“Here come the Men in Black. Galaxy defenders…”
Nothing screams 1990s quite like a young Will Smith rapping the theme song to a movie he’s starring in, and there was perhaps no other decade that a conspiracy-adjacent high budget alien comedy could have ever been made let alone have become so popular. The 90s saw a rise in affordable (and impressive) CGI, and a studio system taking risks on some of the highest budget and sincerely “blockbuster” releases in history, and Men in Black (1997) remains one of the decade’s most lovable family friendly oddities. It’s strange, then, to think of the Men in Black franchise as anything other than a product of the 1990s, yet three of its four feature entries have been released in the 21st century, with two released in the 2010s. Originally brought to the screen by former adult film director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family – 1991), who returned for numbers two and three following relative failure on The Wild Wild West (1999) – one of the biggest financial flops of the decade – and R.V. (2006) respectively, Columbia Pictures turned to Straight Outta Compton (2015) and The Fate of the Furious (2017) director F. Gary Gray to give the franchise a soft reboot in 2019’s Men in Black: International starring Thor: Ragnarok duo Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. Now officially a “universe”, the potential for more world-ending goo guns and intergalactic space worms is perhaps higher than ever, though waiting for Columbia to release a Men in Black movie takes about as long as surviving high school – 7 years on average – so maybe don’t hold your breath.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re comparing the four mainstream sci-fi/action comedies of the Men in Black franchise – films that cross three separate decades and twenty two years in total – to judge which of them can be considered great and which don’t quite hit the general standard of quality movie making, judging each on entertainment value, artistic merit, critical reception and audience perception for this, the Men in Black Movies Ranked.
Let us know your favourite Men in Black movie in the comments at the end of this article, and follow us on Twitter to never miss another list from The Film Magazine.
4. Men in Black II (2002)
If you liked the original Men in Black as a child, chances are that you liked Men in Black II too. Leaning slightly younger than the original, mostly in how it took the edge away from Will Smith’s Agent J (and therefore much of his charm), Men in Black II falls into the trap that many turn of the century sequels did: it tries to do the same again, only bigger. This time incorporating a love interest and themes regarding fate and more romanticised earthly thoughts, Men in Black II lacked the kick and much of the charm of number one, seemingly growing too concerned with elongated and largely unfunny skits involving lesser characters. Even so, it’s not as if this second entry doesn’t adequately quench the thirst of fans who enjoyed the original, Number II offering up more of the creatures, weapons and inventive action sequences that many would expect, ultimately being a worthy albeit less-than-spectacular Men in Black entry.
3. Men in Black: International (2019)
There’s nothing wholly offensive about Men in Black: International. In fact, the leading pair of Tessa Thompson (left) and Chris Hemsworth (right) offer some truly laugh out loud moments and seem to be having a lot of fun. The side characters are somewhat underwhelming, the narrative does become repetitive in its middle third and there’s a twist you can see coming a mile off (though this is done with a nod and a wink to the adults watching, so is far from as frustrating as it could have been), but overall this somewhat forgotten 2019 release is actually quite enjoyable. It’s not nearly as good as the films to come in this list, nor even close to the heights of director F. Gary Gray’s best work, but we’ve seen worse reboots in recent years and it’s unlikely anyone would mind seeing these two stars return for another Men in Black film.
Recommended for you: Every MCU Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Ranked