How the 'Bad Boys' franchise found new life thanks to 2 Belgian directors who had never made a Hollywood movie before

How the 'Bad Boys' franchise found new life thanks to 2 Belgian directors who had never made a Hollywood movie before
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(L-R) Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in "Bad Boys for Life."

  • Adil El Arbi, who directed "Bad Boys for Life" with Bilall Fallah, spoke to Business Insider about making the duo's first mainstream movie.
  • Their Brussels-set second movie, "Black," grabbed the attention of mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, which launched them into the running to get the third "Bad Boys" sequel.
  • The filmmakers are also developing "Beverly Hills Cop 4."
  • El Arbi explained how rehearsals, and long talks inside Will Smith's trailer while shooting, led to "Bad Boys for Life" being a surprisingly good sequel.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are like many of us: They grew up watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence on the big screen in Michael Bay's "Bad Boys" movies.

In fact, when the two Moroccan-born filmmakers met at film school in the early 2000s and began collaborating, they would joke about how their future would turn out.

"Me and Bilall would always say, we are going to go to Hollywood and if they don't want to make 'Bad Boys' movies we are," El Arbi told Business Insider over the phone this week.


What was likely only a fun pipe dream has turned out to be how most audiences will be introduced to the filmmaking duo. 17 years after "Bad Boys II" was released - and after a slew of screenwriters and directors tried and failed to make a third movie - El Arbi and Fallah have done it with "Bad Boys for Life" (in theaters Friday).

El Arbi and Fallah first got on the industry's radar in 2015 with their second feature film, "Black." The modern-day spin on "Romeo and Juliet," set around gang life in Brussels, struck a cord with audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival that year, as the movie was given its Discovery Award. That led to the filmmakers getting managers and agents, which got their work in front of the mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

"For us it was just an honor that he would watch the movie," El Arbi said.

But when they had a sit down with Bruckheimer in 2016, they didn't waste their chance: They told the producer they wanted to make the third "Bad Boys."

What they didn't know was Bruckheimer had been trying to make the movie for close to a decade.

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"Bad Boys II."Five years after 2003's "Bad Boys II" took in an impressive $273.3 million at the worldwide box office, Bruckheimer, Bay, and Smith began discussing a third movie. It also began a revolving door of screenwriters and directors to the project. Bay left after two screenwriters took a pass at the movie (there was no bad blood, he makes a cameo in "Bad Boys for Life"), leading to Joe Carnahan ("Narc," "The Grey") taking the writer-director reins in the spring of 2015. By that summer, Sony had announced it wasn't just going to release one "Bad Boys" sequel but two, as "Bad Boys 3" was slated for 2017 and part four would open in 2019.

Bruckheimer offered El Arbi and Fallah another franchise to dust off, Eddie Murphy's "Beverly Hills Cop 4." The duo began to develop that at Paramount and in 2017 shot the pilot episode of the FX series, "Snowfall."

But then a bit of movie magic helped them.

Things weren't progressing with "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Bad Boys 3," now called "Bad Boys for Life," found itself stalled in constant delays (the idea of a fourth movie was also scrapped) leading to Carnahan exiting the project due to scheduling conflicts and creative differences (Carnahan still has a screenwriter credit).


El Arbi and Fallah were suddenly at the top of the depth cart, especially since Will Smith had seen "Black" and loved it.

The duo quickly signed on and newcomer Chris Bremner was brought in to do the latest pass on the script.

On paper, "Bad Boys for Life" should have been the latest example of an out-of-date franchise that had no business being back in theaters, but, surprisingly, El Arbi and Fallah may have brought this IP back from the dead.

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(L-R) Martin Lawrence and Will Smith team up with a new breed of Miami PD cops in "Bad Boys for Life" played by Charles Melton, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Paola Nuñez.

"Bad Boys for Life" finds Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) still wreaking havoc on the Miami streets, but after a sudden attack on one of them (that's all we're going to say, no spoilers), the duo suddenly realize they might be a little too old for the game. But teaming with Miami PD's new division, Ammo, Lowery and Burnett decide to go on one last ride to take down the bad guys.

Thanks to the hilarious back-and-forth banter between Smith and Lawrence, impressive action, a great supporting cast (that includes Joe Pantoliano, Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Nuñez, and telenovela superstar Kate del Castillo), and a never-saw-that-coming third act twist, Sony could have 2020's first box office blockbuster hit.

El Arbi said what he believes makes the movie work is its mix of highlighting trademarks from Michael Bay's time as director (there are some shots that feel almost like carbon copy Bay shots) with the talents of Smith and Lawrence for making the audience care about their characters while dishing out funny moments.

"We rehearsed a month before shooting and even while we shot," El Arbi said. "Will was really pushing to make it great."

El Arbi said often when everyone broke for lunch during production a small group of people that included him, Fallah, and Lawrence would be in Smith's trailer going over the upcoming scenes for next week's shoot and tweaking them. Sometimes they even came up with whole new scenes.

That's how the scene where Lowrey and Burnett pay a visit to a violent accountant high out of his mind on cocaine got in the movie (it's the, "I'm going to penetrate this man's soul with my heart" scene in the trailer).


"That wasn't in the script, but we felt we needed a big comedy moment there, so that was a scene we created during the shoot," El Arbi said. "Will and Martin wrote it down and then we had three days to find a location and cast the actor. The next week, we shot it."

El Arbi admitted he and Fallah at times felt intimidated by the size of the movie they were making, but that Smith and Lawrence helped them get comfortable.

"What was great was if we had a problem they were right there to help us solve it," he said.

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Ben Rothstein/Sony

(L-R) "Bad Boys for Life" directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.

And this might not be the last time the four work together. With a 78% Rotten Tomatoes score for "Bad Boys for Life," it's not just the best-reviewed movie in the trilogy, but the first to get a fresh score.

As Sony figures out where to go with the franchise, El Arbi said he and Fallah still haven't given up on making "Beverly Hills Cop 4" one day. But he also wants to bring the gritty storytelling from their past to the mainstream, as well.

"We want to change it up," El Arbi said. "We don't want to only do action stuff. What attracted us to 'Bad Boys' and 'Beverly Hills Cop' were the characters, so we want to also do edgy and small stuff."

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