Movies are big business. Films themselves are hugely expensive to produce, and if successful they stand to make significantly more back in profit. With so much money in the mix, and so many consumers lining up to stare transfixed at the big screen for a couple of hours, it’s only natural that big companies will use the medium as a way to advertise their products.
Take the following films, which left you in no doubt as to who their main sponsors were.
20. Cast Away – FedEx
With Cast Away, director Robert Zemeckis delivered a compelling modern day take on the Robinson Crusoe story. Tom Hanks famously gives his most method performance (production was halted for a year so Hanks could lose all the weight and grow all the hair for real) as a delivery man marooned on a desert island. Of course, given that Hanks’ character Chuck Noland is an employee of FedEx and is trapped with only FedEx packages for company, the brand logo is all over the place.
It has long been stressed that FedEx did not pay for product placement in the movie, but the company gave the production their support, and saw an increase in brand recognition as a result. There’s also the matter of Chuck’s best friend on the island: a Wilson volleyball named, you guessed it, Wilson.
19. Ralph Breaks the Internet – eBay
Disney’s original Wreck-It Ralph was pretty heavy on product placement in its own right, given the prevalence of vintage video game characters in the movie. However, sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet really makes a point of pushing a considerably more current marketplace – which, as should be obvious from the title, is the internet. The film sees Ralph and Vanellope leave their arcade and venture online in search of a replacement steering wheel for Vanellope’s broken racing game – which inevitably leads them to eBay.
Subsequently, the bulk of the plot is driven by Ralph’s efforts to raise the money he needs to pay for his sizeable eBay purchase – getting handy reminders along the way from a cute mascot of the site named eBoy. Not that eBay is by any means the only major site promoted in Ralph Breaks the Internet, with notable mentions for Twitter, Instagram and many more besides – not to mention cameos from a dizzying number of Disney-owned properties.
18. Happy Gilmore – Subway
1996’s Happy Gilmore was a key film in the ascent of Adam Sandler, building him into one of the biggest comedy film stars of the past few decades. As demonstrated on that film and plenty of others since, Sandler is by no means averse to pushing brand names in his work. In the case of Happy Gilmore, the sandwich chain Subway gets sold the Sandler way throughout.
Once he proves to be a great golfer, Sandler’s Happy gets a Subway endorsement deal, which sees him wearing a Subway T-shirt for a good portion of his screen time. And, of course, we see Sandler’s Happy enjoying a Subway sandwich on the golf course with a knowing look to camera.
17. Transformers – General Motors
Let’s try to put to one side for now that 2007’s Transformers and its sequels are all obvious commercials for the long-running Hasbro toy line. On top of this, director Michael Bay’s film also packed in some mighty plugs for one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers – and sacrificed loyalty to the source material in the process. Many fans were displeased upon discovering key Autobot hero Bumblebee, traditionally a yellow robot who transforms into a Volkswagen Beetle, had been changed into a Chevy Camaro.
The official reason Bay gave for this change was that VWs just weren’t cool enough, saying they reminded him of Herbie – but the truth was more money-oriented. The filmmakers had accepted $1 million worth of vehicles from General Motors – the company who own the Camaro, as well as other vehicles prominently featured in the film including the Pontiac and the Hummer.
16. Zombieland – Twinkies
As we’ve seen before and will see again in this list, films can get away with some truly shameless product placement as long as it’s done with a wink and a smile. Such is the case in 2009 comedy-horror Zombieland, which has a whole subplot centred on a character’s drive to find one of the things he misses most from the world that was. When the zombies take over and civilisation crumbles, mass production becomes a thing of the past – and Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee has a serious craving for Twinkies.
Throughout most of the movie, the characters are looking out in vain for the Hostess cream-filled cake bars, with a running joke about their long shelf life. However, once Tallahassee finally gets his ecstatic teeth into a Twinkie, know it isn’t a real one – Woody Harrelson follows a strict vegan diet, which Twinkies don’t adhere to.
15. Demolition Man – Taco Bell
1993’s Demolition Man sends all-American action hero Sylvester Stallone into a sterile, ultra-safe future of 2032 – and, as is typically the case in science fiction, the film uses its future setting to get in some satirical points about its own time. For one, Stallone’s cop John Spartan finds in this homogenised world that only one restaurant chain still exists: Taco Bell. It’s briefly explained that, whilst Spartan was in cryogenic stasis, he missed the ‘franchise wars,’ which saw Taco Bell emerge victorious for a total stranglehold on all restaurant businesses worldwide.
However, because Taco Bell did not do business in all territories at the time of Demolition Man’s release, some countries featured amended cuts of the film which made Pizza Hut the restaurant in question. Curiously, the restaurant remained Taco Bell in the United Kingdom, even though Taco Bell did not operate there at the time of Demolition Man’s release.
14. Power Rangers – Krispy Kreme doughnuts
2017’s big screen reboot of 90s TV sensation Power Rangers didn’t quite set the box office on fire. However, the movie certainly left its viewers craving doughnuts thanks to some very pointed product placement. Following on from an early scene which sees the young cast eating in a Krispy Kreme, the Power Rangers later discover that the all-powerful ‘Zeo crystal’ sought out by the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is underneath the doughnut shop itself.
