In the early 2000s, BMW splurged on a cinematic promotional video series that featured, world-famous actors, genius directors and producers, and brilliant action sequences. To this day, “The Hire” series was one of the coolest pieces of car marketing ever.
This was a series of short films that BMW produced to market their vehicles in 2001 and 2002, and featured some big names. John Woo, Tony Scott, Guy Ritchie, John Frankenheimer, and more are among the directorial credits. Actors like Don Cheadle, Dakota Fanning, Mickey Rourke, Madonna, Forrest Whittaker, Danny Trejo, Gary Oldman, and many others, fill up the playbill. All of them star Clive Owen who plays a highly skilled driver who’s, well, the hire. The action sequences are excellent, especially for being ultra-condensed shorts.
It was a huge moment for BMW’s branding — my Editor Andrew Collins tells me one of his business classes even discussed it as an example of a brand leveraging media and product placements in a unique and significant way. Remember, this was way before every company on Earth had a YouTube channel to act as a perpetual sponsored content factory.
The Hire films are really too good to call sponcon, anyway. They’re genuinely joyful video clips that are cool minature pieces of cinema first, and car commercials second. That’s probably why they’re still so much fun to watch almost 20 years after they came out. Today you’ll find them all over YouTube at various quality levels… including some unofficial “remasters” that actually seem to be sharper than BMW’s official uploads.
My favorite of the two seasons is Star, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Madonna. See, back in the day, those two were married to each other. Madonna plays essentially herself if she were a bit more evil, raging, and generally unpleasant. I think it’s safe to say that since she did this role, she’s probably got a sense of humor, and thus way more pleasant in real life. I bet Ritchie directed her by saying something to the effect of “my dear wife, act like a total asshole” or something like that, and she proceeded to put on the ritz.
The plot is simple: the driver is hired to rip around in the M5 with the star in the backseat and scare the living daylights out of her. Teach her a lesson, if you will. It’s utterly hilarious, and there are some fun Ritchie-isms thrown in, like the drift-initiation-followed-by-finger-snap, “look no hands!” moment, and so on.
Plus, it’s footage of an E39 M5 wheeling around downtown Los Angeles, what’s not to love? Sadly, I can’t imagine automakers doing similar stuff in this day and age. Well, if they did, it’d be heavy on CGI… no thanks.
Powder Keg is another excellent one (featuring a manual first-gen X5!) with a very different tone from the Madonna mini-movie. It’s very dramatic and intense, check it out:
If you want to watch all the original episodes from “The Hire” in order, you can cruise through this playlist. But these uploads we’ll embed below (remastered by YouTube channel SecondWind) seem to be the sharpest version I could casually find. Enjoy:
I highly recommend watching the above, as well as the rest of The Hire films. BMW reprised the concept in 2016, too; I haven’t seen this newest iteration… so I think I’ll cut this off here and go have a watch.