While there was no solace for Los Angeles Rams fans or those (like Daniel Radcliffe) wishing to see the MAGA-hatted Tom Brady humbled and broken, there were certainly commercials. It’s the Super Bowl, there are always going to be big, buzzy commercials—even if they don’t always debut during the actual game anymore.
Even leaving out the jaw-dropping trailers, the halftime show, and everything halfway related to the actual, completely tepid play, Super Bowl LIII was filled with ads we hate that we love. Being sold something should never be this fun. And yet, sometimes, when the entire advertising industry puts their top talent on the job, you understand why Mad Men’s Don Draper could play people so well. These were the hilarious, poignant, and unexpected ads that made our list of the ten best commercials of the 2019 Super Bowl.
The Jason Bateman elevator sketch—I’m sorry, commercial—involved an amusing descent into errand hell, with root canals, bad flights, and vegan dinner parties marking Dante’s circles. Unless, of course, you’re buying the correct brand of car, in which case you ascend up into heaven. Bateman’s skillful deadpan and somewhat sinister detachment only makes this celestial transportation more entertaining.
Corny as it is, the meeting of two musical greats—Chance the Rapper and the Backstreet Boys—created a commercial as novel as the original song is iconic. (The ad does lose points for implying that “I Want It That Way” isn’t already hot, though.) Chance’s rhymes are OK—I mean, they’re about chips—but seeing those Boys dance… well, that’s priceless.
Oh, hey there, Harrison Ford. Hey there, Broad City crew. Didn’t expect these two demographics to cross over, but having Amazon in the center of the Venn diagram was certainly a surprise. Jeff Bezos is definitely a villain who treats his employees like garbage and should be taxed into oblivion, but at least this commercial was an amusing distraction from that fact.
A little feminism goes a long way. Having a progressive message helps the pill of capitalism go down over the course of all these commercials, but having some sweet little girls playing football with each other takes the cake. Very simple, very short, but entirely effective.
Listen, we weren’t going to get through this list without what amounts to fan service for the football crowd (which, I know, is weird to remember when focusing on the commercials). This centennial commercial from the NFL has more cameos than a Marvel movie, fun choreography, and plenty of reenactments of notable highlights. There’s something very cathartic about allowing some all-stars to go full “bull in a china shop”—especially when the Super Bowl itself was so deathly dull.
This backdoor Game of Thrones ad subverted expectations and had a dark twist befitting the show itself. Plus, we got to see some of those annoying Bud Light characters die thanks to The Mountain and some dragons paying a visit to the light-beer Dark Ages. If anything, it gave bored viewers a small jolt of GoT’s bloody drama.
This Interstellar-esque ad begins with some beautiful, dreamlike imagery that screams wheat, Christopher Nolan, and daddy issues, then takes a whiplash-inducing turn perfect for millenials with a death wish. Turns out the star of the ad, hoping for a better future where his dad likes him and he has an electric car, was choking to death. Now, saved, he returns to his purgatorial office work. It’s depressing, wry, and hilarious.
You can’t go wrong with Tom Hanks. “Knowing keeps us free” is a great sentiment (and far catchier than the title of the ad, which also acts as the paper’s new slogan) that pushes back against a political and cultural climate that fosters trolls and distrusts facts. Even if its delivery can be trite, with our own TV editor commenting that its money might be better spent on airing a clip from The Post, its message is of paramount importance.
Combining intense but not-yet-clichéd feminism and Serena Williams’ killer screen presence made for a commercial that was both effective and surprising when viewers found out that it was for the Bumble apps. But focusing on power, the act of redistribution, and the idea that women already have it and are simply reclaiming it—that’s just as savvy as subtle details in the commercial, like the Bumble designs populating the tennis courts.
Continuing the commercial series Microsoft started back in November, highlighting the gaming exploits of Owen (a boy with Escobar Syndrome who uses the accessibility-focused Xbox Adaptive Controller to win big), the company’s Xbox One ad for the big game continues its focus on a message of equality through gaming. Are you sniffling yet? Good. The customizable controller allows for all types of control schemes and play styles that previous controllers simply haven’t offered—and the commercial features proud parents and excited kids that won’t leave a dry eye in the audience.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.