Top 10 Worst Movies For Product Placement


27th July 2006

Time was, the only adverts you'd see during a trip to the cinema would be for the Curry house just round the corner. Nowadays, the suits in charge are starting to exploit the medium of film to such a degree that characters wear brand name clothes, eat at popular fast-food restaurants and engage in small talk about their cool new trainers. Short of tattooing their company logos on the inner-eyelids of newborn babies, movie product placement is the most unwelcome form of advertising, with many recent films carrying a disarming amount of product placement that not only add nothing to the story, but actually detract from it - this is a list of the worst such offenders. You won't find the self-referential merchandising scene of Jurassic Park here (too obvious) or the plastic fantastic stars of Toy Story either (too essential to the story) - this is a rundown of the films that will happily flash you a logo if it'll boost the studios coffers. If there's any practice more offensive than rich studios accepting huge bundles of cash from rich companies to promote their products to wide-eyed consumer sheep, then I've not come across it. Either that, or I go to the cinema too much. Whatever.

10. Spider-Man

Sam Raimi is, by all accounts, a very cool guy; he's still making movies the way he wants to do it and stays close to his indie roots (he's one of the only people out there who'll give the mighty Bruce Campbell work). But in taking the Spider-Man gig with Sony Pictures, he introduced himself to the concept of making movies that exist to make money. Cue a completely gratuitous shot of Peter Parker firing his web at a Dr. Pepper can, and a scene in which Spidey himself lands on a moving Carlsberg truck (conveniently shot at an angle where the logo gains maximum exposure). A director with true artistic integrity would balk at such a obtrusion, but Raimi folded. What makes it worse is the fact that Sony lobbied for the new 12A age rating to be introduced, so they were basically selling beer to kids. Which, as we know, is probably immoral or something.

9. Evolution

Ivan Reitman's action comedy tells of the evolution of an alien species, starting off as little more than a pile of goo, before morphing into dinosaur-like winged creatures and finally evolving into a gigantic puss-filled blob (I think they teach this kind of thing at schools in Texas). The only thing that can kill this amorphous being just happens to be Head & Shoulders shampoo. Ignoring the fact that it's fucking stupid, what particularly rankles is the end scene, in which Mulder, Stifler and the black dude from Office Space goof off to camera and perform a 'joke' advert for the shampoo, breaking the fourth wall and letting you know they're in on the gag. Except obviously it doesn't matter if it's a joke or not, they're still there mincing on about shampoo without a care in the world. It's probably a good thing people don't go and see Ivan Reitman films any more.

8. Back To The Future Parts I-III

An early example of the big brand names 'synergising' with the biggest movies of the year. Sure, you can argue that it's all very tongue-in-cheek - Marty's mother thinking he's called Calvin Klein, the self-tying Nikes in Back to the Future II - and you'd be right, but it's still utterly shameless in its constant referencing of modern day products. I've no problem with the inclusion of the DeLorean - hell, it made the film what it was and it's not like it did them any good anyway - but watching it back now, with its jokes about Pepsi, flagrant advertisements for Mattel and AT&T and the aforementioned clothing products, it's cringeworthy in the extreme. Unlike most other films on this list, it doesn't ruin the movie by any means, but it's kinda weird to think that people thought this sort of thing was just harmless back in the day.

7. Demolition Man

Another entry that uses its future setting to provide a few 'laughs'. Living in merry old England (where the only thing we eat is sugar, hence the teeth) we don't have Taco Bell over here, but judging by the belt size of America's population, the Yanks scoff them down by the barrelful. Having been thawed out to hunt down Wesley Snipes' badly-dressed villain, Sylvester Stallone's cop is shocked to discover that all fast-food restaurants are now Taco Bells (for the movie's overseas release, the reference was changed to Pizza Hut). An awful joke, and one which Taco Bell paid handsomely for (I was quite surprised to learn that both Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are companies owned by Pepsi, which I guess makes a lot of sense given that the soft-drink manufacturer is one of the worst offenders for product placement). To be fair, given the expanding waistline of the world's richest countries, it's a joke that's probably not too far off the mark.

6. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

The only film I've ever seen three times at the cinema (not due to its quality, I hasten to add), and every time I sat through the following scene, I winced. Checking his e-mail in his car, international man of mystery Austin Powers is informed by the annoying AOL voice man that he has mail, complete with a full-screen shot of an AOL inbox and logo. Firstly, Steven Hawking would struggle to use AOL smoothly, let alone someone from the 60's who's never used a computer. Secondly, it's the worst example amidst a number of placements that stick out like... well, a buck-toothed bespectacled ginger guy wearing a velvet suit. The third movie continued the theme and bombarded the viewers with a barrage of brand names and images (in a fight with Mini Me, a fridge is opened and is completely full of a new Pepsi drink) but this particular placement sticks in the memory as the most galling of the series. Definitely not groovy.

