What Happened to Bad Boys?

Bad Boys spawned a franchise spanning thirty years, but was originally planned as a low-rent comedy. How did it become an action super hit?

“Freeze mother bitches!” What’s the all-time best buddy cop movie ever made? 48 Hrs? Lethal Weapon? Beverly Hills Cop? Rush Hour? The Nice Guys? In terms of story and dramatic action, any one of these titles warrants serious consideration. But when it comes to the onscreen rapport and natural chemistry between two stars in a buddy cop movie, it’s hard to beat 1995’s Bad Boys – the directorial debut of the divisive filmmaker Michael Bay. Sure, Bay has earned a rightful rep as a bold and boisterous music-video director turned filmmaker who favors big, dumb, pyrotechnic excesses over quality cinematic storytelling. 

However, Bay does deserve at least a modicum of credit for pairing the comedic talents of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence together as Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett – two immensely likable Miami narcotics officers who trade crackling banter and witty one-liners whose onscreen partnership drives the engagement and entertainment level. Indeed, without the effortless comedic energy and comic timing displayed by Smith and Lawrence, there would almost certainly not be a fourth Bad Boys movie headed to theaters (check out our review HERE).

But get this. Did you know that the original title Bad Boys was Bulletproof Hearts, conceived as a starring vehicle for SNL stars Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz? Hell, did you know that Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes were first considered to play Mike and Marcus? Better yet, are you aware that most of the dialog was improvised by Smith and Lawrence due to a problematic screenplay that Michael Bay downright detested? Well, we’re about to peel back the curtain and detail the checkered production history and find out for real, What Happened to Bad Boys!

A buddy comedy for Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz?

In the early stages of development, Bad Boys was originally titled Bulletproof Hearts. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson felt the material was suited for SNL alums Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz and sought to pair them to play the two narcotics officers, Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. Simpson, the notoriously unhinged Hollywood producer who died of a cocaine overdose in 1996 just 8 months after Bad Boys was released, arranged a meeting with Carvey and Lovitz in Las Vegas. During the meeting, Carvey was reportedly so disturbed by Simpson’s wild behavior that he turned down the role of Mike Lowrey on the spot. Once Carvey declined to star, Disney put the film in turnaround. Once Sony purchased the rights to the screenplay for $3 million, the studio hired Michael Bay to direct the film.

bad boys 1995

As mentioned, the production of Bad Boys began with Michael Bay’s dissatisfaction with the screenplay. Bad Boys came from a story by George Gallo, and the script was accredited to Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, and Doug Richardson. Despite Sony purchasing the screenplay from Disney for $3 million, Bay was never happy with the generic story beats and banal dialogue. Although several scribes were recruited to rewrite the script, including David Milch, James Toback, and others, Columbia only agreed to pay $10,000 for the rewrites. With such a paltry fee, Bay ultimately insisted that his two stars rewrite their lines and improvise the dialogue on the spot based on their pre-established comedic personas. However, Smith and Lawrence were not the first choices to play Mike and Marcus in the movie.

Before Smith and Lawrence were cast, Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes were considered to star as the two leads. Bruckheimer and Simpson famously produced Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy, and Snipes was in the middle of his successful ‘90s action movie run. Funnily enough, Martin Lawrence mentions Snipes in the opening scene of Bad Boys by evoking the actor by name and mentioning Passenger 57, an amusing in-joke that holds up well. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes would go on to star in Dolemite is My Name and Coming 2 America over 20 years later. 

Speaking of Coming 2 America, Arsenio Hall was also offered the role of Mike Lowrey and claimed that turning it down was the dumbest decision of his entire career. Some accounts differ on whether Smith or Lawrence was cast first. Bay insists he cast Smith after Arsenio Hall dropped out, claiming that he recognized the star potential Smith shined on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Other reports claim that Sony was already interested in making an action film with Smith and Simpson and Bruckheimer convinced Sony to hire Lawrence. However, in Smith’s memoir, he credits Lawrence with convincing him to star in Bad Boys, indicating that Lawrence was the first of the two leads cast in Bad Boys. Lawrence credits his sister, Rae Proctor, for suggesting he work with Smith. Lawrence also told GQ Magazine years later that Laurence Fishburne declined the role of Mike Lowrey. Regardless, it’s also worth noting that Marisa Tomei was considered to play Julie Mott before Tea Leoni was cast. 

