10 Disastrous Attempts By Corporations To Turn Movies Into Ads
In one of the more cynical moves by the movie industry, major corporations sometimes finance their own movies or muscle their unyielding influence behind the scenes of studio films, effectively morphing a movie into a feature-length advertisement.
But making a film that intends to sell more than cinema tickets often leads to disaster. Whether through poor box office receipts, awful reviews, or cinematic karma that derails the production, these thinly veiled advertisements litter cinema’s graveyard as rarely mentioned embarrassments.
10 The Internship
Although Google didn’t hand the makers of The Internship a blank check with the words “Make people forget we’re mining their private data for profit” scrawled on the back, they were so highly involved in the film that they may as well have codirected it.
Throughout the production, Kyle Ewing, Google’s head of global staffing, advised the filmmakers on the inner workings of the goliath Internet firm. Google employees designed the film’s end credits and even added lines of dialogue. The production was also allowed to film scenes at Google headquarters without paying licensing or location fees.
Google executives were allowed to comment on the screenplay and view the movie’s final cut before release. The executives even had a scene—featuring Google’s self-driving car getting into a wreck—removed from the final cut.
Beyond the production, Google reportedly had a say in how the film was marketed, which probably explains why the movie’s poster looked like a picture of the Google home page that had been hacked by a group of rabid Wedding Crashers fans.
Indeed, The Internship tried to soak up some of the lingering goodwill of Wedding Crashers, a raunchy comedy that also starred Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. But Google apparently refused to lend its name to an R-rated comedy, so the film had its teeth pulled out by being confined to a PG-13 rating.
A reedited, R-rated version was released on DVD and Blu-ray, but the damage was already done. The Internship flopped at the box office. It looks like the world wasn’t ready to pay for the privilege of watching a two-hour Google commercial.
9 Leonard Part 6
The Coca-Cola Company
Before Bill Cosby’s despicable offscreen antics were revealed, the actor was universally loved as the patron saint of TV dads. His sitcom, The Cosby Show, is considered the most successful TV show of the 1980s. Its success is credited with paving the way for other shows centered around African Americans, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color.
At the height of his fame, Cosby’s brand of warm, fatherly humor should have easily segued into movie success. But like a Chinese cameraman following Usain Bolt, Cosby’s 1987 film, Leonard Part 6, segued into disaster.
Leonard Part 6 was released by Columbia Pictures when The Coca-Cola Company owned the film studio. The 1970s was a difficult decade for the soft drink giant, and its acquisition of Columbia Pictures was an attempt to explore new avenues in product marketing.
A film starring Cosby, who had appeared in a string of 1980s Coke commercials, should have been the perfect fit for a movie funded by The Coca-Cola Company. If he had just acted in the film and not cowritten and produced this unwatchable mess, it might have just been another bad 1980s movie instead of being widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made.
The plot follows the exploits of an old spy (Cosby) who is pulled out of retirement to once again save the world. The title, Leonard Part 6, is an inside joke referring to parts 1–5 being too top secret to be shown on-screen. You’re probably beginning to realize why you’ve never heard of this movie.
Vying for attention between the awful jokes is the almost ubiquitous presence of the Coca-Cola logo. After Ishtar, another high-profile Columbia Pictures’ flop, Coca-Cola sold the production company to Sony in 1989. As for Cosby, he concentrated on television for the remainder of the decade.
8 Mac And Me
Mac And Me is an example of copy-and-paste filmmaking at its most shameless. Like Leonard Part 6, this unapologetic ET rip-off is considered one of the worst films ever made.
Mac and Me was completely funded by McDonald’s, although they didn’t try to hide this fact. Ronald McDonald introduces the trailer with the aggressive niceness of a serial killer.
The plot follows the alien Mac, who crash-lands on Earth with his family. After being separated from his parents, Mac meets a boy named Eric, and an adventure in cross-promotion of products begins. Not only was the McDonald’s logo highly visible in the movie, Mac and Me was also pimped out to other companies. Coke and Skittles made multiple appearances as the only food and drink that Mac consumes.
Besides Mac and Me being a crass attempt at marketing synergy, there are many other reasons for the film’s financial and critical failure. The design of the aliens—with their wild, rolling eyes and perpetually puckered mouths—is ugly, and the plot is meandering and dull. Nonsensical scenes that have Ronald McDonald dancing around with kids in a McDonald’s restaurant also didn’t help this doomed project.
Mac and Me’s infamy lives on to a certain extent on the American talk show Conan. A running gag has Paul Rudd always playing the same clip from the movie when he appears on the show, which is a fitting legacy for this cynical piece of cash-grab cinema.
