The days of the low-budget and often amateurish television commercials we all grew up with are way behind us. All major companies who invest their money to convince a worldwide audience of the top quality of their products rely on a specific brand of filmmakers. Years ago, John Landis directed Michael Jackson in his “Thriller” music video, and he most certainly was one of the trendsetters to expand his knowledge and pass it on to next generations of filmmakers—not necessarily in order to make feature films. And why’s that?
Because there is also the territory of television commercials, and that’s big business as well. Coca-Cola, with its sparkling, inspiring and uplifting Christmas commercials through the years, is one of the companies that paved the way for all international enterprises to follow in their footsteps and do what they are all supposed to do: sell their products. And a well-made commercial might do wonders to achieve that goal.
I’m not going into detail about the impact of a professional commercial, nor how it affects the sales volume of any company. This is not a scientific paper nor an academic approach on the how and why of movie magic in all of its forms. Here I only want to convey how movie magic in its purest form is presented to the public by merely giving a limited number of examples, which all indicate that a whole team of talented craftsmen—including renowned filmmakers—are involved in the process of making (television) commercials.
Since most of those ‘commercial makers’ only get thirty seconds up to averagely one minute at the most (the lucky few are able to claim more running time, while fabulous and extended web versions are also often available), they have to be extremely careful with every shot, every image, close-up, or gag they handle. Every second counts. The performances, the editing, score, camera, they’re all extremely crucial to create the right and most perfect atmosphere and catch the viewer’s attention to make sure he’s familiar with the product and will remember its name when he leaves home and goes to the store (or shops online).
And then there’s humor. Humor is gold, and if they’re able to combine that in a well-written script with solid actors to deliver the perfect lines with their own subtle twist, as in the twenty-five commercials we picked out here—nearly all of them featuring Academy Award winners, by the way—you enter the magic kingdom of the movies. And once you get there, you know when the magic begins, but you don’t know when it will end.
Anyone who makes commercials realizes it requires a huge amount of movie magic to put in such a tight time frame before it is delivered to our very own doorstep and into the privacy of your living room—or on your desktop screen, laptop, or cellphone for that matter. In short, a commercial remains loyal to movies in general, while at the same time, it needs to handle the very same basic principles you can find in any feature. Because—and let’s face it—they all try to remain loyal to the very best that movies can offer, as well as the best that money can buy, whether it’s brilliant editing as you get to see in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (2017), or when you’re reminded of Ennio Morricone’s memorable score in “The Mission” (1986, which has been used in numerous commercials since its release), or why not recreate the passion and dedication of François Truffaut’s directorial efforts to his craft in his Academy Award-winning “La nuit américaine” (1973, a.k.a. “Day for Night”), watching Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown teaching us a life lesson in Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot” (1989), or finally learning endlessly from Steven Spielberg’s overall contribution to the history of cinema. That’s what one could describe as learning from the very best. They all bring to life the most valuable ingredients for any feature and for an upbeat commercial that is supposed to attract a huge following.
That’s why it becomes all the more interesting when brilliant actors and actresses appear in them. Then you really get the feeling you’re watching a commercial of superior movie quality.
So, let’s get back to where we started, and illustrate this movie magic in the world of commercials by giving twenty-five outstanding and thrilling examples, to point out that commercials also bring you emotions. Often with a bit of help from awesome actors and actresses. My favorites in this selective line-up? I guess I would go for the extended versions of Audrey Tautou’s Chanel No. 5 and Adrien Brody’s Fiat 500 commercials, both included here.
The stills are all YouTube screenshots.
This is a screenshot from a 2017 Orange commercial (click here to watch it).
Audrey Tautou in her Chanel No. 5 commercial, which was directed by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet who previously made her a star with “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” (2001, a.k.a. “Amelia”). You can find ‘The Making of,’ with commentary by Mr. Jeunet, by clicking here.
And when you come to think of Chanel No. 5, you can’t ignore Nicole Kidman’s contribution…
…but why not do it simpler—just one set, one shot, one take—with only Brad Pitt before the camera, promoting the product his way…
…and here is Marilyn Monroe. Check out her commercial right here.
Keira Knightley’s Chanel commercial is right here.
This is Kristen Stewart’s 2016 black-and-white Chanel ad…
This is Charlize Theron in her 2011 commercial for Dior…
…and here she is three years later, also for Dior.
Kate Winslet’s ad for Lancôme.
Leaving the perfume branch and moving over to Omega watches, here‘s Nicole Kidman’s 2013 commercial…
…and another Omega one as well…
…or flying Etihad Airways (here)…
…and finally, ‘Hey, what did you expect?’ in her Schweppes commercial.
This is Penelope Cruz and her 2014 Schweppes commercial.
And here is Richard Gere driving a Fiat Lancia…
…and Adrien Brody playing a man from the past (or isn’t he?) in this stunning Fiat 500 commercial. A major delight to watch, especially since this one plays for over four wonderful minutes.
Naturally, we couldn’t leave George Clooney’s Nespresso—What else?—commercials out. Here is the first one we picked, with Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear giving him a ride. Andy Garcia co-stars.
George Clooney and Danny DeVito having a Nespresso while shooting a movie in a Hollywood studio. Most amusing and entertaining.
This commercial brings together two Academy Award winners: George Clooney and French actor Jean Dujardin.
How about George Clooney and Matt Damon together, not in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) or its sequels, but having a Nespresso.
Penelope Cruz also did Nespresso commercials. This one is hilarious.
And finally, if you’ve made it this far, how about a long-forgotten Diet Coke commercial from 1992, with Elton John, co-starring Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney?