‘Flight’: Budweiser and Stolichnaya product placement gone wrong?

Wide Screen

The owners of Budweiser beer are a little upset with Paramount Pictures. The company believes that the studio may have portrayed their product in an unflattering light in the new Denzel Washington film "Flight."

According to the Associated Press, brewing conglomerate Anheuser-Busch is seeking the removal of the Budweiser logo from the recently released movie because the film depicts Washington's character, a high-functioning alcoholic, drinking a Bud while driving a car. That's bad enough, but his character doesn't just drink and drive -- he also drinks and flies! Washington plays heroic airline pilot Whip Whitaker, who miraculously lands a crippled airplane and saves most of the passengers on board, despite his substance abuse issues.

"We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters," said Budweiser vice president Rob McCarthy in a statement.

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And Bud isn't the only booze that Whitaker drinks in the film. The Whitaker character has a penchant for vodka -- Stolichnaya, to be exact -- a brand whose logo can be seen on screen as well. William Grant & Sons, the U.S. distributors of the Russian hard liquor, have also taken issue with their product being featured so prominently in the film.

"Considering the subject matter of ["Flight"], it is not something in which we would have participated," a Stolichnaya spokesperson told the Associated Press.

At issue is the fact that "Flight's" producers did not ask or secure permission from either company to include their brands in the film. Although the filmmakers are not actually legally required to do so, these statements from Anheuser-Busch and Stolichnaya raise the possibility of a lawsuit. Paramount has not responded to the controversy, either, so it will be interesting to see if they do actually remove the logos from future versions of "Flight."

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Normally, high-profile brands like Bud and Stoli secure lucrative product placement deals with studios, so perhaps the companies are more upset by the lack of green than the apparently negative context in which their alcohol is seen. "Flight" opened at No. 2 at the box office this weekend, with over $25 million in box office receipts. Positive or negative, that's a lot of brand exposure.

Other vodkas, including Absolut and Smirnoff, were also included in the movie, but neither brand has responded to comments, nor have they officially asked for their product to be removed from "Flight." Alcoholic or not, Washington's character still comes out a hero in the film. Whip Whitaker may not be a responsible drinker, but that's hardly the brand owner's fault. Similarly, since when was making a film about an alcoholic an endorsement of alcohol abuse?