7 Somers Town
In an age when fewer American movies are made and individual film budgets are skyrocketing, Hollywood studios are increasingly using product placements, marketing cross-promotions, and general artistic compromise in exchange for corporate cooperation. In comparison, the independent film circuit may seem like a bastion of artistic integrity, but indie films are also awash in corporate cash as proven by 2008’s Somers Town.
Somers Town was conceived in a Eurostar boardroom. The train company initiated the film as a way to advertise their new high-speed Paris-to-London service.
Originally commissioned as a 20-minute short, Somers Town was fleshed out to a feature-length production when Shane Meadows, the acclaimed director of This Is England, loaned his indie cred to Eurostar. Unlike some of the other films on this list, Somers Town wasn’t savaged by critics. In fact, it was an awards darling.
Thomas Turgoose, one of the male leads, won various best actor honors. At the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Somers Town took home the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature film, which is the festival’s highest award.
Unfortunately for Eurostar, even with all these industry honors, Somers Town just disappeared. It had an extremely limited release. In America, it only opened on one screen. Unsurprisingly, this one screen didn’t attract enough business to cover the film’s estimated £500,000 budget. Although the film did better in the UK, it still only made about £121,500 on its opening weekend.
Somers Town became a film festival favorite and little else. Ignored by the general public, the movie’s audience was the film festival–going type, i.e., wealthy folks who are more accustomed to airlines than train stations.
Various Food And Kitchen Products
Scheduled for a 2002 release, Threshold Entertainment’s Foodfight! was supposed to be the next Toy Story and Threshold Entertainment—as boldly proclaimed by the company’s CEO Larry Kasanoff—was supposed to be “the next-generation Pixar.” Obviously, that didn’t happen.
The script for Foodfight! was influenced by Toy Story in that food and kitchen product mascots like Mr. Clean and Twinkie the Kid came to life instead of toys. After all, kids love cleaning product mascots as much as they love their toys, right?
Kasanoff certainly thought so. After securing the film’s $50 million production budget, Threshold Entertainment approached a number of well-known kitchen brands. Using the promise of widespread advertisement as bait, Threshold convinced the brands to help pay the $100 million needed to promote the film upon its release.
It took two years of negotiations to determine what the brand mascots were allowed to do on-screen. For example, McKee Foods refused to allow a scene in which a Threshold original character made catcalls at Little Debbie, a McKee Foods mascot.
Foodfight! missed its planned 2002 release because of a supposed robbery at Threshold Entertainment’s Santa Monica headquarters. Hard drives containing all of the movie’s files were stolen. Nevertheless, the production was restarted, and a new release date of 2005 was scheduled after Threshold secured roughly $20 million in additional funding. But Threshold missed its rescheduled release dates for the next three years.
An all-star cast from the early 2000s—including Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria, and Hilary Duff—had recorded their dialogue for the movie, and it had received a PG rating, which means that some version of the film did exist. So why all the missed deadlines?
Part of the reason appears to have been Kasanoff himself. The CEO appointed himself as the film’s director despite his lack of experience. After the alleged robbery, Kasanoff changed the animation technique from the traditional squash and stretch to motion capture. This created a gulf between Kasanoff and the animators, whom he directed with vague instructions such as “more awesome” and “30 percent better.”
Threshold Entertainment eventually defaulted on a loan, which allowed their insurance company to step in and finish the film as quickly and cheaply as possible. In 2012, Foodfight! eventually whimpered onto DVD, sporting animation that would have looked archaic on a PSone.
5 Green Lantern
It’s not surprising that toy companies become embroiled in comic book movies. After all, films that feature superheroes saving the day offer a direct link to the imaginations of kids who suck toys off the shelf. However, few companies have exploited this relationship with the same reckless abandon as toy manufacturer Mattel did with 2011’s Green Lantern.
From the earliest stages of Green Lantern’s development, Mattel artists worked with the film’s artists in creating gadgets and vehicles that would translate from the silver screen to the toy shelf. One set piece, where the Green Lantern creates a glowing energy track to guide a crashing helicopter to safety, looks like an advertisement for Hot Wheels.
Mattel own the Hot Wheels brand and had a special Green Lantern Hot Wheels toy produced a full year before the film landed in cinemas. Mattel shamelessly used the film sequence in the toy’s advertisement, just in case the connection between the film and Hot Wheels was too subtle.
But Green Lantern flopped spectacularly, leaving Warner Brothers with an estimated $90 million loss. The movie’s failure was also attributed to delaying the beginning of the DC movie universe, which was supposed to kick off with Green Lantern.
However, after the film’s poor performance and critical backlash, this version of the DC movie universe was scrapped. Instead, it was rebooted with the release of 2013’s Man Of Steel, a film that didn’t have a Hot Wheels advertisement rammed in between the action.
