How 'Bad Boys for Life' Overcame More Than a Decade of Delays to Be the Biggest Film of 2020

It's been a long road, but Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have made it worth the wait
How 'Bad Boys for Life' Overcame More Than a Decade of Delays to Be the Biggest Film of 2020
Promotional consideration provided by Sony Pictures

The first two Bad Boys films were smash hits that helped define a generation of buddy-cop action blockbusters. Not only were they commercial successes, they brought together some of Hollywood's biggest stars at the peak of their powers: director Michael Bay was on a triumphant run of films that included Armageddon and Pearl HarbourWill Smith catapulted from sitcom star to Hollywood leading man; and Martin Lawrence was such a beloved comic actor that he had his own eponymous show (Martin).

And then, for 17 years, nothing.

Despite rumblings of another sequel, the Bad Boys franchise seemed to be dead in the water. Its actors starred in other projects, Michael Bay abandoned the idea and moved on, and it seemed that Bad Boys would remain a beloved relic of another era. Too bad, too bad, watcha gonna do?

That's what makes Bad Boys for Life such a welcome surprise in 2020. Not only have Smith and Lawrence reprised their beloved characters, Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, but they have recaptured that original Bad Boys magic — and even improved on it.

With Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah taking over in the director's chair, Bad Boys for Life is a best-case scenario for fans of the original movies. It captures the edge-of-the-seat intrigue and comedic rapport that made Bad Boys so charming, and refines it with a clever plot filled with self-aware dad jokes and genuine emotional payoff. In our original review, Exclaim! noted, "This might just be the best Bad Boys yet."

So how did we get here? Let's look back on the past 17 years and explore how Bad Boys for Life overcame more than a decade of delays to be the biggest film of 2020.

2003-2007: No News Is Bad News
Bad Boys II is a box office hit. Its worldwide gross of $273 million is nearly twice that of the 1995 original.

The stars go their separate ways. Will Smith continues his run as one of Hollywood's top talents; in the next few years, he stars in action blockbusters like I, Robot (2004) and I Am Legend (2007), along with comedies like Hitch (2005) and the drama The Pursuit of Happyness (2007).

Martin Lawrence focuses on comedies like Rebound (2005), Big Momma's House 2 (2006) and Wild Hogs (2007).

Michael Bay directs the Ewan McGregor/Scarlett Johansson thriller The Island (2005) and launches the Transformers franchise. There isn't any progress on a new Bay Boys film for several years.

2008-2013: "We All Make Too Much Money"
Smith and Bay meet on the red carpet at the MTV Movie Awards and reportedly discuss making Bad Boys 3. Smith says [via Hollyscoop], "We need Bad Boys 3, but Michael is too expensive now." Bay concurs, saying, "We talk about it, but we all make too much money."

Nevertheless, by the following summer, development has begun on the film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Peter Craig is on board to pen the script. Bay is slated to direct, while Jerry Bruckheimer will return as producer.

2014: "Hopefully We Can Twist His Arm"
Bad Boys 3 still hasn't emerged, and Craig has moved on to write The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Bruckheimer is still trying to get Bay on board, and the producer tells Digital Spy, "We'd love to get Michael Bay [but] he's very busy right now. Hopefully we can twist his arm and get him in there." Bruckheimer taps screenwriter David Guggenheim to work on a storyline for Bad Boys 3, saying that a full screenplay will "hopefully" follow.

It appears that all systems are go: in an August appearance on Conan, Lawrence reveals that he recently spoke with Bruckheimer about the project. Lawrence says that the project is "real" and the script is "close." He jokingly suggests that Conan play a "crooked cop" in the film.

2015-2017: "I Don't Think It's Going to Happen"
According to Deadline, Guggenheim's draft of the script is complete. Joe Carnahan is reportedly in talks to help develop the screenplay and possibly direct. Sony releases a schedule of upcoming films; Bad Boys 3 is slated for February 17, 2007, and Bad Boys 4 is due to follow on July 3, 2019.

Delays soon follow: in early 2016, Bad Boys 3 gets pushed back to June 2, 2017. By the end of 2016, it has been postponed to January 12, 2018. Carnahan is still on board to direct the film, which is now officially titled Bad Boys for Life.

More delays. An updated Sony schedule from early 2017 now puts its release at November 9, 2018. Soon after, Carnahan exits as director due to scheduling conflicts, and The Hollywood Reporter indicates that his departure may be due to "creative differences." By summer 2017, Sony removes the film from the schedule entirely. In August, Lawrence tells Entertainment Weekly, "I don't think we're going to get one, not the way everything's turning out. Will is off doing another movie, and I don't think it's going to happen." The project appears to be dead.

2018: "It's Been a LOOOONG Time Coming"
It's back! In January, five months after Lawrence predicted that the film wouldn't happen, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah sign on as directors. According to The Playlist, the latest iteration of the script comes from Chris Bremner. Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch tells Variety, "If we're going to make another 'Bad Boys' after 15 years, it's got to be next-level great."

On November 1, Smith shares a video of himself and Lawrence on the beach in Santa Monica, CA. The clip is captioned, "It's been a LOOOONG time Coming. But now it's Here!" The Instagram post gets over 2.6 million likes.

Along with Smith and Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle and Bianca Bethune are all returning to reprise their roles.

2019: "That's a Wrap!"
On January 6, Will Smith posts on Instagram, revealing that it's his first day on set. Principle photography takes place in Atlanta, with subsequent shoots in Miami and Mexico City. Filming wraps up by the spring. Will Smith posts a photo of himself and Lawrence on Instagram along with the caption, "That's a Wrap! @BadBoys For Life - Ciudad de México. Now hand me a Margarita and a pack of tropical fruit bubblicious." In June, Smith shares a behind-the-scenes video from the Miami shoot on his YouTube channel.

The full cast features High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens, Hunger Games actor Alexander Ludwig and Riverdale star Charles Melton. Although Michael Bay isn't directing, he films a bit part as a wedding MC, and DJ Khaled has a small role. The screenplay is jointly credited to Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan. The official trailer arrives on September 4.

2020: "From Chase Scenes to Fistfights to Shoot-Outs"
Bad Boys for Life Soundtrack is announced, executive produced by DJ Khaled. It features Jaden Smith, Pitbull, Lil Jon, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Quavo, Rich the Kid, the Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin. Singer Nicky Jam, who appears in Bad Boys for Life as an actor, is also on the soundtrack.

In an interesting bit of history, Seth Rogen reveals that he and writing partner Evan Goldberg had worked on the Bad Boys II script many years earlier.

Bad Boys for Life opens on January 17 and it's an immediate commercial and critical success. Exclaim! writes that the film "strikes a nice balance between comedy and action throughout, lurching deftly from chase scenes to fistfights to shoot-outs, while keeping a few tricks up its sleeve for the third act."

The film soars to a worldwide $425.5 million at the box office. As of press time, it's by far the highest-grossing film of 2020. It's released digitally on March 31 and will be available on 4K ULTRA HD™ and Blu-ray™ on April 21.