June 19, 2019

Fourth "Men in Black" film is the first without cigarettes

What makes Men in Black: International (PG-13, Sony) different from the three other movies in the two-decade-old franchise?

No Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones. No Barry Sonnenfeld as director. And, for the first time, no smoking on screen.

Men in Black (1997), Men in Black 2 (2002) and Men in Black 3 (2012) — all rated PG-13 — together featured sixty tobacco incidents and delivered two billion tobacco impressions to North American moviegoers of all ages. The first two Men in Black films even displayed the Marlboro brand.

So congratulations to Amblin, Sony and Parkes+MacDonald for catching on. It's only the second decade of the twenty-first century, right?

Part of a trend | This smokefree Men in Black is an example of an historic shift: less smoking in big-budget, youth-rated franchise films, designed for the global marketplace.

The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 13 obliges nations to stop tobacco promotion in entertainment media. Smokefree blockbusters are future-proofed against FCTC-driven changes to marketing rules on a host of media platforms. 

Here are the numbers | In 2002, when Men in Black 2 premiered, 78 percent of top-grossing, purely fictional PG-13 films with budgets over $80 million featured smoking. In 2018, only 17 percent did.

Tobacco incidents in this type of film fell 92 percent over the same period. Their audience tobacco impressions dropped 97 percent, from 16.3 billion to 544 million.

Unfortunately, youth-rated biographical dramas have canceled out much of the progress made by fictional films. As we recently documented, most of the smokers in so-called "biopix" are fictional add-ons, not real people. 

Shades of grey | Curious to know what Men in Black might look like from an alien's viewpoint? John Sayles' classic indie film, The Brother from Another Planet (R, 1984, IFC), had a budget 99% smaller than Men in Black: International — and it still feels startling and fresh.

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