The last time a movie featured both Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, it broke numerous records and still looks set to beat Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time. Unfortunately, as it stands, Men in Black: International will be lucky if it breaks even at the box office by the end of its theatrical run.
So, why is it that the audience hasn’t gotten behind the fourth instalment in the Men in Black series?
The bad reviews haven’t helped matters much, but many people claim it’s due to the absence of the previous leads, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a bizarre claim since you could argue that Thompson and Hemsworth are much bigger box office draws now—especially after their appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but it’s likely true.
There was a time in Hollywood when franchises could sell themselves. Even when the stars left the series, the movies would go on (maybe making a little less money but still being profitable). This is why you’d see a hundred American Ninja or Kickboxer films, even if the leads departed a long time ago.
The audience, though, wised up to these tactics and began to reject the obvious cash grabs. Look at the horrendous Son of the Mask from 2005. New Line Cinema hilariously thought it could replace Jim Carrey with Jamie Kennedy and people would be fine with it. Let’s just say that film singlehandedly killed the franchise for the foreseeable future.
A more recent example is 2016’s Ghostbusters. Before the movie was even released, fans turned on it and refused to consider it part of the franchise, mostly because it wasn’t about the original gang (even if most of them did make cameos in the film). Not only did it bomb, but it also caused trauma to the people involved due to the sheer viciousness of the vitriol and fan backlash.
While Men in Black: International hasn’t received the same sort of flak as Ghostbusters, there’s a similarity: no one asked for it. Men in Black 3‘s release in 2012 was satisfying enough for fans of the series. There wasn’t an overwhelming demand for a fourth film or a continuation, but yet it arrived—albeit without Smith and Jones.
It’s difficult to predict if a fourth film, starring Smith and Jones, would’ve been more successful than the current release. That said, it would’ve certainly ignited more interest amongst long-time fans and generated more marketing buzz. Besides the trailers for Men in Black: International, Columbia Pictures did an awful job in marketing this movie and the average person didn’t even know it was being released. In fact, the biggest story about it is how it bombed worse than Dark Phoenix at the box office.
It’s summer season in the United States. This is the time when movies are supposed to make more money than we’ll ever see in our lifetime. In a weekend where Shaft was its only other contender, Men in Black: International only pulled in $28.5 million, narrowly beating out The Secret Life of Pets 2 in its second weekend.