Will Smith becomes an action hero

Although Bad Boys had a reported estimated budget of $19 million, Bay contradicts himself on the DVD commentary. At first, Bay says the budget was $17 million but later states he had only $9 million to make the movie. The lack of funding was a consistent problem throughout the production. At one point, Bay paid the studio $25,000 – a quarter of his directing fee – to reshoot the climactic action scene at Opa-Locka Airport. 

Principal photography on Bad Boys began on June 27, 1994, and lasted until August 31, 1994. Although the story was originally set in New York City, Bay opted to film in Miami, Florida. Notable Miami filming locations include the Biltmore Hotel, The Tides Hotel on South Beach, and the aforementioned Opa-Locka Airport. The movie’s police station was filmed on the second floor of the Alfred DuPoint building in downtown Miami. Police Headquarters were filmed at the Dade County Courthouse. Meanwhile, the scenes inside the heroin lab were filmed on a cargo ship docked on the Miami River. 

The rapid two-month film shoot had to accommodate Lawrence and Smith’s busy schedules for their popular TV shows. Remember, Smith’s star-making role as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lasted from 1990 to 1996, while the beloved sitcom Martin lasted from 1992 to 1997. The two comedic stars made Bad Boys in the middle of their iconic TV runs, which only makes their performances as Mike and Marcus more impressive. The final season of Fresh Prince even references Bad Boys. In the episode “I, Stank Horse,” Nicky Banks complains that he is forbidden from watching Bad Boys. Will Smith responds by saying, “Bad Boys, huh? Whatcha gonna do?” 

The opening scene in Bad Boys introduces Mike and Marcus while being held up by two carjackers. Believe it or not, this scene was filmed several weeks after principal photography wrapped. Bay and the studio felt the movie needed a more comedic and compelling introduction that established the playful chemistry between Mike and Marcus, and a new opener was created. The Porsche 911 used in the reshot opening belonged to Michael Bay, which he donated to the production after the studio refused to pay for a rental and the car manufacturer failed to sponsor the production. Once Bay showed the reshot opening to his mother Harriet, she complained about the excessive profanity. As a result, Bay re-edited the scene and removed most of the foul language to appease his mother. 

Another early scene takes place inside a Miami boxing gym, where Mike reunites with his old friend Max. The shots of Marcus futzing around the gym equipment were ad-libbed by Lawrence on the day and inserted into the scene after the fact. The irony of Lawrence struggling to hit the punching bag is also a sly in-joke referring to Lawrence’s past as a Mid-Atlantic Golden Gloves boxing contender in Maryland before his acting career began. Due to Lawrence and Smith’s ability to improvise on the spot, coupled with the screenplay deficiencies, Bay encouraged the two stars to ad-lib as often as possible in the movie. 

bad boys tea Leon

According to Bay, the Bad Boys screenplay was a “piece of shit.” In the DVD commentary, Bay traces the script problems back to the original drafts of Bulletproof Hearts tailored to Carvey and Lovitz. Bay states:

“The funny thing about Bad Boys was it was written so white,” adding, “I guess that line Will just said, ‘Who tore off and whooped your ass now?’ is like, ‘What happened to you?’” The big challenge for Bay was to adapt the material to better suit Smith and Lawrence’s sense of humor and comedic voices. As such, the most memorable quotes and quips in the film were improvised by Smith and Lawrence while the cameras were rolling. 

For instance, Bay told Lawrence to call Smith a “bitch” for the iconic final car chase. The entire “two bitches in a sea” exchange was ad-libbed by Smith and Lawrence on the spot. When Julie asks if Marcus is gay, Lawrence’s reaction is also improvised. The hilarious “Driving Miss Daisy” scene was also made up on the spot after Lawrence complained to Bay about Smith calling him a “bitch.”

Another example of ad-libbed dialog includes the liquor store scene. When the clerk puts a gun to Marcus’ head, the line “Freeze mother bitches” was ad-libbed, prompting the hilarious impromptu response: “No, you freeze, bitch! Now back up, put the gun down, and get me a pack of Tropical Fruit Bubbalicious. And some Skittles.” 

