cars in films

motoring at the movies

Film makers have always had a close relationship with the motor industry. Jean-Luc Godard is said to have once claimed that to make a successful film all you need is a girl and a gun but he should also have added a car.

Perhaps the most famous film car marque of all time is Aston Martin. Their association of course is with the famous Bond films, something that goes back to 1964 for Sean Connery's DB5 as used in Goldfinger. More recently, the marque provided a V12 Vanquish for Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, this a 460bhp beast fitted with grille-mounted machine guns and heat-seeking missiles and a DBS for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. In Skyfall they reverted back to the original DB5.

Aston's return to the 007 spotlight came after the Bond film makers had for several years defected to BMW. The Munich company supplied their then brand new Z3 for Brosnan's first Bond outing, the 1995 film Goldeneye. He was subsequently upgraded to Z8 for The World Is Not Enough (1999).

It's all great product placement of course - as long as you ignore the fact that in the original Ian Fleming books, Bond actually drove a Bentley. Of course, things aren't always what they seem. Apparently, the car that Brosnan was seen driving in Die Another Day wasn't technically a V12 Vanquish at all: owing to reported clutch problems with the new model, the one on screen contained a modified gearbox and the V12 engine was replaced with a Mustang V8 to allow room for the gadgets.

Of course, the Bond/Aston deal is just one of many that have lined the film-makers pockets over the years. Remember the Volvo C70 Turbo Coupe owned by Val Kilmer's Simon Templar in The Saint (1996)? Or the slinky TVR Tuscan used by John Travolta's cyber-terrorist in Swordfish (2001). Then of course there's Gone In 60 Seconds (2000) where Nicolas Cage has a huge range of mouth-watering machinery to choose from, his character apparently having a soft spot for 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500, which he calls Eleanor.

So how does product placement of this kind work? Well, as you'd expect, the mechanism used varies enormously between films. Sometimes, a manufacturer will simply provide a fleet of cars in exchange for cross-promotional advertising opportunities. This can be dangerous. There is, for example, the risk of negative product placement accidentally trashing the brand's image. Perhaps the car will fail at a crucial point of be driven by the evil villain. Very often, there's no way for the manufacturer to know until the film is released.

Of course, with some production companies, it is possible for the car makers to be more aggressive. Production of the video game Gran Turismo created a situation where the game maker needed the car makers rather than the other way round. Those car makers chosen were then able to lay down a list of stipulations, one of which (rather ludicrously) was that although their cars would crash into each other at speeds of 200mph, none of them would be shown to sustain any damage.

Of course, the risk involved can often turn out to be a hugely successful investment. Going back in time, amongst the cars immortalised by their starring roles in film history are James Dean's Mercury in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Steve McQueen's Mustang GT in Bullet (1968), Herbie the VW Beetle in The Love Bug (1968) and the fleet of Minis in The Italian Job (1969), recently re-made.

Nor is automotive product placement at the movies all about the here and now. Lexus apparently paid $5 million to design and place two snazzy concept cars in Tom Cruise's Minority Report one called the MagLev, which, apparently, can climb the sides of buildings, and another red sports model in which Cruise is almost entombed during a set piece chase in a factory. "We wanted to show the world that Lexus as a brand will be standing tall in 50 years"," says the company's marketing vice-president, Mike Wells.

When product placement works, it really works. Take the results of a Yahoo survey into the most popular screen cars of all time. The winner was a car from a movie produced over 25 years ago - James Bond's white Lotus Esprit from 'the Spy Who Loved Me'. This was

the clear favourite securing almost a third of the vote, followed by David Hasslehoff's car Kit from Knight Rider (17%).

Patrick Oqvist from Yahoo! Search comments: "Although there's loads of classic film vehicles out there, our search for the favourite has shown James Bond's modified Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me a worthy winner. With rear firing mud sprayers, an underwater kit that changes the car into a fully operative submarine, surface-to-air missiles, underwater smoke screens and torpedoes, the most desirable screen vehicle has to be Bond's."

The full results were as follows:

- Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who loved Me (29%)

- Kit from Knight Rider TV film (17%)

- De Lorean from Back To The Future

- Batmobile from Batman (10%)

- Mini from The Italian Job (9%)

- Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch (6%)

- A-Team Van from The A-Team TV film (5%)

- Danny Zucko's Greased Lightning from Grease (2%)

- Herbie from Herbie Goes Bananas (2%)

- Reliant Robin from Only Fools & Horses TV films (2%)