Space Jam: A New Legacy delivered a box office slam dunk earning over 162 million worldwide. This second spin-off feature from Nike’s 1992 Super Bowl Hare Jordan commercial debuted at number one on opening day, eventually becoming a worldwide sensation. Though many critics dismissed it as a tired exercise in IP-based branding, fans gave Hollywood 162,892,228 reasons to keep expanding ads beyond the confines of their 30-mile border. seconds, to become television series and feature films.
Advertisers often only have a minute to offer viewers a story, characters and journey. Yet some ads are so exceptional that they influence popular culture to resonate with a generation. Few people succeed, but those who do deserve to be remembered.
7 Uncle Drew
In 2012, Pepsi Max launched its “Uncle Drew” commercials featuring NBA All-Star great Kyrie Irving dressed as an elderly Uncle Drew. The campaign was fun and effective; His nephew invites Uncle Drew over for a pickup game after a player gets injured. To the surprise of his younger counterparts, Uncle Drew begins to take them on as he dribbles, passes and dives at them with the dynamic skill and fervor of a young Kyrie Irving. The initial ad was a hit and received over 22 million views on YouTube, with previous ads generating over 118 million views.
In 2018 Lions Gate released Uncle Drew, an anti-ageist comedy about one man’s dream of winning the Rucker Classic streetball tournament in Harlem. The film starred Kyrie Irving as Uncle Drew and a host of big name players like Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and Lisa Leslie. Many fans have forgiven the light comedy for being short on depth and character development, choosing instead to enjoy the ride and watch their favorite players do what they do best. Play ball! Uncle Drew grossed 46.5 million worldwide.
6 The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid
In 1979, Coca-Cola released an ad that captured America’s hearts. The commercial featured Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Green as he limped to the locker room after sustaining an injury in the game. A young boy follows him and tries to cheer him up by offering him a coke. Green reluctantly accepts the coke and, before the little boy leaves, calls him with the iconic line, “Hey kid, grab it!” and throws his jersey at him. The child leaves happy and a collective “Awe” is heard in homes across America.
The commercial won a Clio Award for being one of the best commercials of 1979 and is listed by TV Guide as one of the best commercials of all time. In 1981, NBC aired The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid, a TV movie about a football team that temporarily adopts a 9-year-old boy, whom Joe Green takes under his wing as they learn valuable lessons from each other. The TV movie was a success and Henry Thomas, who played the boy, went on to star as Elliott in Steven Spielberg’s film. HEY the next year.
In 2004, Geico ran an advertisement touting the ease of use of its website. They said it was so easy a caveman could do it. To poke fun at the advertisement’s success, Geico followed it with a series of advertisements showing sophisticated cavemen who were appalled at the short-sighted bias of Geico advertisements. The ads featured a cultured, urban “caveman,” who was visibly dismayed after coming across a Geico billboard depicting him as, well…a caveman. The ads were so successful that a fake trailer about a caveman movie started doing the rounds on Youtube.
ABC loved the idea and hoped a sitcom based on the business premise would be just as popular. In 2007, Cavemen airing on ABC, featuring three cave dwellers struggling to live in modern America. The response was quick and the reviews were terrible. After six episodes, the show was canceled and made the list of “worst sitcoms ever made”.
4 space jam
During the 1992 Super Bowl, Nike ran its prolific Hare Jordan ad, featuring basketball phenom Michael Jordan and iconic Warner Bros. animated character Bugs Bunny. The announcement caused an instant sensation, and in response Nike made another announcement the following year, pairing the two heroes in space. It was magical ! Bugs Bunny appealed to baby boomers, animation appealed to a younger demographic, and Michael Jordan appealed to everyone.
Then, in 1996, Warner Bros decided to capitalize on the couple’s chemistry in a feature film called space jam, where the Looney Tune characters seek Michael Jordan’s help in an attempt to win a basketball game and their freedom. Filming was tedious, so Warner Bros. built Jordan a basketball court to play ball between takes. space jam debuted as a fan favorite, to rave reviews and a ton of Nike sales. As a result, Jordan was inspired to launch a comeback and win three more NBA championships. To date, the film has grossed over $4 billion.
3 Maximum height
In 1986, Coca-Cola began airing ads inviting a new generation into the future with their “New Wave Taste Campaign” featuring television’s first seemingly digital talking head. The character was created by George Stone and signaled the impending dystopian future dominated by television and big business. Canadian-American actor Matt Frewer portrayed the character of Max Headroom using prosthetics, lighting, and video editing effects.
In 1987, ABC capitalized on the character’s popularity with a sci-fi comedy episode of the same name. The show ran for two seasons and centered on an investigative reporter played by Frewer, who, with the help of his colleagues and his digital version: Max Headroom, exposes the secrets of the oligarchy’s television networks that function as the ruling class. The show received critical acclaim and was touted as being ahead of its time.
2 Baby Bob
In 1999, FreeInternet.com featured a slew of talking baby ads indicating how ridiculous it was to pay for internet service. They were a huge hit, and in 2002 CBS thought it would be a great idea to produce a sitcom with the same “talking baby” premise. The show starred actors Adam Arkin and Joely Fisher as the parents of a 6-month-old baby boy who they are shocked to learn can talk to.
Unfortunately, critics were hesitant to say the talking baby schtick was overdone and outdated. The writer’s attempt to make a talking baby exciting week after week fell flat. Audiences agreed with the show’s reviews and weren’t very receptive to this storyline outside of a 30-second commercial. the Baby Bob sitcom was canceled after nine episodes. However, the Baby Bob concept has survived in commercials for E*Trade and Quiznos and most recently appeared in Super Bowl 2022.
1 Hey, Vern, it’s Ernest!
In the 1980s, actor Jim Varney and the Nashville advertising agency Carden and Cherry created the character “Ernest”, the bossy and annoying neighbor of never-before-seen fictional character “Vern”. In the commercials, Ernest, oblivious to his neighbor’s disdain, would show up at his door, raving about the harmless, until the invisible Vern finally slammed the door in his face. Varney has portrayed this character for local ad campaigns. Popularity for the character and his catchphrase, “You know what I mean, Vern?” began to expand and Varney, under the name “Ernest”, began promoting national brands such as Coca-Cola, Chex and Taco John’s.
In 1988, Varney, Carden and Cherry developed the character into a children’s television show titled, Hey, Vern, it’s Ernest!. The comedy sketch series debuted on CBS Saturday morning programming for children, and in 1989 Jim Varney won an Emmy Award for his work on the show. Director Jack Cherry and actor Jim Varney have also developed the character of Ernest into feature films, the most popular being: Ernest Saves Christmas and Ernest goes to jail. Each film has grossed over $25 million at the box office.
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