Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald originally wanted Barry Sonnenfeld to direct, because he had helmed the darkly humorous Addams Family movies. However, Sonnenfeld was making Get Shorty (1995) at the time, so Les Mayfield was going to replace him, because of the positive reception to his film Miracle on 34th Street (1994). The producers saw that film later, and decided he was inappropriate for a science fiction comedy, so they decided to wait until Sonnenfeld was available.
Vincent D'Onofrio researched his role as Edgar, by watching a lot of bug documentaries. In order to achieve his character's distinctive walk, he put on knee braces so he couldn't bend his legs, and taped up his ankles.
The site BadAstronomy, famed for bashing science fiction movies (such as Armageddon (1998)) about their science blunders, praised this movie for being comedic, yet surprisingly accurate, when it comes to astronomy facts.
Tommy Lee Jones only accepted the role of K after Steven Spielberg promised the script would improve. He had been disappointed with the first draft, which he felt did not capture the tone of the comic.
The little ball J accidentally sends smashing around MIB headquarters, is said by K to be, "a practical joke from the Great Attractor". In astronomy, the Great Attractor is an actual entity, first detected in 1973, a gravitational anomaly approximately 250 million light-years from Earth that affects the motion of every galaxy within hundreds of millions of light-years.
Rick Baker claims his work on this film was his most complex to date, as he had to have approval on his alien designs from both Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg: "It was like, 'Steven likes the head on this one and Barry really likes the body on this one, so why don't you do a mix and match?' And I'd say, because it wouldn't make any sense."
When K is in the restaurant with James, the scene starts with K telling the punchline of a joke that's likely a variation of the following: A farmer went to town with his pet rooster to see a movie. Animals weren't allowed in the theater, so he put the rooster in his overalls' front pocket and smuggled it with him into the crowded theater. When the lights were dimmed, he let the bird peek out so it could see. The woman sitting next to him noticed, and she nudged her husband. "This man's a pervert, he's got his thing out." Her husband replied, "So? It's nothing you haven't seen before." To which his wife said, "But honey, this one's eating my popcorn!"
The film was going to be set in underground bases and locations, including Kansas, Washington, D.C., and Nevada, but Barry Sonnenfeld made New York City the film's main Earth location. He thought it was more believable that aliens could hide out in a large city (safety in crowds), and thought New Yorkers would be more tolerant of people who behaved oddly (who were, in fact, aliens in disguise). He also felt that many of the city structures resembled flying saucers and rocket ships, which could be REAL spacecraft, and other hidden alien technology.
John Landis was offered the chance to direct, but declined, feeling it was basically just "The Blues Brothers (1980) with aliens". He has since said that he was wrong, and he regrets turning down the film.
The sunglasses used by the Men in Black are the Ray-Ban "Predator 2" glasses. After the film's release, Ray-Ban reported that sales of these glasses tripled, from 1.6 million dollars to 5 million dollars.
When K reveals there are about 1,500 aliens on Earth, and most of them are in Manhattan just trying to make a living, James asks "Cab drivers?". This is a reference to writer Douglas Adams's 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' novels, particularly the fourth novel 'So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish', where archivist Ford Prefect's entry in the Guide hints that driving a cab is a good way to make a living for aliens visiting New York City.
Lowell Cunningham's comic 'The Men in Black' was much darker and dryer than the family-oriented science fiction comedy this film adaptation was. In the comics, the MiB survey not only extraterrestrial activity, but paranormal and supernatural activity on Earth as well. They are allowed to maintain secrecy by any means necessary (including elimination); they also had a secret agenda: to manipulate and reshape the world in their own image by keeping the supernatural hidden.
When James (Will Smith) jumps from the overpass onto the tour bus, he jumps from Pershing Square Bridge, the same location where Robert Neville (also Smith) is attacked by the demon dogs after the sun goes down in I Am Legend (2007).
The American Humane Society made sure no animals were hurt during filming, including cockroaches. Will Smith was actually crushing mustard packets. At the end of the day, they had to count all the roaches and make sure none were missing.
During pre-production, Barry Sonnenfeld changed a lot of the film's aesthetic: "I started out saying aliens shouldn't be what humans perceive them to be. Why do they need eyes? So Rick did these great designs, and I'd say, 'That's great - but how do we know where he's looking?' I ended up where everyone else did, only I took three months."
