Men In Black, the 1997 sci-fi comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, remains in the red despite making $589 million (£448 million) at the global box office over 20 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, that translates to $944 million (£718 million) in 2019 money, not taking into account extra ticket prices for 3D or IMAX.
This is according to the film’s screenwriter Ed Solomon, who adapted Lowell Cunningham’s comic book seriews for Sony Pictures, who then turned it into a mega-blockbuster with a $90 million (£68 million) budget that spawned three sequels and an animated series, not to mention shifting piles of merchandise.
Solomon, who also wrote all three Bill & Ted films, Now You See Me, and Charlie’s Angels (2000), shared on Twitter that he had received his “Men In Black profit statement” from the studio over the festive period which said that the film had lost “6x what it lost last period”, linking back to a previous tweet from June this year that said the film was “STILL in the red”.
Other filmmakers responded to Solomon’s post to complain about similar cases of creative accounting.
Jonathan Goldstein, one of the screenwriters of Spider-Man: Homecoming, said the $880 million-grossing Marvel movie was also “losing money” according to statements.
Source Code director Duncan Jones replied to the writer saying he was still owed “$50k of deferred payment” for his film that was produced by Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate subsidiary.
Katherine Fugate, the creator of Army Wives, says the problem isn’t just isolated to movies either, saying her ABC series never made any money despite running for seven seasons on a commercial television network.
Film studios like Sony often negotiate “back end” deals with creatives that offer a cut of a film’s gross profits: ie when they get into the black. However, due to the complicated way films are financed, distributed, and advertised, some huge films technically never make a penny. Negotiating a deal for net profits is a safer bet for creatives.
In 2010 it was revealed that 2007’s Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, which grossed $938.2 million worldwide, was still over $167 million in the red. David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, similarly never received residuals from Return of the Jedi, as Lucasfilm claimed the film never made a profit despite earning $572 million worldwide.
Profit disputes between New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, delayed the production of The Hobbit trilogy, and led to actors from the film suing the studio over unpaid profits.
Despite Men In Black’s apparent losses, Sony still released a fourth film earlier, but Men In Black: International was a flop with audiences, earning $254 million against a $110 million budget.