The Inverse Awards

The Best Brand Movies of 2023, Ranked

Brands! They’re just like us… right?

Originally Published: 
A collage of characters from 2023's brand movies
Lais Borges/Inverse
The Inverse Awards 2023

It’s been a weird year for the entertainment industry. On the one hand, films like Barbie, Oppenheimer, and even The Super Mario Bros. Movie have reignited certain analysts’ and critics’ faith in the strength of the American theatrical market. On the other hand, 2023 saw Hollywood grow increasingly dependent on what we can only call “brand movies.”

The industry has always been obsessed with brand recognition and pre-existing properties, but the past 12 months have seen Hollywood’s studios completely double down on their relationships with some of the world’s most powerful corporations. Whether they be toy and snack manufacturers or powerful sneaker and clothing companies, 2023 has featured more movies named after and about corporate brands than any other year in recent memory — if not ever.

So with 2023 winding down, it’s worth looking back at all the brand movies released this year and determining not only which ones worked the best, but also why some succeeded in ways that others didn’t. Without any further ado, here are the year’s brand movies, ranked.

7. Flamin’ Hot

Flamin’ Hot has nothing but good intentions, but they don’t take the film far enough.


The title for the most forgettable brand movie of 2023, unfortunately, goes to Flamin’ Hot. Directed by Eva Longoria, the Hulu original purports to tell the unlikely origin of, you guessed it, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Putting aside the fact that many of the movie’s claims have been disputed, Flamin’ Hot never evolves into anything more than its logline. It’s a disappointingly basic film, and its efforts to highlight the cultural origins of its eponymous snack only serve to humanize a massive company like Frito-Lay. That’s something that, frankly, the world could use a little less of right now.

6. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts proves that smashing different toys together does not a movie make.

Paramount Pictures

The Transformers franchise has been around long enough that it’s easy to forget its toy origins. That said, the series’ latest installment, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, brings a corporate sheen to it that was absent from its previous, Michael Bay and Travis Knight-directed entries. The film not only relies heavily on the introduction of the Maximals, a group of characters from the 1990s Beast Wars animated TV series, but it also ends by setting up a live-action crossover between Hasbro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe properties that no one asked for. It’s the latter decision, in particular, that justifies Rise of the Beasts’ inclusion on this list. For all of its entertaining moments, it’s a film that doesn’t have much going on beyond a general impulse to smash as many Hasbro-owned properties together as possible.

5. Tetris

Tetris is a lot of fun to watch, but not much more than that.

Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s Tetris isn’t an ambitious or complex film. It is, however, a lot of fun. Based on the true story of how Tetris became a globally known video game, the Jon S. Baird-directed film is a perfectly fine, if not especially memorable, Cold War-era thriller. It doesn’t offer any perspective on the importance of the addictive video game beyond just a few basic platitudes, and it doesn’t say anything very interesting or new about the political state of the world, either. That said, if Hollywood is going to continue to turn the origin stories of certain brands and existing franchises into new movies and TV shows, it can do a lot worse than Tetris.

4. Barbie

Barbie does a lot of things right, but it never fully reckons with its existence as a product.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The highest-grossing and most talked-about movie of the year, Barbie is very aware that it’s both a big-screen comedy and a piece of promotional material for Mattel. The Greta Gerwig-directed film goes out of its way to acknowledge this, partly by inserting fictional Mattel executives (led by Will Ferrell’s earnest CEO) into its story. As much as it strives to reconcile the sincere and mercenary facts of its existence, though, it never really does. In the end, the film seems to shrug its shoulders at the questions one might have about its role in the potential Mattel-ification of Hollywood — and it even ends with America Ferrera’s Gloria earnestly pitching an “Ordinary Barbie” doll to Ferrell’s surprisingly receptive executives. Barbie gets a lot right, but when it comes to its own role as a product, the film ends up grasping nothing but air.

3. Air

Air is one of the year’s most watchable films, and it’s also the only brand movie of 2023 that has something to say about the complex relationship between artists and the companies that are designed to exploit them.

Amazon Studios

Air is, without a doubt, the most low-key film that Ben Affleck has ever directed. That mostly works in its favor. The film’s numerous shots of Nike’s logo aside, Air turns the creation of the Air Jordan sneakers into a digestible tale about the power that a person — not a company — can accrue when they earn the public’s faith and goodwill. Even more importantly, Air is the only brand movie of the year that actually argues for artist-driven profit participation. Its final act revolves entirely around Michael Jordan’s real-life demand that he earn a percentage of every shoe sold with his name on it.

That detail single-handedly explains why Air is the first film produced by Affleck and Matt Damon’s new production company, Artists Equity, which is designed to share the profits of each of its movies with all of its stakeholders. The movie isn’t perfect — Affleck’s decision to shoot around Michael Jordan the same way Golden Age Hollywood movies used to shoot around religious figures is strange, to say the least. But Air is immensely watchable and the only entry on this list that has anything to say about the perpetually uneasy relationship between artists and their capitalist financiers.

2. BlackBerry

BlackBerry is not only one of the year’s best films, but it’s also an unforgettable addition to the canon of great Rise and Fall Movies.

Elevation Pictures

You may be asking: Why does BlackBerry of all films have this high of a spot on this list? To explain, we’d point you first to this clip of Glenn Howerton screaming at the top of his lungs in one of the movie’s climactic scenes, which has understandably gone viral several times since BlackBerry’s release. If the sheer hilarity and unexpected power of that scene aren’t enough to convince you of BlackBerry’s greatness, though, we’d note that it’s one of the most competently made corporate dramas of recent memory and quickly received comparisons to The Social Network.

While it isn’t as good as that 2010 masterpiece, the mere fact that anyone would utter BlackBerry’s title in the same conversation as The Social Network should, once again, prove just how good the Matt Johnson-directed movie is. Unlike the other films on this list, BlackBerry isn’t designed to make its titular company look good, either. On the contrary, it’s a scathing, appropriately acidic dramedy about the insidious nature of greed and the relentlessness of time. It is, in other words, a reminder of why so many companies like BlackBerry fail and why consumers should be wary of the corporations and brands that they put their faith in.

1. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves beautifully captures the spirit of the brand that inspired it, and that’s partly what makes it so great.

Paramount Pictures

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves may exist solely to capitalize on the rising popularity of the world’s most well-known TTRPG, but it’s also one of the year’s only brand movies that isn’t designed to make its original product or the company that publishes it seem more human than they are. Instead, Honor Among Thieves is an old-fashioned fantasy adventure film — one that doesn’t so much aim to sell Dungeons & Dragons or tell its origin story as it does to capture what it is about the game that has made so many fall in love with it since 1974. It does just that, too, telling a story with the same shades of camaraderie and love that emerge at the center of every good D&D game.

Whether or not it convinces more consumers to play D&D doesn’t really matter, not when the film itself is so endearing and well-made. It’s one of the year’s very best blockbusters, and it doesn’t just remind us of the fantasy genre’s popularity, but also why we’ve always been drawn to escapist adventures like it. In the year 2023, there’s no higher compliment one can give a film like Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

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