Much of the MiB traits and characteristics are in keeping with established lore of Men in Black. For example, supposed encounters with MiBs, witnesses report they use outdated jokes and vernacular, and that their dress and vehicle seem to be dated as well. In the Chinese restaurant, Agent K tells James, "Be there or be square.", an expression that's out-of-place for a mid-1990s conversation.
According to production designer Bo Welch, the MiB headquarters was designed to resemble a 1960's airport (the examination room of the MiB was particularly based on the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport). He used the 1960s theme, because that was when MiB started up (as well as the decade of the space craze), and the airport design was because MiB's extraterrestrial affairs include their arrival and settlement to Earth, which airports assist in.
When James is in the elevator with Agent K, he tells him that he does not want to be called "sport" or "kid", or anything like that. K continues to call him things like that throughout the film. It's not until the end, right before he is neuralyzed, that K finally calls him "J".
Through an apparent lab error, at least portions of the release prints used in the U.S. were not hard matted for spherical widescreen projection. This meant that if the projectionist did not properly frame the projected image, the audience would be able to see lens shades, microphones and other things not normally visible in the frame area.
The driver smuggling illegal aliens along a road marked "375" claims to have been "fishing in Cuernavaca." 375 refers to Nevada State Road 375, known as the "Extraterrestrial Highway" for being near Area 51. Cuernavaca is the Mexican city which British ufologist Gordon Creighton claimed a flying saucer had crashed near in 1951 and the saucer's dead aliens thereupon whisked away by the U.S. Air Force with Mexico's alleged cooperation.
After script rewrites, looking for a more action-oriented ending, the original animatronic Bug was discarded after eight months of development. The new sequence using a redesigned Bug containing 45 CGI shots, at a cost of 100,000 dollars each. According to Barry Sonnenfeld "It was the best 4.5 million dollars we spent".
The success of the film inspired Marvel (who, by 1997, owned the property) to option other properties for development, later collaborating with Columbia Pictures to produce Spider-Man (2002), among other projects.
Yasushi Nirasawa worked on some designs for the Edgar Bug, which ultimately went unused. One of his takes on the Edgar Bug was a creature more humanoid in form, with two heads and very long arms which resembled the forelegs of a praying mantis.
Originally, the idea for the Arquillians was meant for a minor character, a bartender named Chuckie, originally to prove that he was an alien, he was to shoot a beam of light from his head, Rick Baker suggested that he was a tiny alien living inside the head of a robot body, ultimately the character was cut, but the producers liked Baker's idea so much, they decided to use it for characters that were more important to the plot.
Originally, the plot centered around a battle between the Arquillians and the Baltians, another alien race. They decided they didn't need the Baltian subplot, so they changed the subtitles in the diner scene.
When K searches for his old girlfriend, the satellite video feed of her lists coordinates of 44.41 degrees north by 70.0 degrees west. On a map, those coordinates are in the small town of Readfield, Maine, at a point about 300 feet east of Chimney Road and 2,000 feet north of Chimney's intersection with Main Street in Kent's Hill. (And nowhere near Truro, Massachusetts, over 160 miles away. But the discrepancy might be explained by the use of an alien coordinate system required by the "Tycho Treaty".)
At one point in the movie, James jumps from a bridge into a bus full of tourists. The bridge where he jumps is the same where Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Hulk fight against Chitauri's army in The Avengers (2012).
The scene where James chases a disguised alien, was to occur at the Lincoln Center. But once the New York Philharmonic decided to charge the filmmakers for using their buildings, Barry Sonnenfeld and Bo Welch went for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
To make them into credible flying saucers, the CGI renditions of the towers at Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, where the finale takes place, are substantially different from the actual buildings. Primarily, there are actually three structures of varying height, not two as shown in the film. Additionally, the saucer dish of the shortest tower intersects with the poles of the taller ones, and the dish of the mid-sized tower intersects with the pole of the largest one. Therefore, there is really only one complete saucer, on top of the tallest building. Moreover, the dish atop the highest tower is double the thickness of the shorter tower, not equal, as depicted in the film.
As K checks on his ex-girlfriend in Truro, Massachusetts, the spy satellite at first locks on (or on a spot very near) two invisibly-small firing ranges inside Otis Air National Guard Base, approximately thirty miles from Truro. This seems arbitrary, or a goof. But nearby is the giant missile-tracking radar of Cape Cod Air Force Station, home of the 6th Space Warning Squadron, one of whose tasks is to track all known Earth-orbiting objects "or any new orbiting objects." (Official mission statement.) Also, just a few miles to the south, is Otis's old, but still-active Guard training center called (oddly enough) Camp Edwards.
