101 Ad Movies in 99 Years

When did advertising become glamorous?

Hollywood movies tell their stories using heroic archetypes common to myths and legends of nearly all cultures. (See Joseph Campbell’s seminal book, “Hero of a Thousand Faces“.)

Cinematic protagonists get cast in a variety of stock professions, depending on the tale. Many other careers would appear more heroic and noble, yet advertising is a recurring choice of day job for silver screen heroes. Perhaps because, as one film’s tag line puts it, advertising is “the world’s second oldest profession.” Here then, is a fond look back at Hollywood’s long love affair with advertising.

What makes advertising so popular in film?

(It’s also popular in television as well, but let’s stick with movies for now.)

Advertising makes a good all-purpose storytelling profession in large part because the ad man can be all things to all people. Consider:

• Everyone is at least superficially familiar with advertising, so it doesn’t require much explanation.

• Advertising, PR and related marketing fields interact with client companies of every imaginable type.

• Advertising is both art and science, bohemian and white-collar.

• Advertising as plot device offers natural opportunities for real-world product placement and promotions.

• Advertising as occupation comes with built-in office politics (creatives vs. suits).

• Advertising lends itself equally well to comedy, drama, suspense, romance, irony and social commentary.

A list 11 years in the making.

It’s been a work in progress. Still is. (The list has probably taken longer to produce than most of the films listed.) It may never be comprehensive, but at least it’s chronological.

After telling agency co-workers about the joys of certain vintage movies like The Hucksters, I started making a list of ad-related movies sometime around 1999. Fast forward 11 years.

Now for a tip of the hat to creative director Ron Roman. It was on a LinkedIn discussion group that Ron posted a topic right up my proverbial alley. He listed a handful of films featuring characters in the ad biz and asked group members to suggest more ad-related titles (from both movies and television). Thanks to Ron and the group, I was able to add a few more excellent films with which I was not previously familiar. (Elia Kazan’s “Face In The Crowd” starring Andy Griffith was a revelation. Thanks, Marie Beemish!)

I can’t claim to have seen all of the movies on the list. In fact, many of the earliest films are not available anymore.

So let’s get to the Ad Movie List already!

(SFX: Cue the 20th Century Fox fanfare.)

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that the producers of Love Hate Advertising present for your entertainment…

