Long before “Mad Men” became a Golden Globe winning TV sensation, Hollywood began examining that dog-eat-dog world in the best movies about advertising. Many films have shown the absurdity of the ad world and just how hard nosed someone has to be to survive as a pitchman, but these are must sees.
- “Crazy People” – It’s hard to believe that a movie starring Dudley Moore set in an insane asylum is one of the best movies about advertising but it’s true. Moore plays Emory Leeson, who’s “Truth in Advertising” campaign lands him in a mental institution. But when he taps into the out-of-the-box creative genius of his fellow patients, the best marketing ideas emerge.
- "How to Get Ahead in Advertising" – This film takes the anxiety of the ad biz to an extreme when executive Denis Dimbleby Bagley’s crisis of conscience leads him to develop a speaking boil. The talking blemish ultimately grows into a mustachioed head, which is more than happy to get Bagley’s job done in the ruthless ad game.
- "Lost in America" – Advertising executive David Howard is fed up with his job at the agency so he convinces his wife to sell everything and go on a cross-country adventure. When she blows their nest egg in Vegas, he fails to maximize on his marketing skills to get the losses forgiven by the casino with a heart. Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty are hysterical as the full-on midlife crisis couple in one of the best movies about advertising of all time.
- "Mr. Mom" – Martin Mull plays the best sleazy ad exec in movie history as Terri Garr’s new boss in “Mr. Mom.” Mull’s underrated talents provide a truly funny look at the underbelly of the advertising world.
- "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" – This classic John Hughes film makes the list of the best movies about advertising even though it doesn’t show ad man Neal Page at work. But Steve Martin’s portrayal of the uptight businessman who has to team with John Candy’s lovable shower ring salesman Del Griffith still makes the point that being a pitchman can really wind a guy up just a little bit too tightly.
- "Putney Swope" – Written and directed by Robert Downey, Sr., “Putney Swope” stars Arnold Johnson as the sole African American advertising agency board member, who suddenly finds himself elected to the position of chairman. But when he decides that his revamped company, "Truth and Soul, Inc.,” will no longer advertise alcohol, tobacco, and weapons, they come under the watchful eye of the suspicious U.S. government. Not just one of the best movies about advertising, “Putney Swope” is an incomparable satire of race and corporate corruption in the ‘60s.
- "Kramer vs. Kramer" – In this quintessential divorce movie, Dustin Hoffman stars as Ted Kramer, an overworked ad exec whose obsession with his job has cost him his marriage. When Ted chooses his son over his career, it’s sure to tug at the heartstrings of even the most hard-hearted businessmen.
- "I'll Never Forget What's ‘Isname" – This 1967 Orson Welles/Oliver Reed film is one of the best movies about advertising and yet few people know of it, in part because it was denied an MPAA rating in the U.S. and did not get a mainstream release. This hard to find film was released on DVD in 2000 and is well worth tracking down.
- "What Women Want" – Long before Mel Gibson made it nearly impossible to want to see one of his movies ever again, he starred as Nick Marshall in “What Women Want,” undeniably one of the best movies about advertising, Gibson plays a chauvinistic ad executive who suddenly has the power to read women’s minds. When Gibson meets his match in his new boss, played by Helen Hunt, what comes next is a throw back to the old school romantic comedies of the ‘40s.
- “Advertising Rules" – This 2001 German film, also known as “Viktor Vogel–Commercial Man,” takes a fresh and funny look at the back-stabbing ad world when an out-of-work young man finds himself in the midst of a major marketing campaign. This foreign indie drama holds its own against some heavy hitters on the list of best movies about advertising.
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