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Super Bowl Commercials: Top 20 Best Ads Of All Time

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Super Bowl Sunday is often one occasion when we wish we could fast forward to the commercials.

That depends on how the on-field action is going, of course, but with the big game typically attracting a TV audience in the triple-digit millions, corporations eagerly pay any astronomical price to place their product message in the broadcast, while ad agencies aim not just to create a memorable 30-second spot, but a video so unique and irresistible that it becomes a staple of popular culture.

With Super Bowl XLIX looming on February 1, let’s prepare for this year’s ad onslaught with a look back at the unforgettable spots that set a high standard for turning a normally irritating distraction—the TV commercial—into touchdowns of entertainment that live on long past the games of which they were a part.

In no particular order, here are the 20 best Super Bowl commercials of all time.

 

Volkswagon: “The Force” (2011)

To the familiar strains of Darth Vader’s musical theme from Star Wars, a pint-sized Sith lord in an adorable mask and cape repeatedly attempts to wield the Force on objects in and around his house. He has no luck—until his dad spots young Vader out by the new family car, which just happens to have a remote starter.


 

Doritos: “Ali Landry—3D Doritos” (1998)

The words “laundry” and “Landry” became forever sexily intertwined after this star-making spot in which stacked brunette Ali Landry twists, leaps, lunges, and turns (on) among washers and dryers in the name of newly puffed-up snack chips.


 

Skechers: “Kim Kardashian Shape Ups” (2011)

Debates arose over whether or not Skechers’ Step Up footwear actually lived up to claims made in ads about health and exercise benefits. What absolutely no one questioned, however, was how Kim Kardashian’s work out routine in this commercial instantly raised cardio levels and got more than just iron pumping.


 

Miller Lite: “Catfight” (2003)

The single most controversial spot in Super Bowl history is a spoof of guys’ fantasies around girl-girl grappling. It would be impossible to air now (just imagine the immediate Internet outrage) and it sort of set the stage for the Super Bowl’s most apocalyptic moment the following year: Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.


 

Victoria’s Secret: “Adriana Lima” (2008)

The play is simple. Take the world’s most luscious lingerie model, put her in the skimpiest undergarments network standards will allow, and air to the largest boob tube audience on earth. Touchdown!


 

Budweiser: “Wazzzzup?” (1999)

Adapted from a short film about a handful of dudes communicating in the sort of funny one-word utterances that guys tend to actually do, “Wazzzzup?” became one of the all-time great commercial catchphrases—and, inevitably, also eventually became on of the all-time most overused commercial catchphrases. Still, it was fun while it lasted.


 

Visa: “Snow Volleyball” (2004)

Doubling as a plug for the upcoming 2004 Olympics, Visa put sexbomb volleyball athletes on the order of Misty May and Kerri Walsh on a frozen beach and let their natural heat spike home the message.


 

Pepsi: “Britney Spears Meets Bob Dole” (2002)

Long-time Republican Senator and 1996 presidential candidate grumpily decried the state of pop culture in the early 2000s by pointing out to the overt sexuality of teen stars on the order of Britney Spears. Around the same time, Dole also appeared in ads for erectile dysfunction medicine. Pepsi’s funny spot combines all those elements, showcasing a tawdry Britney performace followed by Dole himself drolly delivering a dirty-old-man punchline.


 

Budweiser: “Frogs” (1995)

Three frogs. Three lilypads. One neon beer sign. “Bud.” “Wise.” “Errr.”


 

McDonald’s: Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird, H-O-R-S-E (1993)

The NBA’s two most world-conquering superstars take one another on in a casual shooting game that transforms the entire planet into their personal playground.


 

GoDaddy.com: “Nikki Cappelli at GoDaddy Proceedings” (2005)

The web domain agency Go Daddy stirred up some trouble in previous Super Bowl spots by employing sexy female models to shill their service. This final variation is a nervy spoof not just of that brouhaha, but of the actual Congressional hearing over Janet Jackson’s “nipplegate.” It stars sexpot Nikki Cappelli and her highly unstable tank top.


 

Reebok: Terry Tate, Office Linebacker (2003)

What happens when a retired NFL linebacker is hired to run a typical business office? Reebok answered that question hilariously with a series of spots starring Terry Tate in just that position.


 

E-Trade: “Monkey” (2000)

Before there was the E-Trade Babe, the Super Bowl brought us the E-Trade Monkey, who sent up the soon-to-crash dot-com stock boom by wailing and flailing to “La Cucaracha”—all at his client’s unnecessary expense, of course.


 

Coca-Cola: Mean Joe Green (1979)

An instant classic mini movie that depicts Pittsburgh Steelers legend Mean Joe Green, broken and exhausted after a game, encountering a young fan en route to the locker room. The kid offers Mean Joe a Coke, and the defensive tackle responds endearingly.


Apple: 1984 (1984)

Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) actually changed public perception of computer technology with this ad promoting Apple’s Macintosh PC. Amidst a dystopian underworld of mindless worker-drones and a yammering Big Brother oppressor, a goddess figure appears, charges the scene, and throws a hammer explosively into the future on behalf of freedom.


 

Monster.com: “When I Grow Up” (1999)

Dramatic black-and-white footage of youngsters discussing their future dreams includes ambitions such as “When I grow up, I want to file.” The ad came off clever and amusing a decade-and-a-half ago; now, maybe, it hits a bit too close to home.


Wendy’s: “Where’s the Beef?” (1984)

Old lady Clara Peller instantly became an ’80s icon by observing a tiny hamburger on an oversized bun and braying out three unforgettable words: “Where’s the beef?” The next morning, that question was on the lips of everyone in America and it never seemed to go away, even after Democratic candidate Walter Mondale wielded it against President Ronald Reagan in a televised debate the following fall.


 

Pepsi: “Cindy Crawford—Gotta Have It” (1992)

Nobody was hotter than supermodel Cindy Crawford in 1992, and nobody was cooler than the two kids in this ad who got to watch her seductively chug down a Pepsi.


 

Gatorade: “Michael Jordan vs. Michael Jordan” (1997)

An intense, high-tech match-up of young Michael Jordan against his older self, Gatorade’s spot required no dialogue to get the whole world talking.


 

Noxema: “Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett” (1973)

The very first Super Bowl commercial to become a star in its own right feature two of 1970s’ pop culture icons at their most charming. Broadway Joe Namath is all studly swagger while blonde bombshell Farrah Fawcett lights up the screen in a randy back-and-forth over shaving cream.


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