The neon sign in the front window of the Russian restaurant translates into English as "Good Food." The sign is also listed under goofs/continuity for missing letters during the scenes filmed inside the restaurant.
Much of the initial script drafts were set underground, with locations ranging from Kansas to Washington, D.C., and Nevada. Barry Sonnenfeld decided to change the location to New York City, because he felt New Yorkers would be tolerant of aliens who behaved oddly while disguised. He also felt much of the city's structures resembled flying saucers and rocket ships.
The double-action revolver carried by the tow-truck driver and later by Edgar in the morgue scene is a Ruger Super Redhawk .44 Magnum, which is available in two barrel lengths. This one has a 9-1/2" barrel and weighs 58 ounces (i.e., a little over 3-1/2 pounds) empty.
Jay says, "Don't start nothing, won't BE nothing," to Edgar the Bug. Eighteen years later, Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, is rumored to star in DC's television show Static Shock, based on the DC comic Static. On the cover of the 1993, Static #1 has the quote, "You don't start none, there won't Be none."
Rick Baker was one of the artists that was brought in by Steven Spielberg to design E.T. for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The job eventually went to Carlo Ramboldi, but Baker eventually went on to work on another Spielberg production, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). This marks their third collaboration together.
The explanation that K originally puts in Beatrice's head is an Easter Egg for UFO geeks. It nonsensically mixes 4 of the most infamous cases of scientific explanations of UFO sightings by the US government. Those include 'swamp gas' (Dr. J. Allen Hynek's explanation of a Michigan sighting that had haunted him for years), 'weather balloon' (the original explanation for the Roswell incident), 'thermal pocket' (mass Washington D.C. UFO sighting of 1952) and 'light from Venus' (arguably the most frequently used explanation).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to the novelization, James is right to shoot Tiffany, the cardboard cutout on the MiB firing range. She's actually a dangerous alien in disguise, while all of the other aliens around are completely harmless.
At the end of the film, Agent J reveals to Agent L that Dennis Rodman is an alien. This was changed to Michael Jackson in the German, Spanish and French dubbing of the film due to Dennis Rodman not being widely known in Germany, Spain nor France. Oddly enough, Michael Jackson makes a cameo appearance in Men in Black II (2002).
During the shoot, there was a script revision which changed the role of the 'Galaxy' in the movie - the two Arquillians at the restaurant were originally warring species, who would exchange the galaxy to end a war which the Edgar Bug wanted to keep going. Fortunately, some creative tricks could be used to avoid having to re-shoot several scenes. For instance, the Arquillian restaurant dialogue was originally in English, but was redubbed in post-production in an alien language, that could be subtitled with a new explanation. Similarly, new lines were written for Frank the Pug, whose scenes had to go through post-production anyway. Barry Sonnenfeld could be heard on the DVD bonus material jokingly advising fellow directors to include a talking dog into every movie, which makes it easy to change the plot while filming.
The final scene reveals that our universe is seen to exist in a gaming marble, just like the Galaxy. Both the scene, and concept of the miniature Galaxy, were inspired from Douglas Adams's novel 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', where Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent he knew of a planet that got used in a game of inter-galactic bar billiards and was potted into a black hole ("only scored thirty points, too").
The ending of the movie is a long-take with the camera showing planet Earth, moving away to show Mars and the rest of the planets, the solar system and finally the Milky Way, depicting this as a little gaming rumble property of a gigantic alien being. The same idea was used in Contact (1997), released nine days later, but the scene is changed to continue moving shown more galaxies, super-galaxies and finally the entire universe, closing with a head-shot of young Ellie Arroway (Jena Malone). In 2004, The Simpsons (1989) paid tribute to this scene repeating it in the Couch Gag, in The Simpsons: The Ziff Who Came to Dinner (2004). In it, after showing the entire universe, galaxies were turned in atoms, DNA's chains and cells, with the camera finally exiting from Homer's head.
After the Edgar Bug kills the Arquillians in the diner, he leaves the restaurant and walks down the sidewalk. The camera cuts back to the cat in the restaurant where we hear the cat growl. The cat's growl is actually a sound effect from the "zombie" monster in the 1996 PC game Quake (1996).
Its highly likely that Orion, the cat of Gentle Rosenburg, is also a more than coincidental reference to Ellen Ripley's cat Jones in Alien (1979). Both in terms of a loyal companion, and also certain shots of the cats' reactions to both films' aliens are nearly identical.