Commercials have become a major part of popular culture, with filmed advertising being a key part in the marketing of products, politics, and a whole host of other brands and services. Commercials serve as a great breeding ground for up-and-coming filmmakers, but sometimes famous directors want to take on an advertising job as a means to flex their cinematic muscles in a lower-stakes venue than in feature filmmaking. Below is a list of some of the best commercials made by Hollywood’s A-list directors.
Ridley Scott – Apple Macintosh
In 1984, Apple announced itself as a surging force in the tech world with this George Orwell-influenced commercial that preceded the release of their Macintosh computer. The dystopian-themed advertisement only aired on national airwaves once, during that year’s Super Bowl, but it immediately became a cultural phenomenon that drove up public interest in Apple to a level that the company hadn’t seen before. Ridley Scott, who had just released his masterpiece, Blade Runner, 18 months prior, directs the visually striking with his usual sense for grandiose spectacle, creating a provocative commercial that became a touchstone in pop culture; and has been endlessly parodied by everything from Futurama to Fortnite to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Spike Lee – Nike
Back in the 90s, there was arguably nobody more famous in the world than Michael Jordan. And for the launch of his newest line of Nike Air Jordan’s, the NBA superstar would need the aid of a director with a unique visual flair and a deep understanding of the culture at the time to helm his commercial. Enter Spike Lee, who co-starred in the advertisement as the character Mars Blackmon, which he played in his film She’s Gotta Have It. Lee directed the commercial and managed to bring his cinematic style to the short clip, which is filled with quick edits and plenty of direct-to-camera addresses. The ad was a major part of the crescendo that led to sneakers becoming a major part of the fashion world and paved the way for Air Jordan to become one of the most coveted brands and is still immensely popular to this day. That probably could be down to it being fronted by one of the most famous athletes in history – but actually, it’s gotta be the shoes.
Steven Spielberg – BP
Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg brought his penchant for his famous, childlike imagination to this commercial for the energy corporation BP. The advert shows a pizza delivery boy riding up an elevator at the BP headquarters, which stops on several floors to show a variety of wonderous, adventure-filled scenes taking place; ranging from a James Bond-esque underwater layer, a Formula 1 race track, and all the way up to the final frontier where an astronaut takes the pizza. Spielberg flexes his muscles in the minute-long marketing piece, incorporating his inimitable skill for smooth camera movements, building worlds in seconds of screen time, and even using his patented “Spielberg gaze,” as our pizza boy protagonist looks in wonder at the events he sees.
Martin Scorsese – Dolce and Gabbana
Martin Scorsese, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey, and Dolce & Gabbana are a match made in marketing heaven. In this sleekly shot commercial, that plays as a kind of love letter to the cinema of the French New Wave, Scorsese makes a short film that perfectly sells the D & G brand and has its leading stars looking as good as they ever have. With its gorgeous black and white cinematography, swelling music, and immaculate editing, Scorsese’s Dolce & Gabbana advert is the benchmark for celebrity-endorsed perfume commercials.
Wes Anderson – Stella Artois
Wes Anderson brings his unmistakable style to this advert for the Belgian beer, Stella Artois, which serves as an ode to the spy films of the 1960s. The playful commercial sees a couple arriving at a chic apartment, and while the man heads to the other room to get changed, the woman begins playing with a switchboard, causing a whole host of gadgets to go off until eventually, a beer is poured by a mechanical arm. The staging and camera work make it evident that this commercial could have only been made by Wes Anderson.
Sofia Coppola – Christian Dior
Sofia Coppola directs this advert for a Christian Dior perfume with a distinctly French feel, which comes from its soundtrack and setting. The commercial stars Natalie Portman alongside a young, pre-Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich having a steamy encounter. A nicely shot promo that sells the Dior brand effortlessly.
Sergio Leone – Renault
This advert from Sergio Leone, the legendary director behind the Man with No Name trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West, takes place in the Roman colosseum, as we see a chained-up Renault Diesel break free from its shackles after a few revs of the engine. The director utilizes the same technique for a fast cutting montage that made the standoff scenes in his spaghetti westerns so thrilling, and he is again aided here by long time collaborator, the composer Ennio Morricone who scores this commercial with the same ferocity he brought to their cinematic outings. The advert would end up being Leone’s final work as a director.
Spike Jonze – Gap
Oscar winner Spike Jonze made a name for himself in music videos and commercials before taking on a successful career as a feature film director. But in 2007, he returned to the advertising world with a spot for Gap’s revamp of their clothing stores. The ad shows a host of deranged shoppers dismantling one of Gap’s many stores, doing everything from ripping items off the shelves to taking a chainsaw to the building to a car eventually crashing through the window. The mayhem-infused advert was certainly a unique way to communicate that the clothing chain was changing its image.
David Lynch – PlayStation 2
Sony made the bold choice of having the surrealist filmmaker, David Lynch, helm their commercial for their upcoming games console, the PlayStation 2. And the results are just as surreal and avant garde as you would expect from the director. A borderline upsetting and discombobulating sequence of events that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Twin Peaks and features a talking duck but no footage of gameplay. It is pure Lynch distilled to a minute.
Ang Lee – Visa
Made at the height of his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Ang Lee brings that film’s energy to this advert for Visa. After complaining about the soup in a fancy restaurant, a young woman is forced into a beautifully choreographed martial arts fight with the restaurant’s staff, in a sequence that feels just as indebted to Dumb and Dumber as it does kung fu cinema.
Kathryn Bigelow – Apple
In a video that is part commercial and part behind-the-scenes extra, Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow waxes lyrical about the capabilities of the iPhone 13’s camera as a filmmaking device. In the advert, we see both the shooting of a film and the footage that was captured on the phone’s camera. The advert unveils a new standard for phone cameras and a new era for accessibility to filmmaking equipment.