The Most Cynical Movies Ever Made

Tomorrow marks the debut of Battleship, a new robot alien action picture that, like Transformers before it, is based on a toy. It's a pretty cynical movie endeavor, but sadly it's nowhere near the first of its kind. Cinema history is positively littered with cheap tie-in movies that were made solely as especially greedy corporate cash-grabs. Here are the most shameless.

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Tomorrow marks the debut of Battleship, a new robot alien action picture that, like Transformers before it, is based on a toy. Well, a game actually, that old Hasbro process-of-elimination game famous for the commercial catchphrase, "You sunk my battleship!" Given that the game is pretty lo-fi, there's not much involved to base a movie on. And yet they went and made it anyway, because everyone's familiar with the brand Battleship, so why not try to capitalize on that built-in consciousness and make some more bucks from the masses. It's a pretty cynical movie endeavor, but sadly it's nowhere near the first of its kind. Cinema history is positively littered with cheap tie-in movies that were made solely as especially greedy corporate cash-grabs. Here are the most shameless.

Cars 2

Yes, yes, this movie was made by the noble Pixar, champion of artistry that just happens to be commercial, so it might seem strange to list it as this kind of movie, but it's commonly accepted wisdom that Pixar mostly made a sequel to the tepidly received (relative to other Pixar films, at least) Cars because they knew they would make a mint in merchandising. Sure, compared to some other animated dreck (looking in your direction, Ice Age) Cars 2 is an Antonioni film, but making a whole movie because you want to sell tie-in crap is pretty crassly commercial for Pixar, the original "not evil" company. (Though, duh, they partner with Disney, and Disney is completely evil, so.)

From Justin to Kelly

When American Idol came along in 2002 and was a bigger hit than even Fox was anticipating, they immediately and cheaply tried to create their own Frankie & Annette by putting the season's final two, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, in a slapdash musical movie that bellyflopped into theaters the following summer. Clarkson and Guarini were contractually obligated to make this disaster, so we should pity them as much as anyone who actually paid money to see it. Though, there aren't many of those people out there; the film was, of course, an enormous bomb. The most positive part of the movie's Wikipedia page is the line: "However, the movie was better received by the Teen Choice Awards..." This is a satisfying example of a grossly cynical movie being resoundingly rejected by the American public.

Think Like a Man

A breakout hit this spring, this movie — which is ostensibly a romantic comedy about the eternal battle of the sexes — mostly exists to push sales for a groaningly bad, not to mention horrifically sexist, advice book by comedian Steve Harvey. The entire film is basically an ad for the book, a hastily made trifle that's only about a few people getting rich(er).

The Wizard

Yes, yes, this film has sentimental value for us millennials who gaped in awe at the big Mario 3 reveal at the end. But guys, come on. This entire thing is a deeply shameless Nintendo commercial (and Universal Studios ad) that's all the more shameless for involving an autism storyline in the endeavor. Sure it was deeply cool to see the Power Glove, and Fred Savage is our late '80s spirit animal, but the ways in which The Wizard junkily throws together a movie to barely cover up the product pushing make it deeply, deeply cynical.

Space Jam

"C'mon, who doesn't like Michael Jordan? And who doesn't like Bugs Bunny and friends? So no one will mind that we're using them to hawk McDonald's and Nike sneakers!" That was probably the reasoning in whatever board room where this walking, talking product placement was thought up. Obviously Space Jam contributed to the culture in an enormous way by bringing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" into the world, but beyond that we just can't forgive its blatantly corporate heart.

Sex and the City 2

Many, if not most, sequels exist solely for the purpose of making money, but rarely are they as eye-poppingly lazy and half-assed when handling material that used to be good (yes, Sex and the City was good!) as this camel fart of a movie. SATC 2 is a devil's mixture of awful, phoned-in writing ("Lawrence of my Labia," guys) and actors who are completely checked out (paychecked out?). There's just no way this movie wasn't cranked out solely so everyone could make a buck (from box office receipts and product placements), the integrity of the thing (which, admittedly, was already a little flimsy after the first only so-so movie) be damned. Sex and the City has wrought many horrors upon the world, but this time they knew they were doing it.

On the Line

This is covering roughly the same territory of From Justin to Kelly — popular musicians in a crappy movie meant to be a cheapie way to get more fan dollars — but On the Line, starring 'NSYNC's Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, is different in that there was no contractual obligation here. Everyone went into this thing willingly, one unified collective of people who made an immensely bad movie simply to take money from tweeny boyband fans. Exactly zero effort was put into making this a remotely enjoyable movie, because quality is beside the point. Well, in Bass and Fatone's defense they maybe thought they were going to become romantic comedy stars or something, this was 2001, the height of their fame, after all. But everyone else? You're burnt.

Obviously product placements and tie-ins and other such money-hungry maneuvers aren't anything new in movies, but we feel it's important we point them out from time to time lest the companies who are pulling these shenanigans think we don't notice. We do, we definitely do! Sometimes we notice and don't care — Cars 2 = pretty good, Battleship = Not bad (more on that tomorrow) — but just because we're allowing ourselves to be pitched from time to time doesn't mean we approve of it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.