5 Movies That Tried and Failed to Boost Big Brands

The lowest-grossing film in North America was a Tim Roth movie full of propaganda about FIFA
5 Movies That Tried and Failed to Boost Big Brands

There are two reasons to make movies. One: You want to make art and show it to people. Two: You want to make money by selling tickets. Each of these is honorable in its own way. Many films manage to do both. 

Other movies try something more underhanded. They’re after money, but not through so honest a route as getting people to pay for entertainment. No, they’re just trying to promote a brand. Actually, in the age of franchises and cinematic universes, it seems like every movie is trying to promote a brand, but we’re not talking about promoting a movie brand. We’re talking about stuff like what happened when...

FIFA’s $30 Million Movie Grossed $168,000

The past couple years have given us a bunch of corporate biopics. At their best, these movies chart the rise and fall of a company, covering their mistakes and showing the consequences. At their worst, they contain no drama at all and simply rely on your love of the brand to make you feel something. But even that bad version (the “corporate hagiography”) isn’t made by the company in question, just about them. When a company makes a movie about itself, you get something worse. You get 2014’s United Passions

United Passions

Leuviah Films

This looks like award bait! (It won no awards.)

United Passions, about the rise of FIFA, was funded primarily by FIFA itself. It covers much of the organization’s history, portraying it as often corrupt, which sounds like an admirably frank stance to take. But then the film reveals its hero: incoming FIFA president Sepp Blatter, played by Tim Roth. Blatter’s predecessors don’t like him because he is too clean and honorable. He sweeps them aside and cleans up the whole league. 

In the real world, Blatter became president in 1998 and was removed in 2015 for corruption. The scandal that led to his ban from sports coincided with United Passions’ release in North America, and everyone who heard of the movie (which wasn’t all that many people) was aware of the real FIFA story going on in the news. Even during filming, Roth said he was baffled that the script didn’t include his character’s corruption. Afterward, he apologized for accepting the part. 

United Passions

Leuviah Films

His work in She-Hulk was art. But this, this was just for the money. 

United Passions has a zero-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — which isn’t that uncommon; it just means all reviewers gave it a thumb’s down. More impressive is its score on Metacritic, which is 1 out of 100. Given the number of reviews, and given that some reviews gave it 20 out of 100, math says that’s only possible if some of those reviews gave it a score less than zero. 

The movie grossed a total of $168,000 worldwide on a $30 million budget. As low as that is, the numbers get crazier if we limit ourselves to North America. It took in a total of $918, making it the lowest-grossing movie of all-time (excluding a few ineligible movies, which appeared on just one screen, one time). 

Granted, FIFA probably never expected to make much of a profit on United Passions, but they did want people to at least see it.

Glad Bags Financed a Movie to Promote Trash Bags

We’re not going to have any examples that grossed as little as United Passions, but a 1987 film called Million Dollar Mystery was also quite a bomb. It made $990,000 on a $10 million budget. “Million Dollar” is a big amount in some contexts but a very modest sum when we’re talking movie grosses, and it narrowly failed to hit even that low goal.

Million Dollar Mystery

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

 “You can win $1,000,000! But we can’t.”

Look at the poster, and you’ll see this wasn’t just any movie. Alongside the movie release — a caper about a bunch of people trying to hunt down some hidden money — was a sweepstakes. Watch the movie, and try to use the clues to guess the fictional location of a cache of money the characters seek, and you could win a million dollars for real

It was a promotion by Glad, the maker of Ziploc bags. Producer Dino de Laurentiis said the sweepstakes would attract “the infrequent moviegoer, the person more interested in winning a million dollars than in going to the movies, and these are the kind of people who use Glad Bags.” This characterization somehow manages to insult their customer base (by painting them as dumb lotto enthusiasts) while not saying anything distinct about them. After all, who among us wouldn’t be more interested in winning a million dollars than in going to the movies?

Million Dollar Mystery

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Unless the movie’s a true masterpiece, like this one.

A 14-year-old won the contest. She might not have been the decision maker regarding her household’s choice of kitchen products. Thousands of entrants successfully guessed the cache location (the winner was picked randomly from them), which was probably as planned. Sweepstakes like this never aim to test skill but just want as many people participating as possible. But if the goal was to maximize participation, we’re confident they could have spent the $9 million they lost on the movie on a campaign that would have reached more people. 

Oh, and one more thing: The production killed a guy. It was stuntman Dar Robinson, who’d appeared in a dozen movies including Lethal Weapon and Police Academy and held 21 world records. Stunt performers often suffer injuries, but Robinson had never broken a bone filming movies prior to this one. Here, he got on a motorcycle and soared off an embarkment, getting gored on a branch instead of falling onto a safety net. 

If a stunt performer has to die, they probably hope it’ll be for a movie better than Million Dollar Mystery, which is another member of the elite club that scored a perfect zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. 

‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ Promoted a Chocolate Bar That Didn’t Exist

You wouldn’t think of this next film as a failure. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a beloved classic, and last year’s Wonka (which grossed over $600 million) was clearly an attempt to recapture that old success. So you might be surprised to learn that the original film wasn’t big at the box office. It made a total of $4 million, on a $3 million budget. You also might be surprised to learn who put up that $3 million. It was this guy:

Quaker Oats

Willis Lam

A madman as terrifying as Willy Wonka himself.

Well, the Quaker Oats man isn’t an actual person, but yes, the film was financed by Quaker Oats. The original idea for the movie came from a girl asking her director dad to make a movie out of the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That director talked to a producer, who contacted Quaker Oats and told them making this movie could be the opportunity they’d been waiting for — to get into the candy business. If they put up the money, they could make candy under the Wonka name and use the movie to convince the public to buy the candy bars. 

