Car companies have been picking up the camcorder for decades. And why wouldn’t they? After all, cars move, so it’s best to show them doing just that. Some companies, like Audi, simply opt to pay lots of money to shoehorn its cars into anything being filmed (see: Iron Man, Taken, the Transporter series), while companies like Ford let other people do it for them (looking at you, Ken Block). Car films are just good business in this tech-heavy day and age.
The brief was simple: The films had to have a BMW in them, obviously. And all of them had to star Clive ‘James Bond that never was’ Owen behind the wheel. Oh, and each one would be directed by a leading Hollywood director like Tony Scott and Guy Ritchie, or maybe Ang Lee and John Woo. You get the idea. If some big stars like Madonna, James Brown, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke and Gary Oldman could be wedged in there too, even better.
STAR. Directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Madonna
The Hire was split over two seasons with five short films in the first, and three in the second. And don’t worry, we’ll link you to every single one of them within this post. We’ll also show you our favourites, like the one above.
What you’re looking at is Star, which, um, stars Madonna. Brilliantly, it was also directed by then husband, Guy Ritchie. It’s our favourite from the series, mainly because we love the E39, especially if that E39 is power-sliding through a city while an unbuckled Madonna gets thrown around in the back like a hamster in a tumble dryer. It also has the coolest ‘finger click while drifting’ moment ever caught on film.
And much like the E39 (though not in M5 trim, obviously), all the cars featured in Ambush, Chosen, The Follow, Star, Powder Keg, Hostage, Ticker and Beat the Devil are all well within N2G territory, too. Well, apart from the Z4, but it’s not far off. There had to be link somewhere, no matter how tenuous!
Ambush. Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Tomas Milian.
The next is Ambush, in which our man Clive is – you’ll never believe this – ambushed. His weapon of choice here is the E38 7-Series. And his keen driving wits of course.
As you’ve probably guessed after watching Star, the budget for these films was more than £25. In fact, it was rumoured to be around a million dollars per film, which, when you consider the impressive production value, is easy to imagine.
What’s even more astounding is the fact these films came out four years before YouTube was even a thing. Never let it be said that BMW isn’t a forward thinking company. BMW simply made the films available via its website or on DVD through selected dealers.
Hostage. Directed by John Woo and starring Maury Chaykin and Kathryn Morris
The films were available for four years. After that time, and some 100,000,000 views later, BMW pulled them and the project – which had been rumoured to include more films – was shelved. The website was shut down and once the DVDs were gone, they were gone. Happily though, at around the same time, YouTube sprang into existence, and since then, we’ve been able to watch them once more, despite most still being potato quality. Though if you’re really keen, you might find the DVDs on eBay, guaranteeing you some HD viewing.
This was an exciting, breakthrough project for BMW, and one that changed the face of advertising forever. This wasn’t gratuitous product placement. These films were made for the love of film-making. Don’t believe us? Watch them all and try and find a moment where the car is mentioned. Nobody talks endlessly about active dampers, the heritage of BMW M Sport or, well, anything. The cars are just ‘there’. And even then, it’s not sexy angles and badge shots. The directors had free reign. All they had to do was put a BMW in there. How many companies would be brave enough to do that?
That’s not the end of the story though, because BMW Films are back! The viral age is here, and BMW knows it. Any concerns about the original films being costly have been quashed, thanks in part to their cult status these days. As such, BMW has chucked the keys and some cash at film-makers to create more cinematic adventures for Clive.
We reckon BMW has done the right thing. If the films of sixteen years ago are still beloved and popular – despite coming from an age where their audience platform was limited – new films will be sure to succeed. We have a huge appetite for high quality content after all.
Here’s hoping that BMW carries on with this project. Brave, bold and unashamedly brilliant, the The Hire is a series that will go down in automotive history. Not only that, it serves as a reminder to other companies of just what can be done with a little bit of imagination and a willingness to let a few cars take a battering.
We’ll leave you with 2016’s The Escape. It’s the first of the new batch, and it carries on from 2001 perfectly.
The Escape. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Jon Bethnal and Dakota Fanning