Britt Reid is the playboy son of James Reid, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily Sentinel. They have an estranged relationship until James is found dead from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. After the funeral, Britt fires the staff aside from his maid, but later re-hires Kato, James's mechanic and a skilled martial artist.
Britt and Kato get drunk together and, upon agreeing that they both hated James, visit the graveyard to cut the head off James's memorial statue. After they succeed, they rescue a nearby couple being mugged. When police mistake Britt and Kato themselves for criminals, Kato evades them in a car chase as he and Britt return to the mansion.
Britt convinces Kato they should become crime-fighters. Kato develops a car outfitted with several gadgets and weapons, which they call the Black Beauty. Britt plans to capture Benjamin Chudnofsky, a Russian mobster uniting the crime families of Los Angeles under his command, and whom his father was trying to expose. To get Chudnofsky's attention, Britt uses the Daily Sentinel as a vehicle to publish articles about a "high-profile criminal" he calls "The Green Hornet."
Britt hires Lenore Case as his assistant and researcher, and uses her unwitting advice to raise the Green Hornet's profile. Britt and Kato blow up several of Chudnofsky's meth labs, leaving calling cards so Chudnofsky can contact them. Throughout all this, the Daily Sentinel's managing editor, Mike Axford, fears this single-minded coverage will endanger Britt's life, and District Attorney Frank Scanlon frets over public perception that he cannot stop the Green Hornet.
Britt asks Lenore out, but she rebuffs him and instead invites Kato to dinner, making Britt jealous. Kato learns from her that mobsters often offer a peace summit to rivals in order to get close enough to kill them; Britt then tells Kato that Chudnofsky has offered them such a meeting. Kato tries dissuading him, but Britt, feeling overshadowed, follows his instincts. This nearly proves fatal when Chudnofsky tries to kill them.
Barely escaping to the mansion, Britt and Kato argue and fight, and Britt fires both Kato and Lenore, who he believes are in a relationship. Kato receives an email from Chudnofsky on the Hornet's calling-card email address, offering $1 million and half of Los Angeles to the "Hornet" if he kills Britt. Meanwhile, Britt discovers that Scanlon is corrupt, and that he tried to bribe James into downplaying the city's crime level to help his career. Chudnofsky, meanwhile, suffers a midlife crisis and reinvents himself as the supervillain "Bloodnofsky".
Scanlon invites Britt to meet in a restaurant, where he reveals he murdered Britt's father. Chudnofsky arrives with his men to kill Britt, but Kato saves Britt and they escape. At the Daily Sentinel, Britt intends to upload a recording of Scanlon's confession onto the Web - which he belatedly discovers he did not manage to record. Chudnofsky and his men, who followed the duo there, engage them in a firefight, wounding Britt in the shoulder. Kato ultimately stabs Chudnofsky in the eyes with wood in self-defense and Britt guns him down. A SWAT team appears and fires at the Green Hornet and Kato, who use the remains of their nearly demolished Black Beauty to run Scanlon out the 10th-floor window, killing him. The Green Hornet and Kato flee to Lenore's house, and she helps them hide from the police.
The next morning, Britt promotes Axford to chief editor and stages being shot in the shoulder by Kato, further establishing the Green Hornet as a threat and allowing Britt to get treated by professionals in a hospital. Later, the two weld James' stolen head back onto his memorial statue. Now with Lenore to aid them, Britt and Kato vow to continue protecting the law by breaking it.Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher who becomes the masked crimefighter "The Green Hornet" and works as the CEO of his father James's newspaper "Daily Sentinel" after he died.
Jay Chou as Kato, James' personal mechanic and martial arts expert who becomes Britt's assistant and the Green Hornet's valet and personal bodyguard.
Christoph Waltz as Benjamin Chudnofsky, a mobster who reinvents himself as the super villain "Bloodnofsky" after going through a midlife crisis.
Cameron Diaz as Lenore "Casey" Case, Reid's secretary for The Daily Sentinel.
David Harbour as District Attorney Frank Scanlon.
Tom Wilkinson as James Reid, Britt's stern, wealthy father and a successful newspaper publisher who founded the L.A. newspaper "Daily Sentinel".
Edward James Olmos as Mike Axford, managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.
Jamie Harris as Popeye.
Chad Coleman as Chili.
Edward Furlong as Tupper, a meth producer.
Analeigh Tipton as Ana Lee.
Reuben Langdon as Crackhead.
Jerry Trimble as Chudnofsky's man.
James Franco as Danny "Crystal" Clear (uncredited), a young meth dealer and rival of Chudnofsky.