101 Ad Movies

  1. Advertising for a Wife (1910 silent)
  2. It Pays To Advertise (1910, 1919, 1931) (Not sure if they’re all the same story)
  3. Advertising for Mamma (1911 silent)
  4. Does Advertising Pay? (1913 silent)
  5. Advertising Did It (1915 silent)
  6. Faithless (1932 Tallulah Bankhead, Robert Montgomery)
  7. Ex-Lady (1933 Bette Davis)
  8. No Marriage Ties (1933 Richard Dix)
  9. Face In The Sky (1933 Spencer Tracy – billboards)
  10. Housewife (1934 George Brent, Bette Davis)
  11. Every Night At Eight (1935 George Raft; Raoul Walsh, Dir.)
  12. Artists & Models (1937 Jack Benny, Ida Lupino)
  13. Men Are Such Fools (1938 Busby Berkeley, Dir.)
  14. Danger On The Air (1938 Nan Grey)
  15. Going Places (1938 Dick Powell, Ronald Reagan, Louis Armstrong)
  16. Women Are Like That (1938 Kay Francis, Pat O’Brien)
  17. It Could Happen To You (1939 Stuart Erwin, Gloria Stuart)
  18. Turnabout (1940 Adolphe Menjou; Hal Roach, Dir.)
  19. Christmas in July (1940 – Maxford House Coffee slogan contest)
  20. Take a Letter, Darling (1942 Rosalind Russell, Fred MacMurray)
  21. Laura (1944 Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews)
  22. The Hucksters (1947 Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Sydney Greenstreet, Ava Gardner)
  23. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1947 Cary Grant, Myrna Loy)
  24. When a Girl’s Beautiful (1947 Adele Jergens)
  25. Let’s Live a Little (1949 Hedy Lamarr, Robert Cummings)
  26. A Letter to Three Wives (1949 Kirk Douglas)
  27. Three Guys Named Mike (1951 Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan)
  28. It Should Happen To You (1954 Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Peter Lawford; George Cukor, Dir. – billboard promo)
  29. It’s Always Fair Weather (1955 musical, Gene Kelley, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse)
  30. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956 Gregory Peck – PR exec)
  31. Written on the Wind (1956 Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack)
  32. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957 Jayne Mansfield, Tony Randall)
  33. A Face In the Crowd (1957 Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick, w/ Mike Wallace, Walter Winchell; Elia Kazan, Dir.)
  34. The High Cost of Loving (1958 Jose Ferrer, Gena Rowlands)
  35. I Married a Woman (1958 George Gobel, Diana Dors, Adolphe Menjou)
  36. North By Northwest (1959 Cary Grant; Alfred Hitchcock, Dir.)
  37. Lover Come Back (1961 Doris Day, Rock Hudson)
  38. Madison Avenue (1962 Dana Andrews)
  39. Days of Wine and Roses (1962 Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick; Blake Edwards, Dir.; SF PR man)
  40. The Plain Man’s Guide to Advertising (1963 animated)
  41. Good Neighbor Sam (1964 Jack Lemmon)
  42. Having a Wild Weekend (1965 aka “Catch Us If You Can” – Dave Clark Five)
  43. I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname (1967 Orson Welles, Oliver Reed)
  44. The Trip (1967 Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg; Roger Corman, Dir.)
  45. The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968 Dean Jones; Disney)
  46. Putney Swope (1969 Allen Garfield, Arnold Johnson; Robert Downey Sr., Dir.)
  47. Every Home Should Have One (1970 Marty Feldman)
  48. Kentucky Fried Movie (1977 John Landis, Dir. – ad spoofs)
  49. Kramer vs Kramer (1979 Dustin Hoffman)
  50. Agency (1980 Robert Mitchum, Lee Majors. Tag: “Advertising is a serious game. Now it is a deadly one at the agency.”)
  51. Used Cars (1980 Kurt Russell; Robert Zemeckis, Dir.)
  52. C.O.D. (1981 Nicholas Saunders; Chuck Vincent, Dir. – the Beaver Bra Company!)
  53. Boomerang (1982 Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence. Tag: “A player who’s about to be played.”)
  54. Mr. Mom (1983 Michael Keaton, Teri Garr; John Hughes, Dir.)
  55. Lost in America (1985 Albert Brooks)
  56. Beer (1985 Loretta Switt, Rip Torn)
  57. The Stuff (1985 Michael Moriarty, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino)
  58. Nothing in Common (1986 Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason)
  59. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987 Steve Martin, John Candy)
  60. She’s Having a Baby (1988 Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth McGovern, Alec Baldwin; John Hughes, Dir.)
  61. They Live (1988 Roddy Piper; John Carpenter, Dir.)
  62. How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989 Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward)
  63. Crazy People (1990 Dudley Moore)
  64. A Shock to the System (1990 Michael Caine)
  65. Advertising Alcohol (1991)
  66. Corrina, Corrina (1994 Ray Liotta, Whoopi Goldberg – jingle writer)
  67. Drop Squad (1994 Eriq La Salle, Ving Rhames)
  68. Mr. Write (1994 Paul Reiser, Martin Mull)
  69. Improper Conduct (1995 Steven Bauer, Tahnee Welch)
  70. Picture Perfect (1997 Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Anniston)
  71. Nothing to Lose (1997 Tim Robbins)
  72. One Night Stand (1997 Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr.)
  73. Sliding Doors (1998 Gwyneth Paltrow – PR)
  74. The Last Days of Disco (1998 Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale)
  75. Pitch People (1999 Tag: “The story of the world’s second oldest profession.”)
  76. Suits (1999 Robert Klein)
  77. Bounce (2000 Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow)
  78. What Women Want (2000 Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt)
  79. Advertising Rules! (2001 aka “Viktor Vogel – Commercial Man”; Alexander Scheer)
  80. Two Can Play That Game (2001 Vivica Fox)
  81. Kate & Leopold (2001 Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman)
  82. Sweet November (2001 Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron)
  83. Hype (2001 Tag: “Brand yourself”)
  84. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2002 Kate Hudson, Matthew McConnaughey)
  85. Roger Dodger (2002 Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals)
  86. Campaign – A Taylor Steele Movie (2003 surfing film / ad spoof)
  87. Lost In Translation (2003 Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson)
  88. The Fighting Temptations (2003 Nigel Washington)
  89. In Good Company (2004 Dennis Quaid)
  90. Bewitched (2005 Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell / 1964 TV Series)
  91. The Long Weekend (2005 Brendan Fehr)
  92. Down & Derby (2005 Greg Germann, Lauren Holly, Pat Morita)
  93. Thank You For Smoking (2005 Joan Lunden, Aaron Eckhart; Jason Reitman, Dir.)
  94. No Place Like Home (2006 Susan O’Meara)
  95. Music & Lyrics (2007 Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore)
  96. 99 Francs (2007)
  97. Jack and Jill vs. The World (2008 Freddie Prinze Jr.)
  98. The Death of Alice Blue (2009 Park Bench, Dir. Tag: “And you thought you had a dead-end job.”)
  99. Art & Copy (2009 Lee Clow, George Lois, Hal Riney, et al. Doug Pray, Dir.)

