The Men in Black Films Ranked

Tristan Ettleman
4 min readJul 1, 2019

I watched the first two MEN IN BLACK films, just, a whole lot when I was kid. Maybe too much. MEN IN BLACK II was one of the first DVDs I owned, and it probably would have eventually degraded and played back all weird if it was a VHS tape. But those are the ones worth watching like that, if there was such a thing. The years-later sequel, MEN IN BLACK 3, and now the new spin-off, MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL, don’t quite measure up. But OK, let me just rank the dang movies and write about them in that way.


D: F. Gary Gray

Look, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are awesome. They had great chemistry in THOR: RAGNAROK (2017). But they were also working with more interesting characters and writing. Their agents in INTERNATIONAL are not unlikeable, but the chemistry is not on par with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The rest of the movie, too, lacks the delight of the “hidden world” of relatively mundane extraterrestrial life on Earth. There are a few moments, but they’re brought to life with underwhelming CGI. The little Kumail-Nanjiani-voiced chess-piece-like alien steals the show, though. For all the theme music and slick camera pulls away from slick cars that disgorge Hemsworth and Thompson in their slick suits and fisheye-lens-ish moments that call back to the original movies’ characters’ interactions with miniscule creatures, INTERNATIONAL fails to capture the heart of MEN IN BLACK. Or the humor.

#3 — MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012)

D: Barry Sonnenfeld

MEN IN BLACK 3 wasn’t able to capture them fully either, but we still had Smith and Jones. Kind of. Josh Brolin displaced Tommy Lee for much of the movie, a time-traveling adventure with Jemaine Clement at its villainous center. So that’s a plus; everything is improved by a Clement appearance. But as with a lot of years-later sequels (ten years passed between II and 3), MEN IN BLACK 3 feels a bit out of step from the magic but approximates the experience of its predecessors enough to not be wholly uninteresting.

#2 — MEN IN BLACK (1997)

D: Barry Sonnenfeld

It was tough to put the original movie here, it really was. I won’t lie, nostalgia has a bit to do with it; I’ve definitely seen II more often than the first MEN IN BLACK over the years. It was pretty difficult to override the sheer novelty of the first film, with its inventive integration of aliens into Earth’s secret reality and newcomer J (Will Smith) as the stand in for the audience. The practical effects are cool, Vincent D’Onofrio’s evil bug alien is increasingly threatening and funny at the same time, the supporting cast (Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, a David Cross appearance) is on point; MEN IN BLACK is just a well-rounded ’90s action comedy.

#1 — MEN IN BLACK II (2002)

D: Barry Sonnenfeld

But II just ramped everything up. The effects are a bit better while still adhering to the style guide of the first movie. I can’t necessarily say Lara Flynn Boyle’s Serleena is a better villain than Edgar the Bug, but the connection to K’s story line, the TWILIGHT ZONE-esque framing program, and the MacGuffin are a bit more compelling. Rosario Dawson plays a better love interest for Will Smith (although it really does bring to mind the Childish Gambino lyric “The same reason Will Smith always opposite Latina girls”), and the great supporting cast from the first film returns. Plus Johnny Knoxville as Serleena’s scummy two-headed henchman. Shut it down, we’ve got a winner.