Variety reported in October 1992 that The Green Hornet was one of the properties represented by Leisure Concepts Inc., and though the trade paper said, without explanation, "rights in limbo", negotiations were ongoing with Universal Pictures. By September 1993, Chuck Pfarrer had finished the screenplay. Rich Wilkes was hired to rewrite Pfarrer's script, which resulted in George Clooney signing a pay-or-play contract. Clooney dropped out in December 1995 to star in Batman and Robin, and an anonymous source at Universal told Entertainment Weekly the following May that Greg Kinnear was being looked at for the title role. Jason Scott Lee by this time had signed on to co-star as Kato. Universal hired music video director Michel Gondry in January 1997 for his feature film directorial debut. Gondry rewrote the Wilkes screenplay with Edward Neumeier, saying that "after one-and-a-half years, it was shelved by the studio. ... We already had the designs for the cars, the weapons. ... Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin had been signed on to produce by January 1997. Mark Wahlberg was offered the lead role, but the film languished in development hell and Gondry eventually left.
In April 2000, Universal entered early negotiations with Jet Li to star as Kato for $5.2 million against 5% of the film's gross. Dark Horse Entertainment and Charles Gordon joined Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin as producers. Christopher McQuarrie was writing a script by June 2000, but with it uncompleted by October, Li moved on to work on The One while remaining attached to The Green Hornet. After spending about $10 million in development since 1992, Universal put The Green Hornet in turnaround in November 2001, by which time Li and the producers were no longer involved. Paramount and Columbia Pictures showed interest in picking up Universal's option, but Miramax Films won the bidding that month with what Variety reported as "a deal approaching $3 million." In May 2003 the studio was working with automobile companies on product placement opportunities for the Black Beauty. As part of the deal, Miramax would receive its "hero car" and $35 million in additional marketing. The car company that would have landed the deal would be given the chance to help develop The Green Hornet, since a script had yet to be written and no director was attached to the planned 2005 release. Variety noted this figure would have tied the record $35 million deal between Ford Motor Company and MGM that featured the company's Aston Martin Vanquish, Jaguar XKR, and Ford Thunderbird in the James Bond film Die Another Day.
In February 2004, Miramax president Harvey Weinstein hired cult filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith to write and direct the film, based on their previous four-film collaborations. "I dig the fact that he kicked off a run of billionaire playboys who decided to put on a mask and fight crime and that he was Batman before there was a Batman," Smith said. "I always said I'd never do a superhero film, based on my limited experience writing on Superman Lives and having to answer to the studio, Jon Peters, the comics company and eventually a director. Then there's a fandom that gets up in arms if you even try to stray from their character. Here, there is simplicity in the character and the situation." Jon Gordon and Hannah Minghella were now on as producers, with Harold Berkowitz and George Trendle, son of the character's co-creator, as executive producers.
Smith approached Jake Gyllenhaal for the lead role in March 2004. In mid-November of that year, he said he had written about 100 pages, and estimated another 100 to come. In February 2006, Smith's official website noted, "Kevin officially no longer has anything to do with the Fletch or Green Hornet projects." Smith went on to write the Dynamite Entertainment comic book Green Hornet, which has run 11 issues as of late 2010.
In March 2007, producer Neal H. Moritz, who had been trying to acquire the film rights to the character for years, obtained the rights and through his Sony-based production company Original Film optioned them to Columbia Pictures. In July 2007 Seth Rogen, in addition to starring in the lead role, was hired to co-write the script with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. Columbia also hired Rogen as an executive producer for The Green Hornet. Rogen in July 2007 said he had not begun writing the screenplay yet, but anticipated the tone would be that of "a buddy action movie" with humor, "like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs.. In September 2008, Columbia Pictures announced a June 25, 2010, release date, and that Hong Kong star Stephen Chow had signed to direct and to co-star as Kato. Chow, a fan of the TV show as a kid, explained, "The idea of stepping into Bruce Lee's shoes as Kato is both humbling and thrilling, and to get the chance to direct the project as my American movie debut is simply a dream come true." Chow dropped out as director the following December over creative differences. On February 24, 2009, Columbia Pictures announced that Michel Gondry would direct the film, on which Chow had remained as Kato, after impressing Columbia production presidents Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach with his pitch. Gondry had previously been involved with The Green Hornet when Universal Pictures was planning its version in 1997.
Chow dropped out as Kato in July 2009 over scheduling conflicts with other projects. By this time the release date had been pushed to July 9, 2010. In August, he was replaced with Taiwanese singer-actor Jay Chou. The studio was then in early talks with Nicolas Cage to play the gangster villain, and Cameron Diaz was negotiating to play researcher and love interest Lenore Case.
Nicolas Cage had been in talks to play the role of Benjamin Chudnofsky, saying in 2009, "The Green Hornet was something I wanted to do. I think Michel Gondry is very talented and I had hoped it would work. But I think Seth Rogen and Michel had a different direction for the character totally than the way I wanted to go. ... I wasn't interested in just being straight-up bad guy who was killing people willy-nilly. I had to have some humanity and try to give it something where you could understand why the character was the way he was. But there wasn't enough time to develop it."
The filmmakers had wanted Van Williams, who played the Green Hornet in the 1960s television series, to make a cameo appearance as a cemetery guard, but Williams turned the part down.