4 Act Of Valor
The 2012 action film Act of Valor was made with real Navy SEALs instead of actors, signifying an escalation in the military’s long-standing relationship with Hollywood filmmakers. It all started when Act of Valor was conceived deep in the bowels of the Pentagon. The film was commissioned by the Navy’s Special Warfare Command as a recruitment video that would rival any Hollywood blockbuster.
Immediately after its release, Act of Valor was criticized for appearing more like overt propaganda than entertainment. Critics of the military’s deepening involvement in Hollywood—such as David L. Robb, author of Operation Hollywood, and Tricia Jenkins, author of The CIA in Hollywood—felt that Act of Valor came dangerously close to violating US laws forbidding government agencies from partaking in publicity and propaganda.
The movie was a moderate success at the box office but was savaged by critics, who panned the ludicrous plot and the wooden acting of the Navy SEALs. Even as a propaganda piece, the film may have failed. Time magazine pointed out that the film’s most memorable scene was a funeral for one of the SEALs killed in action. Presumably, this was not the image the Navy intended for the audience to remember after they left the cinema.
Hoping to capitalize on the huge success of the Transformers films—a movie franchise based on the Hasbro line of plastic robots—Hasbro was eager to create another successful film series based on another one of their licensed properties. As part of the deal with Universal Studios, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner chose the game Battleship as the next property to be adapted into a feature-length movie.
Unlike Transformers, which had a preexisting mythology, Battleship was based on a board game that had zero story or characterization. Undeterred, Battleship‘s director Peter Berg adapted the game into a naval warfare film that he had been hoping to make for some time. To properly integrate the board game into Berg’s vision, Goldner set up meetings between the director and game psychiatrists so that Battleship‘s “hook” could be explained.
After the film went into production, Hasbro referred to themselves as the movie’s producers. They even proudly showed off their involvement by having the company’s name appear in the Battleship trailer, reminding audiences of their past cinematic successes. A new Battleship toy was also put into production to coincide with the film’s release.
For all its bombastic action and cutting-edge CGI, Battleship sunk at the box office. Losing out to the mega success that was Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, Battleship‘s opening weekend was so bad that it surpassed Disney’s John Carter to become the worst US opening weekend flop when compared to its budget.
2 Need For Speed
Like companies within the toy industry, the video game developer Electronic Arts (EA) grew tired of ham-fisted film adaptations of their games. So instead of selling off the licensing rights to Need for Speed, one of their biggest game franchises, EA approached director John Gatins to create a film based on the driving simulator.
Gatins agreed to direct, and he worked alongside EA in developing a script for the movie adaption. Predictably for a film based on a computer game, Need for Speed was eaten alive by critics who tore into its shallow characterization and unbelievable plot. With the American moviegoing public treating the film with relative indifference, Need for Speed underperformed during its opening weekend.
The movie’s worldwide reception, however, was much more positive, particularly in China where it completely recouped its $66 million production budget. The poor US results for Need for Speed and its success overseas may end up being a disaster for American audiences. The planned sequel to Need for Speed, currently being developed in conjunction with a Chinese movie company, is part of a growing trend of American movies made with an emphasis on being sold overseas.
This new business strategy could cause problems for certain film genres, especially comedy. American humor doesn’t translate well in Asian markets. In recent years, film comedies accounted for just 13 percent of the output from the four major studios. This is a huge drop from 2010, when one-third of film studio output was in the comedy genre.
1 United Passions
United Passions—which was originally an ego trip for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA)—became a catastrophe instead for the shamed football organization. The movie tells the tale of Sepp Blatter, the 2015 FIFA president, and two of his predecessors as they steered the organization through the ups and downs of the late 20th century.
As the principal investor in United Passions, FIFA bankrolled 80 percent of the film’s $30 million budget. The entire production appears to have been a battle between the film’s director, Frederic Auburtin, and top FIFA executives like Blatter.
Auburtin blamed FIFA for destroying his vision for the movie. According to the French director, FIFA demanded a script within four months and didn’t allow certain story elements to appear in the finished film. A subplot involving a corruption investigation was supposedly cut from the film’s script. United Passions’ final cut was also tweaked by FIFA before appearing at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ironically, United Passions—a film about the integrity of FIFA executives—was released in the US a week after seven FIFA officials were arrested on corruption charges, as if America really needed another reason not to care about a soccer movie.
United Passions was the lowest-grossing movie ever released in America, making a paltry $918 at the US box office. In total, the film was reported to have lost $26.8 million. It was also ripped apart by critics and currently holds a 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
As for Sepp Blatter, he is currently the focus of a Swiss investigation into his supposed criminal mismanagement of FIFA.