Of course, not every impromptu moment while making Bad Boys ended happily. While filming one of the intense action scenes, Tea Leoni was knocked unconscious by Martin Lawrence’s stunt double. According to Leoni:

“I ended up in the hospital at one point. It was the AK-47 under the jaw that got me. I wasn’t on a proper mark when the stunt guy hit me with it. My legs went over my head and I landed flat on my back. Didn’t have much memory at that point. The director, Michael Bay freaked out … I started to cry because I’d never thought that the chill of Hollywood would be so close in my face.”

Despite the successfully improvised dialogue by Smith and Lawrence, more problems continued to threaten the fate of Bad Boys while making the movie. Most of the problems derived from the poorly-written screenplay, criticized for recycling too many buddy-cop tropes and relying too much on action-heavy set-pieces. According to Bay, the lack of money and budgetary resources also hindered what he could achieve visually onscreen. Even after showing the dailies to the studio and receiving an additional $2 million to complete the production, Bay has never been satisfied with the final cut.

bad boys cast

One of the biggest problems came when Don Simpson arrived in Miami just one week before filming began. Simpson holed up in a hotel and wrote an 85-page screed detailing everything that was wrong with the screenplay. Worse yet, Simpson handed a ream of notes to Bay two days before principal photography began. Not one to back down, Bay brashly stormed into Simpson’s office, slammed the notes on his desk, and demanded that Jerry Bruckheimer remove their name from the project. In Bay’s view, Simpson and Bruckheimer were more invested in Crimson Tide than they were in producing Bad Boys.

Simpson wasn’t the only person Bay had arguments with while making Bad Boys. For the foot chase finale in which Mike pursues a criminal through Miami – which was filmed on one day – Bay wanted Smith to film the scene while shirtless. Smith refused but agreed to wear an unbuttoned dress shirt instead. In the film’s final moments, Marcus tells Mike that he loves him. Bay encouraged Smith to say the heartfelt response, “I love you, too,” but Smith refused to read the line on the day of filming after never expressing an issue with the line beforehand. The result was a heated 90-minute fight between Bay and Smith over how to finish the scene. Once Lawrence and Leoni also became involved in the argument, Bay gave up and told Smith he didn’t have to say the line. Moments later, Bay pointed to the setting sun and barked, “That’s motherf*cking nature, and she’s not f*cking waiting for us.” Afterward, Smith read the line as Bay originally intended and the movie ends on the tender and touching note we all know and remember. 

Bay also argued with Line Producer Bruce Pustin over the shot of villain Fuchet expelled from the airplane during the climax. Despite extensive planning, the shot had to be postponed several times due to weather delays. During the final week of production, Pustin declared that the film was a wrap. Bay reminded Pustin that they hadn’t gotten the final shot of Fouchet flying out of the plane in flames, which the director referred to as “the audience” shot marks the moment for the crowd to erupt with applause. Rather than leaving out the shot, Bay negotiated a deal to defer a quarter of his salary for directing the movie to film the incendiary image. When he showed the scene to the studio, Bay left a note reading: “To Columbia Pictures, from Michael Bay, $25,000, a quarter of my directing fee.”  

Despite paying $25,000 out of pocket to achieve the explosive shot, Bay has never been satisfied with the final result. It’s one of many instances in the movie that Bay felt resulted from a lack of money, a poorly-written script, and being a first-time filmmaker in Hollywood. Despite threatening to leave the film business after his combative experience on Bad Boys, Bay made The Rock the following year before helming Bad Boys II in 2003. Following years as a successful music video director, Bad Boys launched Bay’s directorial career in Hollywood and formed his reputation as a purveyor of large-scale, FX-driven spectacles with high commercial appeal. While no one will accuse Bay of being an Oscar-caliber artist with a Capital A, at least Columbia was wise enough to pass Bad Boys For Life off to talented filmmakers in Moroccan filmmakers Adil & Bilall. The same filmmakers will unveil a fourth franchise entry, Bad Boys Ride or Die, on June 7, 2024. Smith and Lawrence will star as Mike and Marcus, respectively, with the duo returning to Miami in the upcoming sequel. So…that’s What happened to Bad Boys! The movie overcame its deficient screenplay thanks to the incredible comedic chemistry and improv skills of TV stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, becoming a commercially successful movie despite the first-time direction by Michael Bay. The popularity of Bad Boys spawned three sequels and launched the movie careers of Bay, Smith, and Lawrence into a new star-studded stratosphere. 

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.