Cult director David Lynch has said that paid-for product placement on the big screen “putrefies the environment” and is “total f**king bulls**t.” An admirable stance, maybe, but let’s face it: the real world is saturated with brands and logos, so perhaps filmmakers can be forgiven for including real-life products in their movies in order to make their fictional universes more believable.
Nevertheless, such inclusions can become offensive and distracting when they’re unnatural-seeming, gratuitous or, even more craftily, written into the film. And while this situation is now probably to be expected in Hollywood blockbusters, their cinematic counterparts with arguably more artistic merit haven’t been immune to the trend, either.
Here are 20 surprisingly shameless product placements in serious, critically acclaimed and often Academy Award-winning movies that should have known better.
19. The Theory of Everything (2014)
One of the theories espoused by Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking in Oscar-winning 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything involves what makes white clothes glow more brilliantly under fluorescent light. The answer? Tide detergent. The James Marsh-directed movie’s unscrupulous use of Tide over any other washing powder was masterminded by New Media Group Product Placements and won a 2015 Brandcameo Product Placement Award for Product Placement Achievement in an Oscar-Nominated Film.
18. Argo (2012)
One award not printed on the DVD cover of Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning 2012 political thriller, Argo, is its 2012 Brandcameo prize for Product Placement Achievement in an Oscar-Nominated Film. The movie took home the gong for its inclusion of an Iranian KFC outlet, which – despite making a statement about contemporary Iranian-American relations – is historically inaccurate, since KFCs were closed in Iran in 1979, a year before that in which the movie is set.
17. The Help (2011)
Tate Taylor’s Oscar-winning 2011 ’60s drama, The Help, features several product plugs, and even though Crisco is mentioned in the source novel, its placement in the movie still feels distractingly intrusive. Indeed, maid Minny Jackson, portrayed by Octavia Spencer, practically does a Crisco commercial mid-scene, stating that it’s good for treating creaky door hinges, tired eyes and hard skin as well as frying chicken. The plug, perhaps inevitably, won a 2011 Brandcameo Product Placement Award.
Image: YouTube/Damyen Kilminster
16. The Fighter (2010)
The list of awards received by David O. Russell’s 2010 sports biopic, The Fighter, includes two Oscars, two Golden Globes… and a Brandcameo Award for Product Placement Achievement by an Oscar Nominated Film. This last honor was for the movie’s abundant Budweiser spots, which are jarringly prominent throughout. “Brand outreach” company Stone Management’s founders Adam and Cat Stone were behind all of the film’s numerous product placements.
Image: YouTube/MOVIECLIPS Trailers
15. Philomena (2013)
BAFTA-winning and four-time Oscar-nominated 2013 drama Philomena also won a 2014 Brandcameo Award for Product Placement Achievement. NMG Product Placement handled the movie’s glaring Guinness plug, with the brand having been served well by its client Diageo even as the Stephen Frears-directed feature was being written. Perhaps this is why the alcoholic beverage received an astounding 120 seconds of uninterrupted screen time.
14. Dark Shadows (2012)
Surprisingly, the most horrific thing about Tim Burton’s 2012 adaptation of goth-tinged soap opera Dark Shadows is the movie’s in-your-face McDonald’s commercial spot. Indeed, one of the first things Johnny Depp’s vampire, Barnabas Collins, encounters upon waking from a centuries-long sleep is a huge glowing McDonald’s Golden Arches, which he unconvincingly attributes to demonic legend Mephistopheles.
Image: YouTube/20th Century Fox
13. Gone Girl (2014)
The twists and turns of David Fincher’s critically acclaimed 2014 thriller, Gone Girl, are matched only by a series of distractingly forthright brand cameos in the film. These include the likes of Volvo, Diet Coke, New Balance, Mountain Dew and Dunkin’ Donuts. Savoir Beds’ placement, meanwhile, saw the real-life company’s internet traffic increase by a fifth during Gone Girl’s time in theaters.
Image: YouTube/JoBlo Movie Trailers
12. Captain Phillips (2013)
Directed by Paul Greengrass, gritty 2013 drama Captain Phillips was put up for six Oscars. Its vivid depiction of a cargo ship’s hijacking by pirates aims for realism at every turn, which is perhaps why its unrealistically over-the-top Maersk branding – from repeatedly lingering shots of logo-emblazoned containers to heavily branded emails – seems so forced and out of character.
11. The Great Gatsby (2013)
Baz Luhrmann’s Academy Award-winning 2013 take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby also wasn’t above distracting intrusions in the form of product placement. Indeed, the filmmakers partnered with several brands to create the movie’s stylish 1920s-era look. The most unnatural and gratuitous of these placements, though, has to be that involving Moët & Chandon champagne, which is featured in impractical oversized bottles and always exposed label-side-out throughout the movie.