From that point on, Krispy Kreme becomes the focal point of the film’s climactic battle sequence, with the logo shown and the name spoken out loud so often it’s hard to keep count. The filmmakers even find time amidst the high-kicking chaos to show arch-villainess Repulsa herself casually enjoying a doughnut.
13. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle – White Castle burgers
Once again, product placement doesn’t get much more blatant than putting the brand name in the title of the movie itself. The first instalment in what (to the surprise of just about everyone) wound up as a trilogy, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle centres on the misadventures of the hapless heroes of the title (John Cho and Kal Penn) as they attempt to satisfy their – ahem – sudden craving for burgers. Not that this could be sold everywhere: in Britain, where the White Castle restaurant chain doesn’t do business, the film was retitled Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies.
Screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg conceived the film based around their own love of White Castle burgers, and once the restaurant chain gave their approval the project got the go-ahead. Bonus trivia: despite his character’s taste for meat, actor Kal Penn is actually a vegetarian, and only eats veggie burgers in the movie.
12. You’ve Got Mail – AOL
Putting the brand name in the movie title is one thing – but taking the title from a company slogan is also pretty blatant product placement. 1998 Nora Ephron rom-com You’ve Got Mail does just that, with reference to what was at the time the relatively new communications medium of email. Today the film is best remembered as the reunion of writer-director Ephron with her Sleepless in Seattle stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, but at the time it was the biggest advert ever seen for AOL.
Before Google took over, AOL was the premier internet provider in America, and the familiar refrain of ‘you’ve got mail’ notified users of new email – via which Hanks and Ryan’s characters somehow fall in love. Reportedly AOL did not pay for this product placement, but still served as consultants on the film and approved the use of their copyrighted phrase in the title.
11. Wayne’s World – Pizza Hut, Doritos, Reebok, Nuprin and Pepsi
Wayne’s World, the 1992 movie based on Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s recurring sketch from Saturday Night Live, was one of the most outlandish comedies ever to hit cinemas at the time. Much as director Penelope Spheeris’ film plays fast and loose with the rules of film, it also takes an anarchic approach to product placement. As the film centres on Wayne and Garth being forced to sacrifice their integrity for the sake of commercial success, Wayne’s World is critical about creative outlets being hijacked for advertising purposes.
Nevertheless, being a big budget mainstream movie, product placement was required to help finance the movie – so rather than try and mask it, the film makes a point of highlighting several key products in one scene as Wayne and Garth talk about how much they hate product placement. The scene is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and hilarious moments in Wayne’s World – and while it was satirical, the scene did nothing to hurt brand awareness for the products featured.
10. The Internship – Google
2013 comedy The Internship marked the fourth, and to date final collaboration between Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugh (with Vaughn also serving as co-writer here). The Internship asks what would happen if two out-of-work salesman, approaching middle age yet steadfastly refusing to grow up, apply for an internship with a major digital corporation despite being at least twice the age of all the other applicants. Answer: you wind up with 119 minutes of advertising for Google and as many of its products as can be squeezed into the running time.
While Google would not allow The Internship to be shot in their actual Googleplex HQ for security reasons, the corporation hugely supported the film. Critics were unimpressed, with Mark Kermode declaring The Internship “the longest advert I’ve ever seen at the cinema.”
9. The Lego Movie – Lego
You can’t get more blatant with your product placement than putting the product in the movie’s title. However, in the case of The Lego Movie, the product is in fact the focal point of the whole endeavour. This 2014 animation from writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller is set within an imaginary world built from the ever-popular construction toys, and features numerous characters from existing popular franchises (most notably Batman).
It may be guaranteed to leave viewers young and old alike desperate to buy some new Lego sets, but to the surprise of many The Lego Movie also proved to be one of the wittiest, most sophisticated kids movies in recent memory. The film’s 2019 sequel and two spin-off movies (2017’s The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie) aren’t half bad either.
8. Evolution – Head & Shoulders
Director Ivan Reitman’s 2001 sci-fi comedy Evolution aimed to recapture the charm of his earlier hit Ghostbusters, but couldn’t land on such a winning formula. Speaking of winning formulas: Evolution’s suitably absurd climax sees a struggling crew led by David Duchovny trying to figure out how to dispose of the alien life that threatens to take over the Earth, ultimately landing on a plan involving a popular haircare brand.
With the help of the periodic table, Duchovny’s Ira and co realise that these nitrogen-based lifeforms could be vulnerable to selenium – which just happens to be the key ingredient in Head & Shoulders. Consequently, the team utilise a firetruck pumped full of the anti-dandruff shampoo to destroy the aliens and save the day. It’s product placement at its most shameless, of course, but Evolution gets away with it by being pretty funny.
7. Superman II – Marlboro
Christopher Reeve’s iconic take on DC’s signature hero Superman makes for the quintessential good guy – and hand in hand with that, Reeve’s Clark is also pretty health-conscious. Readers may recall Clark flying down to the balcony of Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane as she lights up a cigarette, telling her, “you really shouldn’t smoke you know, Miss Lane.” However, it seems the Superman II producers didn’t get that message, as they saw fit to slap a pretty sizeable advertisement for Marlboro in the 1980 film.
