Phil Lord and Christopher Miller once developed a crossover between the Jump Street and Men In Black franchises – here’s why we never saw MIB23.
One franchise is about a covert agency regulating alien activity on Earth and the other is about a pair of bone-headed undercover cops infiltrating high schools. On the surface, the only thing that really connects Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men In Black movies with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street and its sequel is that they’re Sony productions.
And yet, under the working title of MIB23, the mooted crossover between the two is one of more tantalising sequels-that-never-were in recent memory. It would have been a wild departure for both franchises, but perhaps less so for 22 Jump Street, whose all-timer of a closing credits gag cast Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in hilarious potential sequels ranging from number 23 to infinity, taking them from medical school to outer space.
Had they wanted to continue the Jump Street series as if all those other films had happened in between and now immature cops Jenko and Schmidt were doing a Men In Black, then who’s to argue? 22 Jump Street was a big enough hit to justify further instalments but given how a lot of the jokes in both movies are designed around how ridiculous it is that they’re making a Jump Street film, not to mention a sequel, then testing the same formula again might have been pushing it slightly.
All corporate synergy aside, you can see the appeal of undercover cops mingling with the undercover alien culture we know from the other MIB movies. Nevertheless, we’ve had a soft reboot of Men In Black since then and it’s been seven years and counting since the last Jump Street movie – so what happened?
While the Jump Street movies were big hits, the Men In Black franchise was at a standstill. It took ten years to get from Men In Black II to 2012’s Men In Black 3, which wound up going well over budget even before the expensive back-end box-office deals held by stakeholders like returning stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The film would crack the top 10 highest-grossing films of that year and still be considered a disappointment at Sony.
Earlier the same year, 21 Jump Street was a surprise hit for the studio and in summer 2014, 22 Jump Street built on that success. While talk of a fourth Men In Black film had cooled even before Part 3 hit cinemas, (on the press tour, Sonnenfeld joked that at the rate of production on the first three, MIB4 would come out in 2032 and star Jaden Smith) Sony executives knew they wanted more of both franchises, though they were openly looking for a different direction from the existing trilogy, sans Smith, Jones, and Sonnenfeld.
That summer, Columbia chief executive Doug Belgrad stated: “We’re going to do [another Men In Black], but we don’t have clarity yet on how it should be done.”
News of the crossover idea first emerged in December 2014, as a result of the unprecedented cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, which we won’t delve into in any further detail here. Happily, Lord and Miller later confirmed that the project was in development in an interview with MTV.
As you’d expect from the guys who also turned the idea of a LEGO movie into The LEGO Movie, they said: “It’s still a crazy idea and we only do things that seem like they’re going to be terrible.”
In the following years, the duo worked on the script with co-writer Rodney Rothman and turned in a draft that garnered the approval of Hill and Tatum, who duly boarded the third outing, and Sony executives, who officially announced the project and its title MIB23 in April 2016.
By this point, Lord and Miller were working on Solo: A Star Wars Story (oh boy, now there’s a story for another time) so they were set to produce the film, while James Bobin then fresh off making two Muppets movies and Alice Through The Looking Glass, was officially attached to direct. The studio reportedly hoped to get the film in cinemas by summer 2017, but things didn’t quite pan out that way.
Black Suits Comin’…
At the time the film was announced, it was reported that production could start in June 2016, but over the following months, the financial negotiations apparently slowed things right down.
Back-end deals were seen to have had an impact on Men In Black 3’s profitability, which led to the decision to reboot without Smith and Jones starring. However, merging two franchises meant keeping two lots of producers happy and persuading them to forego existing deals from the standalone films. In Men In Black’s corner, there was Steven Spielberg, as well as franchise stalwarts Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, and over on Jump Street, there was Lord and Miller and Original Film’s Neal Moritz.
By August, Hill was doubtful that the film would get made, stating in The Toronto Sun: “They’re trying to make all the deals, but it’s kind of impossible with all the Men In Black stuff.”
He further mused: “The Jump Street films were so fun to make and the whole joke of them was they were making fun of remakes and sequels and reboots and then now it’s become a giant sequel, reboot. It’s almost become what we were making fun of and it’s hard to maintain that joke when it’s so high stakes.”
However, during development, Sony Pictures’ long-time chairperson Amy Pascal stepped down and was replaced by Tom Rothman (no relation to Rodney). As is fairly common for big franchises at Hollywood studios nowadays, Sony also had a standalone Men In Black reboot in parallel development. While the studio wanted the crossover, it fell to Rothman to give the go-ahead to the reboot when the deals didn’t align.
Given the delays and behind-the-scenes battles on all three of the previous Men In Black films, what followed came together relatively quickly. Men In Black: International was announced in February 2018 and was in cinemas in June 2019, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as overseas MIB agents. It was on the press tour for this reboot that Parkes and MacDonald cited creative reasons for the Jump Street crossover falling by the wayside.
Parkes told Cinema Blend, of the two franchises: “They are at, their heart, opposites. In other words, Men In Black comes down to taking extraordinary situations and playing them in a comedic deadpan way. Jump Street is taking very recognizable genre situations and going over the top with them.
“And, actually, that doesn’t mesh. It was a good intention, and everyone was smart, but when you really step back and look at what’s at the heart of either of those two series of movies, they’re not very compatible.”
MacDonald added: “I think everyone felt creatively, ‘Not quite; almost.’ […] It was just a crazy impulse that was worth exploring.”
It’s worth noting at this juncture that the Men In Black films were historically PG-rated entertainment, while both Jump Streets were firmly R-rated. Perhaps MIB23 would have been expected to meet in the middle at PG-13, even if there’s nothing strictly saying that a Men In Black reboot (as this surely would have to be) couldn’t be R-rated except commercial considerations.
Even so, both Jump Streets did more than wash their faces at the worldwide box office, while the MIB sequels had underperformed. Either way, whether for creative or financial reasons, the project had two sets of producers having their say and it’s probably not the best conditions in which to make a film like this.
As Parkes later said to Empire Magazine in January 2019: “We gave it a shot. It turned out to be an impossible match-up.”
A Jump too far?
And so, MIB23 joined the annals of weird film crossover ideas that never actually came to pass, alongside such could-have-been hits as Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash and G.I. Joe Meets The Transformers.
By summer 2019, the standalone route didn’t work out for Men In Black: International too well – it garnered the worst reviews of the series and bombed at the worldwide box office too. Despite its solid ensemble cast, the film is a low point for the franchise all round, travelling too far from the unique selling points of the previous films, especially the original’s sense of humour. Not even a cameo from serial crap-film extra Piers Morgan could save it.
Meanwhile, parallel development was going on with the Jump Street series too. Lord reported in 2019 that they’d reserved the number 23 (not the Jim Carrey movie) in case the crossover came back around, they’d moved onto 24 Jump Street for the previously announced female-led spin-off.
As of November 2020, that project has been renamed as Jump Street: Now For Her Pleasure, with writers Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux Logelin working on the current draft of Rodney Rothman’s script. The spin-off is set to star Tiffany Haddish and Zendaya as Jump Street cops who pose as a high-school teacher and her student daughter.
Maybe we’ll never get to see some of the more obvious gags that the premise suggests, like Schmidt and Jenko repeatedly neuralize each other (ideally while sat opposite grumpy police captain Nick Offerman, wearing shades and explaining the premise to them over and over again each time they forget) or otherwise pretending to be school students in an entire school of aliens pretending to be students. But as it stands, we’re probably closer to a new Jump Street movie than we are to another new Men In Black…
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