100. (500) Days of Summer (2009 Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

101. He’s Just Not That Into You (2009 Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson)

Just for the record, “The Hucksters” and “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” are two of my favorite ad movies of all time. So many great lines and characters! What are yours?

Are there any ad-related movies you know of that aren’t included but should be? Any that don’t belong?

Please mention any others that deserve to be on the list, no matter how peripheral the characters’ connection to advertising (as in “Laura” or “Planes Trains and Automobiles”).

The list (and the show) goes on!



14 responses to “101 Ad Movies in 99 Years

  1. Great list I think my Netflix queue just doubled :).
    In past decades, the ad world was fast paced and glamorous. The players (corporate and creative) were “real” characters, often eccentric and ground breaking. Even after years of agency consolidation and reliance on testing & research above creative, advertising remains a craft mastered by few.

  2. Haven’t seen it yet, but the description of the new The Joneses says “Stealth marketers move into a wealthy neighborhood and encourage residents to buy products”. Sound familiar?

  3. Great list Mitch! I remember Another Doris Day Movie, “The Thrill of it All” Both she and James Garner are Ad Execs…

  4. Well done, Mitch. Very thorough and well written.

    I’ve been working on a History of Pschedelic Rock compilation for the past two years, so I know how these kind of projects can consume way more of your time than you ever would have imagined.

    • Rich, thanks for the good word! I’d love to see your History of Psychedelic Rock when you’re ready to post/publish. The band names of that era are entertaining all by themselves.

  5. Had you never brought up the point of how many films use advertising as a foundation upon which to build, I never would have thought of it. And now that you HAVE, I believe (as a movie fan who sees more than 100 films annually at the cinema) that 101 titles is but the tip of the iceberg. I’ll send you more for your list as I think of them… Thanks for playing “celluloid historian” for the rest of us!

    • Dave, that’s a lot of movies to see in a year! If it weren’t for IMDB it would sure be a lot harder to compile such a list. Looking forward to your contributions!

  6. Hi Mitch- Anthony Hopkins in “The Good Father” works in an ad agency I believe. I deduced this because in one scene he walks in late, hungover, tells his boss to f off and goes to sleep on a sofa. Anyway good film with a young, angry Hopkins.

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