WHEN IT COMES TO FILM product placement, 1999 was a banner year. “Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me” and “The World Is Not Enough” set new standards in the field, with endless plugs for everything from Heineken to Virgin Airlines.
Many manufacturers are thrilled to have their products used onscreen. But looking at some onscreen promotions last year, it’s clear the execs may not have thought things through.
On the other hand, a questionable display of their product may not be their fault. Sometimes filmmakers use recognizable items to underline the “reality” of their film. And so alert viewers are confused: Was this plug planned? And if so, by whom?
For example: In “Eyes Wide Shut,” on the kitchen table, center screen, is a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Did the company pay for this? Was Stanley Kubrick simply trying to convince viewers that this U.K. location is actually an American kitchen? Does the margarine reflect the theme of what-is-reality/what-is-a-dream? (Is Tom Cruise just fantasizing that it’s butter?) Perhaps the often-prescient Kubrick was anticipating public reaction to his film: I can’t believe it’s not better.
No matter what the motive, onscreen plugs for products are now an inevitable part of American filmmaking. Below are some very upbeat uses of brand names in films, followed by some uses that are more dubious.
Either way, congratulations to all the following winners of the second annual Plugolas.
SODA, BRAINS AND SEX
As a Coca-Cola can sits center screen in “Deep Blue Sea,” Samuel L. Jackson and Jaqueline McKenzie discuss genetic progress and increased brain size.
When students in “American Pie” are mulling the rumor that Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is “equipped,” Thomas Ian Nicholas is holding a Pepsi can.
In “Election,” Matthew Broderick has Coke in the center of his fridge, but when he sneaks off to the basement to watch porno, he brings a Pepsi.
In “Bowfinger,” small-time film producer Steve Martin considers a delivery from Federal Express as a symbol of success.
REAL MEASURE OF SUCCESS
In “Bowfinger,” Steve Martin has copies of Daily Variety on his coffee table.
I’M CUCKOO FOR…
In “Notting Hill,” Julia Roberts kisses Hugh Grant for the first time, next to a prominently displayed box of Cocoa Puffs.
“Dick,” set in 1973, features a TV ad for Cocoa Puffs.
GENEROUS PLUG FOR A COMPETITOR
In Paramount’s “The General’s Daughter” and Touchstone’s “The Insider,” characters watch videotapes on Sony players.
GENEROUS PLUG FOR A COMPETITOR, SORT OF
In Warner Bros.’ “Deep Blue Sea,” the research institute Aquatica is filled with Sony monitors — all of which blow up.
MILLER: FOR THE GOOD TIMES
A Miller Beer sign in a bar hangs over William H. Macy just after he’s been fired in “Magnolia.”
In “Straight Story,” Richard Farnsworth orders a Miller Lite after having been on the wagon for years. (“It’s good!”)
With a big Miller High Life sign behind him, Denzel Washington in “The Hurricane” watches race riots on a barroom TV.
In “Tumbleweeds,” Janet McTeer drives along slurping an RC Cola, then tosses the can out the window.
NEW USES FOR FAMILIAR PRODUCTS
In “Boys Don’t Cry,” two characters get high by snorting Redi Whip aerosol while on a playground merry-go-round.
Nicole Kidman in “Eyes Wide Shut” hides marijuana in a Band-Aid box.
In “The Green Mile,” prisoner Sam Rockwell torments guard David Morse with a Moon Pie.
DIALOGUE: SOMETIMES POSITIVE
Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty” announces he’s traded in his Camry for “A 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I always wanted.”
Edward Norton in “Fight Club” groans, “I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct.”
Andie MacDowell in “The Muse” shrieks at Albert Brooks: “You put up someone at the Four Seasons Hotel? Those rooms cost a fortune!”
THANKS BUT NO THANKS FOR THE PLUG
In “Austin Powers,” Robert Wagner suggests Dr. Evil’s diabolical company owns Starbucks.
The drug dealer’s apartment in “Go!” is dominated by a giant Bose sound system box.
In “Three Kings,” a Saddam loyalist eats a Slim Jim.