News & Insights

McDonald's at the Movies: Our Top 10 Glimpses of the Golden Arches on Film

26 Sep 2023

Nicholas Page

CRM & Marketing Manager

Few brand symbols are so firmly ingrained in the cultural consciousness of the world as the McDonald's Golden Arches, and the American fast food giant is directly leveraging this presence for its new "As Featured in Meal" campaign. In a new 60-second promo spot, they show many of the times McDonald's has popped up in television and film over the last few decades, and spoiler: it's more than a few.

We're all for brands being creative and having fun with it, so in honour of this new advertising campaign, we thought it would be interesting to go back to the movies and list our own favourite films that have embraced McDonald's product placement. Join us on this journey, and let us know which of your favourites we've missed out by tagging us on social media.

Here are our top 10 glimpses of the Golden Arches on film:

10. SLEEPER (Woody Allen, 1973)

McDonald's in Sleeper

The "McDonald's as eternal" message is one that the fast food brand has been pushing for decades, so to see films parrot this back at us is probably to be expected. Woody Allen, in his 1973 film Sleeper, wakes up 200 years hence to find that not much has changed in the world of fast food, with patrons still seeking out the Golden Arches for their sustenance. Quite a blow, for a man who runs a health food restaurant.

9. THE RIVER (Tsai Ming-liang, 1997)

McDonald's in The River

Tsai Ming-liang Taipei trilogy is an absolute must for any self-proclaimed cineaste. The River follows Rebels of the Neon God (1991) and Vive L'Amour (1994) as unerring documents to the urban malaise found in postcolonial Taiwan, and they are films filled with pervading Western influences, especially fast food chains. There's a great write-up of this particular scene by Therese Wang on Mubi's One Shot.

8. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)

McDonald's in All the Presidents Men

In Alan J. Pakula's 1976 film All the President's Men, about the breaking of the Watergate scandal, journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) take their investigative assignment all over Washington D.C., from darkened parking garages to the homes of powerful fundraisers. And what fuels such an effort, you might ask? That's right, it's American fast food. A steady diet of McDonald's and Oreos, to be precise.

7. SPARROW (Johnnie To, 2008)

McDonald's in Sparrow

Based on its numerous appearances on this list, I can only assume that there's a McDonald's establishment every ten feet in the city of Hong Kong. Johnnie To's Sparrow follows a gang of pickpockets (sparrows), each of whom are approached by a mysterious Taiwanese woman with a hidden agenda. The latter sequences of the film feature this exchange, shot in slow motion in the rain, outside a local McDonald's restaurant.

6. WEATHERING WITH YOU (Makoto Shinkai, 2019)

McDonald's in Weathering With You

Japanese anime icon Makoto Shinkai has carved out an enviable little niche for himself since beginning his career as a computer game animator in the 1990s, with his latest films dominating the box office both locally and abroad. Of course, with commercial success comes partnerships, and McDonald's has featured in each of his last two movies. In fact, his latest movie Suzume (2022) even ran a tie-in campaign with the fast food chain to feature characters in their Happy Meals.

5. CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)

McDonald's in Chungking Express

The presence of beloved auteur Wong Kar-wai as part of this new marketing campaign by McDonald's is the one that surprised me the most, for he's not nearly as mainstream as other mentions. It looks like they only featured his 1995 film Fallen Angels in the TV spot below, but the fast food chain actually makes an appearance Chungking Express, which he made a year earlier. Both films feature the same McDonald's spot, still standing on Salisbury Road in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

4. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (Steven Spielberg, 1977)

McDonald's in Close Encounters

This is a glimpse-and-you'll-miss-it entry, but McDonald's does briefly appear in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, used to depict a mass neighbourhood power outage. This kind of product placement is nothing new to Spielberg, who famously gave Reese's Pieces a starring role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), but it all contributes towards presenting what Spielberg has described as the 'anaesthetic of suburbia', protection from the real world.

3. THE FIFTH ELEMENT (Luc Besson, 1997)

McDonald's in The Fifth Element

Luc Besson's The Fifth Element takes the "McDonald's as eternal" message from Woody Allen's Sleeper and pushes it even further, imagining a futuristic fly-by drive-through in which floating cars queue in the towering glow of a giant, golden M. A special mention for Besson's imagined McDonald's 23rd-century uniforms, complete with red hair, a gaudy M-shaped headdress and entirely too much cleavage.

2. FALLEN ANGELS (Wong Kar-wai, 1995)

McDonald's in Fallen Angels

Another mention for Wong Kar-wai, who returned to the basement of this same McDonald's in Hong Kong a year after Chungking Express to shoot Fallen Angels. In the latter, a disenchanted hitman is approached by an off-duty sex worker, with the McDonald's basement brought to life in all its neon, after-hours glory by Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong's long-time collaborator.

1. YI YI: A ONE AND A TWO... (Edward Yang, 2000)

McDonald's in Yi Yi

Taiwan's capital Taipei made an appearance earlier on in this list, and here it is again. The late, great Edward Yang was one of the forerunners of the Taiwanese New Wave during the 1980s, and mentions of imported western consumerism can be littered throughout his work. This one is a particular favourite, in which a man slips out of a boring wedding rehearsal to take his sulky son to the McDonald's around the corner for a quick Happy Meal, turning his son's frown upside down.

You can watch the "As Featured in Meal" promo below:


Do you have an idea for a new marketing campaign? Contact Crowd today and maximise your potential with our global team of experts.

Get in touch with us today to talk about your marketing challenges

Get personalised marketing insights