Producer Neal H. Moritz considered filming The Green Hornet in Michigan, New York, and Louisiana, but ultimately chose Los Angeles, California, as the primary location shooting. "Ultimately, we made the decision, and thankfully the studio agreed with us, that the creative positives of shooting in Los Angeles outweighed the tax incentives offered to us elsewhere," Moritz said. Principal photography began at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California on September 2, 2009, for one week. Filming then moved to Chinatown, Los Angeles, for scenes featuring Kato's apartment. Through November, other locations included Sun Valley, Holmby Hills (specifically Fleur de Lys, which played the part of the Reid mansion), Bel-Air, Hawthorne and various locations downtown, including City Hall and the Los Angeles Times Building.
The production modified 29 Imperial Crown sedans from model years 1964 to 1966 to portray the Green Hornet's luxurious supercar, the Black Beauty. Twenty-six of those cars were wrecked during production and three survived in pristine condition. One such vehicle was given away by the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardees as a sweepstakes prize and later consigned to the 2017 Barrett-Jackson auto auction at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, where it was sold for $29,700.
Sony replaced the film's June 25, 2010, release date with Grown Ups, which moved The Green Hornet to July 9, 2010. Sony then scheduled the film for December 22, 2010, before announcing on April 23, 2010, that it was pushing to January 14, 2011, to secure more time to convert it to 3D.
In July 2009, Sony presented a panel at San Diego Comic-Con International, where Seth Rogen and director Michel Gondry unveiled the first look for the Black Beauty. The first trailer was released online on June 24, 2010.
The film was released in the U.S. and some foreign markets on January 14, 2011, opening in 3,584 theaters domestically.
Producer Neil Moritz said in March 2012 no sequel would be forthcoming since The Green Hornet was made "for too much money. One, we made it in L.A. for certain reasons, and two, we decided to go to 3D—that added another $10 million. If I had done it in a tax-rebate state and not done 3D, it would have been considered a huge financial success for the studio. So we're not making a sequel right now."
The Green Hornet was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D on May 3, 2011 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
On the aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 43% based on 228 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It's sporadically entertaining, but The Green Hornet never approaches the surreal heights suggested by a Michel Gondry/Seth Rogen collaboration." The aggregator Metacritic gave the film a score of 39 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it "[a]n anemic, 97-pound weakling of the action comedy persuasion ... a boring bromedy that features a hero who has no idea what he's even doing with mumblecore heroics instead of the real thing." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post found it "an overblown, interminable and unfunny update (in badly added 3-D)", and called star Rogen "miscast". British critic Peter Bradshaw of the British newspaper The Guardian, said, "Almost everything about the film is disappointing. Christoph Waltz is under-par as the villain with nothing like the steely charisma of his Nazi in Inglourious Basterds. Richard Roeper gave the film a D+, calling it "a lazy, sloppy, unfunny comedy that makes almost no use of the 3-D technology", and judging that "it just falls flat." Roger Ebert gave it one star and called it "an almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through." He also noted the poor use of 3-D and suggested it was added solely in order to charge extra.
Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave it 3 1⁄2 stars out of 5, and commented that the "irreverently funny" film had "a vibe so casual you half expect star Seth Rogen to amble off screen and put his feet up on the seat next to you," and praising director Gondry's "sense of humor and acute visual skill" even while calling the movie "cheerfully unfocused". Rogen proclaimed the film was a "nightmare", chalking it up to studio executives paying little attention to the most expensive portions of the film and its inflated budget.
The Green Hornet took in $33,526,876 its opening weekend, and just over $40 million for the four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend, topping the box office. In its second weekend, it dropped 47% to $17.7 million, finishing second to No Strings Attached. In its third weekend, it earned $11.2 million and finished in fourth place. The film ended its theatrical run on April 21, 2011, with a North American domestic gross of $98,780,042 and an international gross of $129,037,206 for a total $227,817,248 worldwide.
Factory Entertainment produced six-inch action figures and a die-cast Black Beauty, among other collectibles. Hollywood Collectibles has made a full-size prop gas gun replica. Mezco Toyz has made a set of 12-inch action figures, with the prototypes donated to the Museum of the Moving Image.
The studio and CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, formed a promotional marketing partnership that included commercials featuring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou in character as the Green Hornet and Kato; a beverage promotion with Dr. Pepper; The Green Hornet food items, kids' meal toys, and employee uniforms; and a contest with the grand prize of a Black Beauty car from the film.
A tie-in video game for iPhone and iPad was released, entitled The Green Hornet: Wheels of Justice. The game is a 3D top-down driving game. It also featured a hidden mini-game fighting game called The Green Hornet: Crime Fighter, which was also released for browsers and Android phones.
The Discovery Channel television show MythBusters aired a "Green Hornet Special" that featured Seth Rogen joining the hosts in testing two "myths" from the movie. The cable network Syfy aired a marathon of the TV series The Green Hornet on January 11, 2011, as a tie-in to the film's release.
In 2016, Paramount Pictures and Chernin Entertainment acquired the rights to the Green Hornet and started preliminary work on developing a reboot with Gavin O'Connor attached to produced and direct and Sean O'Keefe as screenwriter.