DETROIT -- X-Men mutant hero Wolverine wants the new Mazda sports car. Lara Croft has traded in her Land Rover Defender for a Jeep Wrangler. Hummer driver Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps into a Toyota pickup in the new Terminator movie.
Not to be outdone, "The Matrix Reloaded," which opens Thursday, puts both good guys and bad guys into GM cars. The futuristic action movie features a nearly 15-minute-long highway chase with a black Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup truck in pursuit of a silver Cadillac CTS sedan.
The summer movie season has gotten as big for carmakers as it is for Hollywood studios. The car chase, always a critical element in blockbuster movies, is becoming essential for the auto industry as well.
"Think about what that (car chase) would cost you for the same type of exposure on TV, with that kind of audience size, for 15 minutes," said Wes Brown, an analyst with the consulting and consumer research firm Nextrend.
General Motors said it didn't pay the Warner Brothers studio to use the Cadillacs, but it did incur the major expense of custom-building 24 Cadillacs for the movie, making it the automaker's largest product placement in its history.
AOL gets a payback because GM puts its huge advertising muscle into car promotions that feature the Matrix movie. A growing trend in the industry, GM began the "co-promotion" by running print ads and special pullout sections in major newspapers on Wednesday featuring the Cadillacs and the movie.
Mary Moore, manager of Cadillac product promotions and marketing, said getting her cars into Reloaded, the sequel to the 1999 hit "The Matrix", could change perceptions of Cadillac as being "a little stodgy," even if movie viewers don't rush out to car lots on the way home from the show.
"It's important for Cadillac to get in front of audiences that are not going to go down to a dealership and see it," she told Reuters. "They might not be able to afford a Cadillac right now, but we still want to put that in their mind." The average age of a current Cadillac owner is about 59.
Cars have played a role since the earliest days of film, but a growing number of automakers are using movies to launch new vehicles or show off their attributes.
In "X2: X-Men United," lead mutant Wolverine scans a garage full of import sports cars before picking the new Mazda RX-8 from the bunch to make an escape.
The scene is brief, but clearly displays the Mazda badge, and the sports car's unusual rear doors, which open backward for easy access to the rear seats. The RX-8 goes on sale in the United States in July.
"It is a short onscreen role, but it fits our needs," said Mazda Motor Corp. spokesman Jeremy Barnes. Since "X2" debuted earlier this month, Mazda has received calls from consumers hoping to order the slightly mutated RX-8 and its accessories, Barnes said.
"2 Fast 2 Furious", the sequel to the street-racing hit "The Fast and the Furious", features a slew of souped-up sports cars from a variety of manufacturers, which could give a lift to the entire industry.
"They're not sitting there selling anything. That can be extremely effective with a younger crowd," Nextrend's Brown said.
Some brands show up in unexpected places in the movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger is usually associated with Hummer; he was one of the first owners of the brawny sport utility vehicles. But in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" he's behind the wheel of the new Toyota Tundra crew cab pickup truck. The largest truck ever from Toyota Motor Corp. goes on sale this fall.
A spokesman for GM, which owns the Hummer brand, said the automaker discussed using a Hummer in the movie with Warner Brothers, but the costs were prohibitive and the automaker had not built any of its new Hummer H2s yet.
In the 1999 hit "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider", actress Angelina Jolie drove a Land Rover Defender. In the sequel "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life", which opens July 25, the heroine parachutes into a moving Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, takes the wheel, and drives off across the desert in search of a lost relic. Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover passed on the sequel.
Jeff Bell, vice president of the DaimlerChrysler AG's Jeep division, said that auto marketers need to learn the art of casting as they push their cars for movie roles. It was important for the Jeep to be believable as the vehicle of choice for a British archeologist, Bell said.
"This is a different type of thing than just, 'Oh, Halle Berry drove up in some vehicle outside of some kind of igloo'," he added, referring to the Ford Thunderbird that Berry's character Jinx drove in the last fall's James Bond movie "Die Another Day".