5. Minority Report

Steven Spielberg is arguably the guy who opened the eyes of Hollywood producers that they could make a hell of a lot of money via product placement, way back in E.T. with the inclusion of the Reese's Pieces chocolate bar. Here, he's up to his old tricks again, with Tom Cruise's fugitive cop running through a shopping mall in the not-too-distant future. Holographic personalised adverts flash before our hero's eyes, with ads for Guinness and Lexus addressing him directly due to the Iris recognition system that clocks him as he enters. Spielberg reportedly collected a group of brand analysts and those goobers that dictate what's hot and what's not to come up with the kind of ads we'll be seeing in the future, and though it's a scarily accurate prediction, it doesn't benefit in the slightest by using real brands and companies. In fact, it succeeds in taking you out of the impressive world that Spielberg created and reminds you that even in the future, there's going to be asshole companies that will do anything for your dollar.

4. Cast Away

Two hours and twenty minutes of Tom Hanks doing nothing on an island, interspersed with ads for sports manufacturers Wilson and Federal Express. Tom, you see, works for Federal Express, and it's while on a Federal Express plane that he crashes, with only the contents of Federal Express packages to keep him alive. Federal Express Federal Express Federal Express. Tom's only friend on the island is a volleyball, with the manufacturer's logo on the front. Naturally, as he starts going a little crazy, Tom converses with his new friend Wilson, continually referencing the brand name under the pretension of whimsy. (Wilson also win the prize for loudest product placement, when Hanks yells their name several times when the ball is lost overboard; super-liminal advertising at its best). I'm not sure who got the worse deal; Tom Hanks getting stranded on an island with only a volleyball for company, or the volleyball stranded on an island with only Tom Hanks for company.

3. Blade: Trinity

Wins the award for most pointless product placement of all time. Because fighting vampires while dressed in tight leather trousers isn't cool enough, the makers of the third Blade movie decided to give Jessica Biel's character Abigail the quirk of listening to an iPod while she's kicking ass, complete with a scene where she downloads songs from iTunes and creates a playlist for her next encounter. Despite the bleeding obvious fact that having music blare in your ears (really really bad music, too) won't do much for your awareness when fighting undead creatures, this is perhaps one of the most blatant product placements ever to appear in a film, with director David S. Goyer making no attempt to use any subtlety whatsoever - it's a two hour long commercial for Apple. The film was ripped a new one on release, and rightly so; it's a pretentious mess of teenage wank fantasy and clunky action scenes, tainted with an ad so blatant, not even the fact that it was located on Jessica Biel's lithe body could distract you from it.

2. The Island

I don't think anyone will disagree when I say that Michael Bay is a gigantic douchebag. Regardless of the content of his movies - the review of The Island is here, and it's a fair-to-average future romp - they can always be relied on to carry more adverts than a copy of Loot. The Island is a serial offender; just when you think Bay can't cram any more adverts down your throat, he shoves a Puma trainer up your arse and takes a swig of Michelob beer. Numerous Microsoft logos are littered around the future cityscape (incuding, bizarrely, an Xbox-related ad that was already out-of-date when the movie opened), plus lingering shots of Nokia phones, Aquafin water bottles, Macintosh trucks and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Unbelievably, Bay even uses a real Chanel TV advertisement which features star Scarlett Johansson, under the pretence that her clone's doppelganger is an actress, and, y'know, appears in adverts. Why? Don't bother asking Michael Bay: his mouth is too crammed full of corporate cock to reply.

1. I, Robot

"Converse, vintage 2004." Never before has one line sunk a movie so fast. The first ten minutes of Alex Proyas' I, Robot contains more examples of product placement than any other film I've seen, and there are none more odious than the completely unnecessary scene in which Will Smith reveals he wears Chucks. Who gives a shit, asshole? How about you go fight some fucking robots and stop trying to sell me trainers? Smith drives around town in an Audi (made exclusively for the movie, fact fans), listens to his music on a JVC CD player, has his mail delivered by Tom Hank's FedEx and generally acts like a walking, talking billboard. I can barely remember anything from the movie aside from the heinous product placement; the experience was equivalent to bending over and getting roughly bummed by Mr. Corporation, and being charged £7 for the privilege. It's so damn shameless in plugging its wares it defies belief, and in doing so, wastes the potential for a cracking little film; if it hadn't spent its running time hawking shiny shit like a Cockney market trader, it might have figured out it was ruining one of the best sci-fi novels of all time. While the future displayed in I, Robot is clearly one grounded in fantasy, the future the film itself suggests is one of corporate greed and shameless peddling, and whether you're wearing Vintage Converse trainers or not, it looks like there'll be no escaping it. Ali

Honorary mention: Fantastic Four for the 'most company logos in one shot' award.

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