The 25 Most Epic Ads That Aren’t Apple’s ‘1984’

Headshot of David Griner

Leo Burnett once said great advertising could be boiled down into three simple messages: "Here's what we've got. Here's what it will do for you. Here's how to get it." Maybe, but where's the fun in that? Sometimes it's best to just go big. Today, AdFreak celebrates the advertising pros who sacrificed simplicity and frugality on the altar of awesomeness to make something downright epic. We didn't set any requirements for size, scope, length or budget. These are just our 25 favorite ads that test the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Also, we've left Ridley Scott's "1984" Apple spot off the list. You've seen it enough, and we can all agree it's in a class by itself. Now, let's kiss the workday goodbye and get things started.

  1. Best Buy

    "Silence Is Golden"

    Best Buy Advertising, 2005

    Click to view. When evil threatens the land, only one thing can stop the bloodshed. One really, really annoying thing.

  2. Clear Shampoo

    "Ice Arrows"

    Lowe, 2009

    Click to view. This Thai commercial gets high marks for its enigmatic narration, which includes lines like, "Rage, rage against her breath of fear" and "Into the dark the icy blackness follows." Not surprisingly, the director has also done work for Marilyn Manson, Bjork and Christina Aguilera.

  3. AIDES

    "Baby, Baby"

    TBWA, 2005

    Click to view. This upbeat, animated (and probably NSFW) French video for AIDS prevention tells the story of a woman's entire love life. If characters on The Sims had been this interesting, I wouldn't have spent so much time making them pee on the floor at parties.

  4. Heineken

    "One World"

    Bates, 2007

    Click to view. So, you can move mountains? Big deal. Try moving the whole damn planet. This spot was created as a lead-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

  5. Jeff and Erin

    "Save the Date"

    No agency, 2009

    Click to view. If Ridley Scott arranged marriages for a living, they would probably all go down like this. If James Cameron arranged marriages for a living, they would probably all go down in flames. Zing!

  6. Lynx


    BBH, 2006

    Click to view. If you're going to do an ad about large-breasted women, you might as well do it with every large-breasted woman on Earth.

  7. Smirnoff


    Lowe, 1997

    Click to view. Two years before The Matrix made millions off its use of "bullet time," director Michel Gondry pioneered the technique (with little credit) in this frenetic joyride.

  8. U.S. Marine Corps


    JWT, 1991

    Click to view. These days, Marine Corps ads are all about grit, discipline and endurance of will. In the '80s and early '90s, they were all swords and sorcery—though it's hard to picture the chess-playing Dungeons & Dragons crowd rushing out to enlist.

  9. PlayStation


    TBWA, 2003

    Click to view. More than 1,500 extras were recruited to play king of the mountain in this British PlayStation 2 spot. The ad was meant to promote the "global competition" offered on the PS2, though it would be another few years (and another generation of hardware) before multiplayer got quite this massive.

  10. Wego Motel


    Ogilvy & Mather, 2009

    Click to view. Taiwan's Wego Motel commissioned a series of short films to promote itself as the ultimate place for a romantic rendezvous. Apparently the promise of a good time doesn't necessarily come with a promise of a happy ending, though.

  1. Adidas

    "Impossible Field"

    180, 2005

    Click to view. We could devote an entire post to epic soccer commercials (and maybe we will). But there's just something slick and nightmarish about this Adidas showdown starring David Bekham, Kaka and a few other footie favorites.

  2. Honda

    "The Impossible Dream"

    Wieden + Kennedy, 2005

    Click to view. While Honda's "Cog" and "Grrr" long-form spots tend to get the most attention, I still prefer this wonderfully paced and musically driven spot that builds to a powerful crescendo—tarnished only by a bit of superfluous Garrison Keillor. Honda recently unveiled an even longer version of the ad, but it's just not the same without the soaring finale of the original.

  3. BMW


    Fallon, 2002

    Click to view. The BMW Films project cranked out lots of epic fare, but probably none more so than this action spree directed by John Woo as part of a Clive Owen-driven series called "The Hire."

  4. Nike

    "Good vs. Evil"

    Wieden + Kennedy, 1996

    Click to view. The forces of darkness square off against the nice guys of world soccer in this classic, intricately detailed Nike opus. The spot's popularity prevails to this day, with nearly 10 million views on the first version posted to YouTube in 2005.

  5. Sony Bravia


    Fallon, 2005

    Click to view. Sony's launch spot for its Bravia television line became an Internet sensation, thanks to the visual splendor of 250,000 colorful balls bouncing down a San Francisco street.

  6. Coca-Cola

    "Happiness Factory: The Movie"

    Wieden + Kennedy, 2007

    Click to view. Coke's surreal celebration of life inside a vending machine, animated by Psyop, has become one of the soft drink's most-loved ad series of all time. Watching it is now even a mandatory part of the World of Coke tour in Atlanta.

  7. Freixenet

    "The Key to Reserva"

    JWT, 2007

    Click to view. Spanish sparkling wine Freixenet put its name on the map with this tongue-in-cheek homage to Alfred Hitchcock, as channeled by Martin Scorsese.

  8. Halo 3

    "Believe" spots

    T.A.G., 2007

    Click to view. Everything about Halo 3's advertising was cinematic and incredible, from the award-winning "Diorama" spot to this collection of brilliantly acted short films. My only complaint was that the gritty realism of the marketing felt out of sync with the gameplay, which was pretty cartoonish by comparison.

  9. Hovis Bread

    "Go On, Lad"

    MCBD, 2008

    Click to view. Distilling the history of modern Britain down to two minutes is a tall order for any filmmaker, much less someone making an ad for bread. But this Hovis spot does a pretty impressive job of strolling through the 122 years that the bakery has been around.

  10. 6. Guinness (tie)

    "Tipping Point"

    AMV BBDO, 2007

    Click to view. It takes a village to make the world's most impressive pint. Guinness famously spent £10 million to create this ad, which was shot in Argentina and features no digital trickery.


    AMV BBDO, 1999

    Click to view. Perhaps the most high-art ad ever made, "Surfer" is also one of the very few commercials that truly seem timeless. It's powerful, mysterious and impossible to ignore. Those are probably just a few of the reasons Brits voted it the best ad of all time in 2002.

  1. Stella Artois


    Lowe, 2004

    Click to view. Some British pilots shot down during World War I were lucky enough to be rescued by French peasants. Unfortunately, some French peasants were dicks.

  2. Johnnie Walker

    "The Man Who Walked Around the World"

    BBH, 2009

    Click to view. Most ads try to go epic by creating a cast of thousands, but sometimes you can get more impact from one great actor, a bagpiper, a foggy road and a hat rack.

  3. Carlton Draught

    "Big Ad"

    George Patterson Partners, 2005

    Click to view. It's the commercial that proved epic ads can still have a great sense of humor, and it's probably the only reason anyone outside of Australia has heard of Carlton Draught.

  4. Philips


    TribalDDB, 2009

    Click to view. Two-hour movies wish they could be half as good as this two-minute ad.

  5. Pantene


    Grey, 2008

    Click to view. If this ad doesn't give you chills, you have antifreeze for blood.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: April 13, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT