airlines called If You Had Wings. Passengers got on an omnimover—that line of cars that you can, in theory, board without them ever stopping—which “flew” them around the world (the world being animatronic scenes of places like Mexico, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico).

9. and 10. If You Could Fly and Delta Dreamflight

If You Had Wings briefly became known as If You Could Fly, and in 1989 turned into Delta Dreamflight. That’s right: a new sponsor. The idea was similar, but it was now an homage to airplanes. Passengers got a glimpse of aviation’s history and potential future. Buzz LightYear’s Space Ranger Spin is now where If You Had Wings and Delta Dreamflight once were.

11. Horizons

From the mid-1980s through the late-'90s, Horizons was a hugely popular ride at Epcot. Guests rode through 24 animatronic, futuristic sets. (According to Disney, the future holds robot butlers, robot chefs, and domesticated seals.) At the end of the ride, the car would let you vote on how you wanted to be returned home—through a space, desert, or ocean scene. Nowadays, Mission: SPACE sits in Horizon’s place.

12. Rocket Rods

Rocket Rods only lasted about three years. It was a high-speed thrill ride that used an old track that had belonged to the much slower People Mover ride—which ended up being its demise. The coaster broke down too often and permanently closed in 2001.

13. Adventure Thru Inner Space

Starting in 1967, for almost two decades, Disneyland guests could experience what it was like to be microscopic while riding Adventure Thru Inner Space. People waiting in line would watch as passengers sat in pods, went through a 37-foot-long microscope and were "shrunk" (in reality, they were replaced by 8-inch tall replicas on screen). While on the ride, they’d go through scenes of becoming smaller than a snowflake, mostly by watching videos.

14. Body Wars

On Body Wars—which was located at Epcot’s Wonders of Life Pavilion and operated from 1989 until January 1, 2007—40 riders took a journey through the human body. They were jostled around, causing motion sickness for many, as they watched a video of their dramatic chase. Fun fact: The video was directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. Even funner fact: The other famous Wonders of Life pavilion attraction was The Making of Me, where Martin Short learned how he was conceived. (Apparently they had a disclaimer about all the sexy stuff at the entrance to the attraction.)

15. Maelstrom

Maelstrom lasted a bit longer at Epcot, between 1988 and 2014, before it was replaced by a Frozen ride. It was a boat journey through the “history” of Norway, though that history involved some embellishment ... like an animatronic three-headed troll.

16. The Great Movie Ride

The Great Movie Ride was at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios from 1989 through 2017. Guests entered a building that looked like the famous Grauman’s (now TCL) Chinese Theatre, boarded a car, and traveled through scenes from 12 movies, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alien, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Wizard of Oz, as well as a montage of a bunch more classic films. Drama ensued when a live actor hijacked the ride. It closed in 2017.

17. and 18. Rocket to the Moon and Mission to Mars

In 1955, Disneyland had a simulation called Rocket to the Moon that showed patrons what it would be like to, well, travel to the moon. It closed in 1966, and a year later was replaced by Flight to the Moon, which became way less exciting when Apollo 11 actually landed on the moon in 1969. The area became Mission to Mars in 1975. That ride closed in 1993, and later, the space became … ExtraTerrorestrial!

19. Holidayland

Holidayland, part of Disneyland between 1957 and 1961, was actually a 9-acre area just outside of Disneyland. It was less ride-oriented and instead contained picnic spots, sports fields, and a large tent for performances.

20. Camp Minnie-Mickey and Beastly Kingdom

In the early days of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, the company wanted to include a Beastly Kingdom in homage to fake creatures like dragons and unicorns. While prepping for that, Camp Minnie-Mickey went up in 1998, intended to be a temporary placeholder until Beastly Kingdom was ready to be built. Well, now we don’t have either; Beastly Kingdom never came to be and the camp-themed section closed in 2014.

21. Lilliputian Land

Finally, one land that never became a land: Lilliputian Land. We know that Walt Disney wanted part of Disneyland to be based on a section of the book Gulliver’s Travels thanks to a map drawn in 1953. With everything in that area made to look tiny, like fake people, guests would feel like giants. It’s thought that some of the DNA of Lilliputian Land can still be seen on the Storybook Land Canal Boats.