Image: via Screen Used
10. 127 Hours (2010)
Surely a biographical drama about a climber trapped by a large rock for five days could escape without showcasing any real-life brands. Sadly not. Danny Boyle 2010 drama 127 Hours includes an unbelievable-seeming Capital One card placement when said climber, Aron Ralston – played by James Franco – empties his pockets. The movie also plugs Victorinox Swiss Army knives. And incidentally, Ralston didn’t mention either brand – or even a bankcard – in his original book.
Image: YouTube/VISO Trailers
9. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Another movie that might be perceived as being above spell-breaking brand promotion is director Kathryn Bigelow’s six-time Oscar-winning 2008 war drama, The Hurt Locker. The film’s product placement was handled by Stone Management, which somehow managed to squeeze in a bizarre-seeming cameo for Capri Sun midway through a tense sniper duel. Other products and brands featured include Pepsi, Marlboro Lights, Hyundai and Toyota.
8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Sony may own Columbia Pictures, the production company behind David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it nevertheless somewhat resisted replacing the Apple laptops mentioned in the original books with Sony VAIOs. Still, the movie does put at least one Sony laptop into the hands of its protagonist, and it also features Sony-branded TVs, cellphones and a camera.
7. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Director John McTiernan’s 1999 heist movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, features possibly one of the most bizarre product plugs in cinematic history. Before breaking down her latest theory, detective Catherine Banning – played by Rene Russo – grabs a Pepsi ONE from a vending machine, pops the ring pull and glugs the drink like she’s chugging a beer at a frat party. Even her co-stars seem appalled.
6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
“Stop dreaming. Start living,” declared the poster for Ben Stiller’s 2013 take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. However, this particular life seems to have been paid for by a string of jarring product placements. Indeed, Mitty’s life-changing experience at a heavily branded Papa John’s in Iceland is especially shocking – not least because there are actually no Papa John’s stores in Iceland. Small wonder that the plug won a 2013 Brandcameo prize for Worst Product Placement.
5. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Sometimes product placements can undermine a serious movie’s integrity – especially in a film inspired by real-life events – and Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning 2012 drama, Zero Dark Thirty, serves as a perfect example of how this can happen. The filmmakers here worked with Hollywood Branded and Stone Management to play off government officials’ reported preference for security-friendly BlackBerrys and ensured that BlackBerry devices were given a prominent role in locating Osama Bin Laden. And even if the choice of brand was somewhat accurate, the plug was conspicuously blatant.
Image: YouTube/Pooja Patel
4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Director David O. Russell’s Academy Award-winning 2012 drama, Silver Linings Playbook, features a bizarrely reoccurring Hellmann’s mayo jar throughout a noticeable portion of its running time. And this seems particularly out of place when considering the fact that no mayo jar whatsoever appeared in the original novel. The book did, however, allude to Raisin Bran, and the critically acclaimed movie won a 2012 Brandcameo Award for Product Placement Adaptation for its eventual Raisin Bran plug, courtesy of Stone Management.
Image: YouTube/MOVIES Coming Soon
3. Nebraska (2013)
Numerous – and somewhat obtrusive – illuminated Budweiser signage and product shots helped heartfelt 2013 drama Nebraska win the 2013 Brandcameo Award for Overall Product Placement. In fact, according to Brandchannel, Budweiser branding was spotted in almost 25 percent of all box office-topping movies that year. Again, Adam and Cat Stone from Stone Management were responsible for product placement in director Alexander Payne’s critically acclaimed feature.
2. Nightcrawler (2014)
In 2015 the red Dodge Challenger from Dan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller, Nightcrawler, was awarded the Brandcameo prize for Best Role as a Supporting Product Placement. That said, the slick shots of the muscle car often seem gratuitous and outright unnecessary. Martin Scorsese, for instance, achieved the same kind of fetishistic car-love in 1976 classic Taxi Driver – yet without making it seem akin to one long commercial.
Image: YouTub/Chris Biscan
1. Superman II (1980)
1980’s Superman II is one movie that should have known better with its product placement for a different reason – that is, given its potential appeal to children. Philip Morris reportedly paid the film’s producers $43,000 to work a branded Marlboro truck into the final battle scene, and shockingly, the brand is also referenced at least 13 times during the Richard Lester-directed feature. In fact, the Marlboro love is so blatant that it led Congress to get involved with the issue of big-screen product placement.