“Wonka” became a candy brand from 1971 right up until 2018. They made stuff like Nerds, and if you grew up during the last few decades, you must have assumed the brand was created as a tie-in following the film. Instead, Quaker created the brand ahead of the movie and made the movie to promote the brand. They were thinking of sponsoring a TV special, like many companies did at the time, but they ended up making it a feature film. The reason the film is called Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory rather than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Quaker wanted to build the Wonka name.

Wonka Nerds Candy

Mike Mozart

That’s a little nerd fact for you.

Quaker also wanted to unveil a special candy bar called the Wonka bar and sell it alongside the film. But they weren’t able to get this bar into a sellable state in time for the movie release. The bar melted too easily, so though they sent the bars out to stores, they had to recall all of them

They later sold the rights to the underperforming movie to Warner Bros., which made a lot of money off it just on rentals, not even counting what they later managed with their Wonka film. Quaker sold their subsidiary that made Wonka candy to Rowntree Mackintosh, who sold it to Nestlé, who sold it to Ferrero — who killed the Wonka branding, just a few years before Wonka would have made it newly valuable. This transfer of the brand to a series of conglomerates will no doubt be the plot of the upcoming film Wonka 2: Sequel of the Origin

‘Ishtar’ Was Coca-Cola’s Attempt to Smuggle Money Out of the Country

If you know only one thing about the 1987 movie Ishtar, it’s that it was a famous box-office bomb. You might also have heard it was terrible, whether or not it really was. But did you know that the film was made by the fine folks at Coca-Cola?

A Charlie Brown Christmas

This is a scene from Ishtar, probably.

This is a scene from Ishtar, probably.

Ishtar was made by Columbia Pictures, which was at the time owned by Coca-Cola. That sounds absurd now, but a beverage maker owning a movie studio isn’t necessarily much stranger than (say) a light-bulb manufacturer owning a TV network. The movie takes place in Morocco and New York, and Columbia planned to shoot the Sahara scenes in the desert outside California. Hollywood had shot desert scenes in the Southwest desert for decades, and the close proximity of the desert to Hollywood was why Westerns had become such a big genre. 

Coca-Cola had other ideas. Coke happened to have funds in Morocco, funds the nation had semi-frozen, barring the company from transferring it internationally. If Columbia shot Ishtar on-location in Morocco, Coke would be able to spend the money within the country on the production and make the money back once they released the movie.


Columbia Pictures

It’s like an extreme version of why so many movies shoot in Georgia.

Shooting on-location comes with complications, especially when it’s the sort of location that suddenly freezes assets. You can find yourself navigating a minefield — literally. After three days of scouting the desert, the crew was confronted by guards with a minesweeper, who revealed the area had been mined by rebels from Mauritania. 

The director spent most of the shoot with her face wrapped, having discovered she was allergic to the sunlight there. Staff spent much time locating a suitable camel they could cast, and when they returned to the seller to buy that camel, he announced that his family had killed and eaten it. 

Ishtar camel

Columbia Pictures

It they had any brains at all, they would have added that dialogue to the movie

Ishtar made only $14 million, on a $50 million budget. The failure was big enough that Coke exited the movie business by selling Columbia Pictures, and most people soon forgot they’d ever owned it. By making the movie, they’d successfully spent those Morocco funds, but the plan doesn’t really work if you don’t make the money back afterward. It’s like keeping the IRS from noticing your secret income by putting it in a sack and setting it ablaze. 

‘A Recipe for Seduction’: A KFC Love Story

In 2000, KFC sponsored a film that aired on the Lifetime channel. Across its short runtime, A Recipe for Seduction hits many of the beats viewers have come to expect from Lifetime romances. We have the heroine Jessica, her gay best friend, her controlling mother and two suitors. One suitor’s rich and evil, while the other is humble but has great potential. The twist here is that the poorer but more desirable of the two beaus is Harland Sanders, played by Mario Lopez.

A Recipe for Seduction


With salt and pepper hair, because those are two of the eleven herbs and spices.

The evil suitor is played by Chad Doreck, which sounds like the name of the character, but no, that’s the name of the real guy. His TV credits include an appearance on the Saved By The Bell revival, which also featured Lopez. 

Chad’s character, whom we’ll just call “Chad” for convenience, offers Sanders money to abandon our Jessica, but he refuses. Chad and the mother scheme to steal Sanders’ secret chicken recipe, and it all climaxes in an action sequence set in a storage room. In the end, Sanders and Jessica wed, but Chad actually did get his hands on the chicken recipe, a loose end the movie teases may be resolved in a sequel. 

A Recipe for Seduction


That will be the Fifty Shades Freed of the franchise. 

This entire plot takes place over the course of 15 minutes. It should be clear by now why we are categorizing this movie as a failure. The fact is, 15 minutes is not nearly enough to fulfill the potential offered by a Harland Sanders romance. Harland Sanders was a real man and not just an icon and could easily have led a full-length movie, or even a series. Here, he is reduced to a joke, being played by Mario Lopez, who is just an icon, not a real man, having himself been played by numerous actors over the years, each of whom is eventually retired when he grows too old for the part. 

The whole movie is tongue-in-cheek, while it could have been so much more. Rather than film in one of those sterile modern mansions where studios also shoot porn, imagine how much more romantic it would have been if this were a period film set in post-World War II Kentucky? Instead of fumbling with knives in a cramped storage room, how about Sanders pull a gun off a dead friend and fire it at a rival in the street, taking him down? That’s something the actual Harland Sanders did. Or how about we have him punch his own client and get arrested? The real Harland Sanders did that, too

KFC’s parent company takes in a net income of half a billion each quarter. They should be spending at least half of that on a Harland Sanders romantic epic that spans decades. 

Trust us — this is a good idea. There is no way this can go wrong. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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