Men in Black cost $375 million

When a sequel earns less than its predecessor, it’s usually a good indicator of waning public interest in the product. Such was the case with 2002’s Men in Black 2, which grossed $150 million less than the 1997 original. But it still earned $441 million worldwide, and Sony’s hoping that, 10 years after the fact, Men in Black 3 earns at least that much, because, according to the LA Times, it cost $375 million to make and market. Hoo boy, that’s expensive. And I’m told only half that went towards Will Smith’s gigantic trailer.

By the time it was over, the studio had run up a tab of nearly $250 million — making “Men in Black 3” one of the most expensive releases of the summer.

It was a family trip to Southeast Asia about three years ago that convinced [producer Walter] Parkes that “Men In Black” still resonated around the world when he spotted locals watching the original movie on TV in an airport. Smith, meanwhile, had a long-gestating concept for a new movie involving time travel. Eager to revive the franchise, Sony executives hired screenwriter Etan Cohen, hot off the success of the action-comedy “Tropic Thunder,” to write the script.

“And then my character travels back in time for some reason?” That was the idea? Wasn’t that a Simpsons episode? I’m not saying it’s not a great premise, I just want to know what they did with the killer robot driving instructor and the talking pie.

With Smith and the other talent lined up and a sizable New York City tax credit that was available only before the new year, Sony rushed the movie into production in fall 2010 despite not having hammered out all the plot elements.

As production moved ahead on scenes placed in the present day, Smith grew more vocal about his concerns over the portion of the story that was set in 1969 that was to be shot after the Christmas holidays.

“Hey, man! What about the time travel?”

To accommodate the rewrites, a holiday break that was intended to last two weeks was extended to mid-February and then again to March. Much of the crew was retained during that time, adding millions of dollars to an already hefty budget. Belgrad, who spent many more weeks on set than he typically does, said getting to the finish line was complicated by having to balance various creative elements into the story — a buddy comedy with ray-gun fights with slimy aliens, references to pop icons Lady Gaga and Andy Warhol, and a new emotional back story.

Despite all of the film’s obstacles, Sony executives believe they have a hit on their hands. Pre-release “tracking” surveys indicate that moviegoers’ interest in “Men in Black 3” is solid if not spectacular in the United States, and is through the roof across Europe and in such fast-growing markets as Russia and Brazil. Today, overseas ticket sales for big 3-D Hollywood movies frequently outsize their take at the North American box office. And Smith is a proven box-office draw around the world.

Ugh. Stupid foreigners. I know it’s bad karma, but I’ve really been hoping this movie would fail miserably. Every time I see Will Smith’s dumb wiener kids at a red carpet event with their latest stupid haircut, wearing a pair shoes with their own faces on them bedazzled in diamonds while some gossip columnist celebrates their “swag,” I want to stuff them in a box and mail them to the third world.

If the film succeeds, it could pave the way for a “Men in Black 4.” But any easy greenlight won’t necessarily guarantee an easy path back to theaters. [LATimes – picture via the LA Times]

(*swallows cocked pistol*)

I have a feeling the Men in Black franchise is going to be like one of those giant Madonna concerts in Eastern Europe, where you see her performing in front of 150,000 people, and you think to yourself, “What the hell? Who still listens to Madonna?”