Denim, Dungeons and Dragons, and dangerously big hair.
What comes to mind when you think of the eighties? A lot of great movies, best accompanied by popcorn and an ice-cold Coke.
Shows like Stranger Things have tapped into the nostalgia for arguably one of the most polarising decades of fashion history, and it’s going viral. The eighties were a great time for Coke in the movies and the decade saw the brand cemented as a modern icon.
It was a highlight in Cokes illustrious career on the silver screen, which included a venture into the actual production of motion pictures. Did you know that Coca‑Cola owned Colombia Pictures from 1982 to 1989?
Coca‑Cola has always been an essential part of any movie experience both off and on the big screen. From the Times Square billboard featured in 1933’s King Kong to the Coke advertisement that triggers Eleven’s flashback in Netflix’s huge hit Stranger Things, Coca‑Cola has had a supporting role in many great TV shows and movies.
Pop some popcorn and relax while we take a look back through the fascinating history of Coca‑Cola in the movies.
Beyond “Product Placement”
As Coke is such a symbol of Americana and a part of everyday life, it’s no wonder the brand naturally found its way into film scripts and onto sets. Coke has often been a subtle part of the narrative, integrated into the fabric of each scene.
“Sometimes it’s a Coca‑Cola sign, vending machine or cooler in the background and sometimes characters are talking about or drinking Coca‑Cola,” said film historian Audrey Kupferberg who has compiled an extensive list of movies and specific scenes featuring the brand.
“This ubiquitous brand is ingrained in the cultural landscape and in the daily lives of the icons of music, movies and sports to the effect that it’s part of their natural surroundings,” said Coca‑Colas head archivist Ted Ryan.
In the 1960s, the company set up an office in Los Angeles to ensure the authenticity of all Coca‑Cola film references.
In the 1960s the company set up an office in Los Angeles to ensure the authenticity of all Coca‑Cola film references. If a studio requested a vintage bottle or sign for example, the Coke team in Hollywood would provide the items that matched the period and overall aesthetic of the movie.
Cokes cinematic cameos date back to the early 1900s, continuing through Hollywood’s golden era and beyond.
The earliest film to include Coca‑Cola according to Audrey is a 1916 silent comedy titled The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. In the cult hit Douglas Fairbanks is seen driving on a California freeway when he passes by a Coca‑Cola billboard.
“It’s a great example of why Coca‑Cola is in so many movies,” said Audrey Kupferberg before naming a list of similar scenes.
“It’s part of our landscape.”
“From being on the billboard in Times Square in King Kong, to Warren Beatty enjoying the refreshing beverage in Bonnie and Clyde, the influence cannot be denied,” said director Ridley Scott in the forward to a book of photographychronicling Cokes indelible mark on the movie world.
The director famously featured a Coca‑Cola neon sign in his 1982 sci-fi thriller Blade Runner. The message being Ridley said, “That even in a futuristic dystopian world, Coca‑Cola is everlasting.”
Some of the brand’s movie roles have been particularly iconic including the Coke bottle that falls from the sky in The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), E.T. (1982) opening can of Coke, Superman (1978) crashing through a billboard, and a vending machine’s appearance in Dr. Strangelove (1964).
Cokes filmography also includes more than a few foreign films, a testament to the beverage’s international appeal outside Hollywood.
“Our minds are triggered to expect Coca‑Cola in America, but it’s easy to forget the brand is global," said Audrey.
"In Jean-Luc Godard’s classic 1959 French film, Breathless, Jean Seberg is seen sitting at a Paris café. And what is she drinking? Not wine, but Coke in a contour bottle,” she said.
Coca‑Cola acquired Columbia in June 1982 just a few weeks before making another groundbreaking move with the launch of Diet Coke. Newly elected Chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta was eager to write a new chapter of growth by pursuing ventures outside the confines of carbonated soft drinks.
Did you know that Coca‑Cola owned Colombia Pictures from 1982 to 1989?
Movies and television were high on a shortlist of investment possibilities. The U.S. entertainment industry was poised for significant growth in the early ‘80s thanks largely to the emergence of cable television and home video, which created both unprecedented consumer demand for content and lucrative new revenue streams for key players. Columbia Pictures was seen as a rising star.
Soon after the deal went through, Columbia, CBS and Home Box Office (HBO) formed a new studio called TriStar Pictures, which boosted Columbia’s production capacity while offsetting much of the financial risk. The studio got off to a fast start releasing a string of hits including Tootsie, The Toy and The Big Chill. Gandhi won the 1982 Academy Award for best picture.
The company also delighted movie fans around the globe by bringing Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Stand by Me and other blockbuster films to screens big and small through its ownership of Columbia Pictures.
From the Hilltop to Madison Avenue
In recent years, Coca‑Cola in television represented more than just product placement. The commercial known as “Hilltop” has been regarded as one of the most iconic pieces of advertising of all time. The 1971 spot re-entered the pop culture conversation when it was featured during the final scene of the final episode of one of history's most celebrated TV shows, Mad Men in 2015.
Mad Men ended its seventh-season run with Don Draper meditating at a spiritual retreat on the California coast when inspiration apparently strikes. A bell rings, his eyes open and he smiles, at peace. The screen then fades to the famed Coca‑Cola spot featuring the jingle, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”, suggesting that Draper got the idea after a cross-country, soul-searching journey that concluded, appropriately, on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific.
Locally, Coca‑Cola has made impact on our screens. The quirky 1985 romantic comedy The Coca‑Cola Kid starring Eric Roberts and Greta Scacchi tells the story of a Coca‑Cola marketing executive visiting from U.S. Head Office.
Most notably, in a pivotal scene in Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed Strictly Ballroomthe central couple dance in front of a glittering Coca‑Cola billboard in his signature whimsical, colourful style.
Want to know more about Coca‑Cola on the small screen? Check out this story about the famous Hilltop campaign.
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