If you thought that ticket sales alone paid for your favorite movies, then I have bad news. Hollywood pads its bottom line through deals with retailers and manufacturers. In other words…
Product placement is a major moneymaker, both for the big and small screens. For example, Heineken allegedly paid a cool $45 million to the makers of Skyfall—you know, the movie about a beloved spy who famously prefers martinis to all other beverages—for Bond to pick up one of their trademark green bottles.
But baking advertising into your entertainment is just one way that Hollywood convinces you to spend money. The studios also team up with restaurants, game companies, and other businesses to bring must-have toys and tempting treats to the market. They’re usually very good at this. But when movie tie-ins go bad, they go really bad.
Nail Polish Inspired by ‘The Giver’
Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver became an instant classic when it was published in 1993. It’s one of the first major dystopian YA novels, and when Hollywood ran out of Hunger Games clones to adapt, they tried making a movie based on The Giver in 2014. The quality of the film aside (it’s not great), somebody thought it was a good idea to partner with nail polish brand China Glaze for a promotional movie tie-in. Because nothing says, “Cute manicure!” like a dystopian world where color and emotion are illegal.
I have to assume that the logic behind this decision involved drawing a straight line between “dystopian YA movies” to “teenage girls” to “makeup.” Considering that there’s an entire makeup line based on The Hunger Games, I really shouldn’t be surprised.
Denny’s Menu Inspired by ‘Fantastic Four’
In 2015, 20th Century Fox still held the rights to certain Marvel characters, including Deadpool, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. Desperate to cash in on that sweet box office gold (and to make everyone forget about the failed 2005 film), Fox pushed this lackluster superhero flick into the world.
And you know what I want after I’ve watched a bad movie? A meal at America’s favorite diner: Denny’s. This isn’t the first or last time that the restaurant would try out a movie menu, but it’s notable for The Thing Burger, which is drenched in bright orange “Thing Sauce.” There are also hashbrowns, bacon, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg, in case you were worried that your arteries weren’t hard enough.
The Human Torch got a spicy, sizzling skillet that features a massive sausage, and I’m not even going to speculate about the reasons. The Invisible Woman’s dish features fruit-topped pancakes because all women are on diets, apparently. If you’re still hungry, why not try the Doom Lava Cake? It’s an underbaked brownie topped with chocolate ice cream and powdered sugar.
Sherlock Holmes Meets 7-11
I’m not the only person to find food corporation press releases to be equal parts hilarious and depressing. Justin McElroy has been tearing those to shreds in the “Munch Squad” segment of My Brother, My Brother, and Me for years. But seriously, you need to check out 7-11’s press release about their promotion tie-in with… checks notes… Sherlock Holmes?
I’m not a fan of the Robert Downey Jr. version of Holmes, other than casting Jude Law as a stone-cold Dr. Watson. But this bizarre corporate partnership makes even less sense than RDJ playing one of the most legendary British characters of all time. The convenience store included “clues” on coffee cup sleeves that led to anyone who bothered to follow them to a sneak peek at the movie’s first scene. Here it is, straight from the desk of the 7-Eleven’s VP:
“Sherlock Holmes has already garnered a significant amount of positive buzz and promises to be a hit this holiday season,” said Rita Bargerhuff, 7-Eleven Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. “While consumers are already seeing Warner Bros. Pictures’ marketing campaign for the film, 7-Eleven customers will get a peek at the Holmes and Watson characters on in-store signage with clever phrases promoting value-oriented offerings, like quality fresh food and coffee.”
What fun! I love value-oriented offerings!
‘Dirty Dancing,’ But Make It a Board Game
The soundtrack to Dirty Dancing sold 32 million copies. The board game? Not so much.
In order to move around the board, players had to perform challenges related to the movie from one of the following categories:
- Who Said It?
- The Entertainment Staff
- Feel the Music
- Behind the Scenes
- Surprise Dance Move
So basically, it’s Trivial Pursuit, but you have to dance. There’s something deeply tragic about imagining two players performing for each other based on a prompt from the Talent Show Act cards included in the box. According to the official verbiage, “Players relive the summer magic as they travel the game board.” In what universe would you not just re-watch the movie instead?
Jar Jar Binks: The Most Terrifying Mascot Imaginable
LucasFilm was built on merchandising. I’m not here to criticize that. But I am going to criticize the decision to make Jar Jar Frickin’ Binks the face of the prequels. It’s clear that everyone behind The Phantom Menace expected Jar Jar to be the loveable breakout star of the film. Things didn’t exactly pan out that way.
Read More: 6 Changes To Make ‘The Phantom Menace’ Great
Along with the usual t-shirts and action figures, the studio also brought us the single most upsetting piece of movie tie-in merchandise the world has ever known. Yeah, I’m talking about the lollipop. Such an innocent word to describe the horror of this candy nightmare. Did no one – literally no one – involved in the making of this fiendish confection stop to think about how anyone who ate it would have to lock lips with an alien?
Step One: Press a button to unhinge Jar Jar’s mighty jaw.
Step Two: Rotate the alien’s head so that you can suckle on his engorged, bright red tongue.
‘Mean Girls’: The Video Game
To be fair, the producers behind this wild idea realized their mistake and axed the project before it hit shelves. But there was a time when game developers tried to make a Nintendo DS title based on Mean Girls.
That time was 2008, a full four years after the film hit theaters.
What would the gameplay even look like? I’m glad you asked! A dedicated YouTuber was able to track down an unfinished beta of the game and posted a full walkthrough. In short, it’s a collection of mini-games loosely connected by a dialogue-based storyline.
It… doesn’t look that bad? Buggy, sure, but for a 20-year-old unfinished game, it could be worse. It doesn’t hold a candle to the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game made for Atari 2600, which was so bad it tanked the entire video game industry for years.
‘The Batman’ Calzony
Okay, first: “calzony” is not a word despite what Little Caesars wants us to think. In case you missed it, a Calzony is a cross between a pizza and a calzone. And for a limited time, you could buy a cheap origami pizza that vaguely resembled the Bat Signal. It’s not bad. It’s just weird.
What’s truly bizarre about this promotional tie-in is the mismatch between the film and the product. While some superhero movies might make sense for a pizza partnership, The Batman was sold as a dark, gritty reinvention of the character. If there are two concepts I don’t want anywhere near my pizza, it’s “dark” and “gritty.”
I’d still probably eat it, though.
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Teddy Bear
Are you ready to cringe so hard that you pull a muscle? To cash in on every possible money-making opportunity for 50 Shades of Grey, the studio paired up with Vermont Teddy Bear Company for a $90 adult gift. Their words, not mine.
Still not convinced that this is the worst movie tie-in ever? Check out this promotional copy:
“He features smoldering gray eyes, a suit and satin tie, mask — even mini handcuffs.” The bear is “[h]andmade in Vermont, USA using the silkiest fur we can get our paws on; smooth, faux-suede details and 100% recycled stuffing.”
That description is cursed. If I ever met someone who displayed one of these bears in their home, office, or vehicle, I would go catatonic like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.