Whilst Reeve’s Superman does battle with Terence Stamp’s General Zod, the fight sees them go crashing into a truck that very prominently carries the Marlboro logo. Outrage over this scene resulted in questions being raised about the marketing of cigarettes toward younger viewers, and strict rules about this were soon put in place to forbid any such product placements in future.
6. Man of Steel – More than two-thirds of its budget from almost 100 companies
Warner Bros and DC’s high profile 2013 reboot of Superman came with a hefty price tag attached – and that made the movie prime advertising space. Director Zack Snyder’s film reportedly cost an eye-watering $225 million to make, but the studio had quite happily already made back $170 million of this before the film even reached screens. This was down to the sheer level of product placement in Man of Steel, for which Warner Bros entered into almost 100 promotional partnerships.
We don’t have room to list them all, but you’ll easily notice the number of Nokia products prominently featured in the movie, as well as some of the big name stores Henry Cavill’s Superman does battle outside, such as Sears and 7-Eleven. Less obvious are the glasses Cavill wears as Clark Kent: these were a new range specially designed by Warby Parker for a promotional tie-in with Man of Steel.
5. Die Another Day – Aston Martin Vanquish
If we’re talking product placement and James Bond, we could honestly be here all day listing the sheer number of products whose brand name recognition is tied in with the long-running franchise. However, if there’s any one brand that relies on Bond most heavily, it has to be car manufacturer Aston Martin, which has enjoyed a close association with 007 ever since 1964’s Goldfinger. As prominent as the cars have long been in the series, no single Bond movie feels so much of an unabashed commercial as 2002’s Die Another Day.
The fact that the Aston Martin Vanquish features prominently in a car chase sequence is all well and good – that’s what the cars in these movies are for, after all. However, it feels a bit much when Pierce Brosnan’s Bond leans admiringly toward the car – which, in fairness, had been invisible seconds earlier – and nods approvingly to John Cleese’s Q.
4. Mac and Me – McDonald’s
Any way you look at it, 1988’s Mac and Me is pretty much the textbook definition of a blatant cash-grab. As the story of a young boy who befriends a cute little alien with an acronym for a name (MAC = Mysterious Alien Creature) then helps the alien get back home, director Stewart Raffill’s movie is a screamingly obvious rip-off of 1982 mega-hit E.T. On top of this, however, Mac also stands for McDonald’s – and the movie piles on the plugs for the omnipresent fast food brand.
The alien’s name and the prominence of the McDonald’s logo throughout the film saw one critic declare “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie that is as crass a 90-minute commercial as Mac and Me.” Most alarmingly, Mac and Me features an eye-opening dance party sequence set in a McDonald’s restaurant, with Ronald McDonald himself in attendance.
3. The Wizard – Nintendo
If this 1989 film starring Fred Savage was simply the story of two brothers running away from home and taking an illicit road trip to California, it probably wouldn’t be all that well-remembered. However, The Wizard sees the emotionally troubled younger brother turn out to be a virtuoso at video games, leading them to change course and head to a national video game tournament. And from that point on, The Wizard becomes the most bald-faced Nintendo commercial you’re ever likely to see.
The Wizard was, in fact, conceived specifically to promote Nintendo, and served as a launchpad for the newly released game Super Mario Bros 3, amongst many other Nintendo products given screen time. But all these years later, The Wizard is most notorious for showcasing Nintendo’s infamously short-lived controller the Powerglove, of which the antagonist Lucas memorably declares, “it’s so bad!”
2. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Quaker’s Wonka Bar
Director Mel Stuart’s 1971 musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was always bound to leave its audience hungry for chocolate. You might not have known, however, that the film was a very calculated effort to promote a specific bar. The Quaker Oats Company had plans to launch their own Wonka Bar at the time, and financed the film with the promotion of this new product in mind; this also explains the change from the book’s original title, as Quaker insisted on having Wonka mentioned as prominently as possible.
Ultimately, the real-life Wonka bar never really took off; reportedly the bars produced by Quaker to coincide with the film’s release had to be withdrawn due to an undisclosed issue. However, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains a beloved family favourite almost 50 years later (even if Roald Dahl himself was not a fan).
1. Josie and the Pussycats – Too many to mention
This 2001 big-screen outing for Archie Comics rock star trio Josie and the Pussycats may have flown under the radar on release, but in the years since it’s developed a healthy cult following. A big part of the film’s long-standing appeal is its satirical humour, as it cleverly critiques how popular culture is used to sell products to the young. The central plot device of Josie and the Pussycats centres on the use of subliminal messages hidden in hit songs, turning teen listeners into mindless consumer zombies.
This point is really hammered home by an unprecedented amount of on-screen product placements, with so many that it’s almost impossible to keep count: every single scene highlights at least one brand name. Interestingly, the bulk of the brands showcased in Josie and the Pussycats did not actually pay for the privilege, but all gave their consent on the understanding that the film would be directly satirising movie product placement. This being the case, a few of the companies approached actually refused permission for their brands to be included.