|An image from the upcoming Uncle Drew movie.|
This Friday see's the release of Uncle Drew, a new comedy starring basketball star Kyrie Irving based on an assortment of Pepsi commercials that starred Irving in old man makeup as a character known as Uncle Drew getting into all sorts of basketball shenanigans. The various Uncle Drew shorts were highly popular viral sensations, garnering enough popularity to generate a feature film adaptation. Hollywood movie studios love to base feature films of all sorts of types of source material (board games, comic books, TV shows, etc.), but movies based on TV commercials like Uncle Drew are a rarer breed, mainly because of the difficulty of trying to have company mascots who feature in said 30-second long TV commercials sustain an expansive feature-length narrative.
Despite the inherent difficulties in making fixtures of TV commercials movie stars, there have been past examples of this phenomenon occuring both domestically and abroad, perhaps most notably with 1980's/1990's comedy fixture Ernest. Yep, Jim Varney's Southern goofball started out as a fixture of various TV commercials, shelling for all kinds of products with his trademark style of humor and assorted catchphrases that got him endeared to the public at large. Ernest a variety of local and national advertisements that eventually gave the character enough popularity to headline theatrically released movies like Ernest Goes To Camp, a number of which found similar success at the box office.
Another comedic character from TV commercials that ended up starring in a number of comedic motion pictures is that of Rowan Atkinson's character Johnny English, though his original TV commercial incarnation, also played by Atkinson, went by the name of Richard Latham. As pointed out by Stuart Heritage in a 2011 article for The Guardian, the character of Richard Latham appeared in a Barclaycard advertisement well over a decade prior to the release of the original Johnny English film. Though the names may have been changed, both super-spy characters are clearly identical of one another as a vessel for Rowan Atkinson to satirize James Bond with his own trademark style of slapstick humor.
While Ernest and Johnny English found major box office success in their leaps from TV commercials to feature films, a 1980's example of this trend was not so lucky. At this point, I'm sure we've all heard of the infamous E.T. knock-off Mac And Me and its infamous sequence depicting its lead alien (in a disguise) dancing around in a McDonalds. Interestingly, unlike our last two examples, the project didn't start out as a TV commercial that was adapted into a film, but, as detailed in a 2017 Thrillist article, Mac And Me was brought to life in direct partnership with the McDonalds brand name and franchise, the thought of advertising directly with this fast food empire was ingrained into its blood. This movie was like they cut out the middleman and just made a film adaptation of a mascot character from a popular TV commercial...without actually having a TV commercial to let the producers behind the project know if said mascot character was popular enough to warrant a feature film adaptation. Hey, at least Mac And Me gave us all the iconic clip Paul Rudd plays every time he shows up on Conan's talk show.