FOR DECADES, FILM characters ate nameless corn flakes, smoked unidentified cigarettes and flew on anonymous airlines, while Wile E. Coyote bought all of his hardware from the generic Acme company.
But, in the last few decades, with merchandise such as James Bond’s Aston-Martin and “E.T.’s” Reese’s Pieces, brand names slowly began to creep into films. Sometimes, a company name or logo is casually inserted to add authenticity. Often, manufacturers work out elaborate deals to showcase their product.
Nowadays, these plugs are so pervasive and so artfully done that you may not notice them. In “You’ve Got Mail,” it’s hard to miss the five times that the principals go to Starbucks. But subtler plugs may register only in your unconscious: the bottle of Evian (center screen) on Meg Ryan’s dining room table, another Evian (also center screen) when she and Tom Hanks shift into her living room, or the Stolichnaya bottle (center screen) as Hanks mixes a drink for his dad.
Thus, the inaugural Brandies, to honor the most notable and noticeable use of brand-name products in films. To all of the following winners, congratulations. And if you’d like to place a product in this column, feel free to call. (Aston-Martin, are you listening?)
BURPEES AND THE BEES
“Psycho”: Viggo Mortensen’s hardware store includes a big Burpee display.
“Godzilla”: Inspecting a destroyed Japanese ship, Matthew Broderick finds a can of Bumble Bee tuna.
“Stepmom”: Julia Roberts’ Nikon gets several closeups as she photographs Susan Sarandon and the kids.
“Ronin”: Robert De Niro and Jean Reno drive an Audi through Paris; Reno then drives a Mercedes; the villain drives a Citroen; three other bad guys drive a BMW; De Niro and Reno hijack a Volkswagen; and in the closing credits, the producers thank Volvo.
HEALTHY PEOPLE, HEALTHY FOODS
“Hurlyburly”: Sean Penn’s kitchen counter includes a strikingly placed Met-RX box.
FILMMAKERS’ CONCESSIONS TO THE CONCESSIONS STAND
“The Object of My Affection”: John Pankow unpacks a sack of groceries, including a Pepsi bottle.
“There’s Something About Mary”: As Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller discuss corndogs in the background, the foreground consists of two Diet Pepsi glasses.
“Antz”: At a picnic, Z and the princess encounter a giant Mountain Dew bottle and, of course, a Pepsi.
HOW STELLA GOT HER AIRFARE BACK
“How Stella Got Her Groove Back”: In alternating shots at the airport, Angela Bassett and her son chat, with each standing in front of an American Airlines sign.
MOST PLUGS PER MINUTE
“The Theory of Flight”: Though the trailer’s only 2-1/2 minutes long, it features six shots of Helena Bonham Carter wearing a Lucky Strike T-shirt.
THE WHOLE MOVIE’S A PLUG
“You’ve Got Mail”: America Online
THE WHOLE MOVIE’S AN ANTI-PLUG
“A Civil Action”: After ID’ing Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace as the companies that probably caused all the deaths and illness with toxic dumping, John Travolta smiles, “Do you know who Beatrice is? Peter Pan peanut butter, Tropicana orange juice, Rosarita Mexican food, Swiss Miss cocoa, Samsonite luggage, Playtex bras, the list goes on!”
THANKS BUT NO THANKS FOR THE PLUG
“Snake Eyes”: The assassin shoots the politician from behind a Miller Lite sign.
“Your Friends and Neighbors”: As Aaron Eckhart and wife Amy Brenneman stop in front of Calgon, Fritos and Tylenol displays at the market, he tells her that, to improve their sex life, she should envision him as “a big penis” while he should see her “as a big vagina.”
“Hurlyburly”: On the glass coffee table, next to the cocaine, is a prominently displayed copy of Daily Variety.