With a few rare exceptions, Hollywood's biggest stars rarely slum in American television commercials. The closest they come is the occasional L'Oreal or Chanel spot, or those long-form ProActiv ads on late-night TV. (We're looking at you, Katy Perry and Adam Levine.)
On the other hand, no amount of fame (or dignity) can deter an A-list celebrity from shilling products in a foreign land. Sometimes Japanese or Norwegian ad campaigns prove too lucrative to turn down, leading to some of the most expensive and/or odd commercials ever produced.
Here are just a few of those little-seen advertisements, most of which feature appearances from huge Hollywood stars you'd never see in a Walmart or Kmart commercial in the states. (Again, we're looking in your direction, Katy Perry and Adam Levine.)
Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones has starred in dozens of television ads for Japan's Boss coffee, appearing not as himself, but as a character called "Alien Jones" who came to Earth to study our species. More often than not, our human behavior confounds Alien Jones, leading him to seek relief at the bottom of a Boss coffee can.
We're pretty used to seeing Paul Newman's likeness on countless Newman's Own grocery items, usually wearing a sombrero or holding a pitchfork. But it still feels rare to see Newman in a television commercial for Maxwell House coffee, especially one where he attends the world's most depressing birthday party. (Newman has appeared in Japanese Maxwell House print campaigns, as well)
In early 2013, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the following Japanese ad for Jim Beam. In it, DiCaprio utters a mere four words ("Cool bourbon. Jim Beam.") after using his superhuman powers to reduce a block of ice into flakes for his afternoon drink.
We admit, we've seen Cindy Crawford in more than her share of U.S. commercials, advertising everything from cosmetics to But we can't recall anything as odd as this ad for Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink that fuels fantastical female warriors and their creepy claymation sidekicks.
If we're following this ad correctly, a power outage forces Keanu Reeves to abandon his electronic music studio, at which point he goes in search of his cat. Once he finds it, the cat turns into a beautiful woman who seduces Reeves before disappearing. Or, perhaps this commercial tells the story of how Keanu Reeves drank so much Suntory Reserve whiskey that he mistook his cat for a beautiful woman, who he then seduced. Decide for yourself:
If you don't turn out to be the woman of George Clooney's dreams and the recipient of his wealth, don't fret: There's still time to plan for your Clooney-less future with the help of Norway's DnB Bank.
The executives at Nissin decided that their 1992 commercials for hot, steamy soup needed an accompanying song about hot, steamy sex, which is presumably why they hired James Brown to rework his famous "Sex Machine" with lyrics about miso.
Roberts was reportedly paid around $1.5 million to star in this Italian ad for Lavazza coffee — and she didn't even have to utter a single word. The actress merely acts bored and disinterested while an exasperated painter tries to capture her likeness, until one of the painter's buddies gets the bright idea to give her a cup of Lavazza, getting her to flash a big toothy smile.
John Travolta did a series of commercials for a canned alcoholic beverage called Tokyo Drink in 1983, and boy, did he earn his paycheck. In the following three ads, Travolta gyrates, thrusts and boogies with such gusto that we'd swear he was auditioning for a third "Saturday Night Fever" installment.
Sylvester Stallone posits himself as the director of a fanciful film about flying children in this Japanese commercial for Knorr soup, when, in actuality, he never did anything of the sort. Though it's still fun to imagine him directing his "Rocky" and "Rambo" sequels with such spirited hand gestures.
Uma Thurman likes to have Schweppes. If you recognized that last sentence as a pun about sex, then congratulations: You're exactly the kind of person who would enjoy (or at least understand) the following commercial for Schweppes soft drinks, which aired on French television in 2011.
Pitt is no stranger to Japanese commercials, having done ads for Roots coffee and Edwin clothing. But his most memorable ads were probably filmed for Softbank, a Japanese telecommunications company whose slogan is, "Serving you in any way necessary." Here's Brad demonstrating their slogan on a needy sumo wrestler.
Angelina Jolie's 2006 ads for Shiseido cosmetics were shot in France before ultimately airing in Japan. She doesn't say (or do) all that much in any of them, but if you're a fan of looking at Jolie's pouty face, you should be happy with her many Shiseido commercials.
Michael J. Fox
Former "Family Ties" actor Michael J. Fox has appeared in zany and romantic commercials for Kirin beverages, but they don't showcase his impressive ability to flail and holler quite like the Japanese spots for Shimano fishing gear. The Kirin ads didn't have nearly as rambling a soundtrack, either.
Televised cigarette commercials have been banned in the United States since 1971, but that didn't stop Lark cigarettes from hiring Pierce Brosnan to film a series of spots in the late '80s. They aired only in Japan, and featured Brosnan using Bond-quality gadgetry to foil a paparazzo. (It's worth noting that Brosnan wasn't playing Bond on the big screen when this aired; he had previously won the role only to be passed over when his "Remington Steele" contract interfered.)
If there's one thing we can learn from Harrison Ford's Kirin ads, it's that you don't give Harrison Ford an inferior Japanese lager. When he walks into an izakaya, he demands "Kirin Lager biiru, kudasai."
Madonna is tasked with slaying (or merely swatting at) a giant CGI dragon in this Japanese ad for Takara sake. Despite her worst efforts at swordsmanship, the beast quickly gives Madonna what she came for, and vomits up a golden ball of liquor.
Filmed in the early '90s, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Japanese commercials for Alinamun V vitamin drinks are as crazy as they come. Most of the ads feature Arnold getting bullied by his associates, at which point he takes a swig of Alinamun V and transforms into "Devil King V."
Before Charlie Sheen had his "meltdown" and began appearing in American commercials for Fiat and DirecTV, he starred in television spots for women's shoes in Japan. They're fairly enigmatic, featuring Sheen reciting poetry about Madras Modello footwear, then absconding with a pair like the world's creepiest thief.
Shortly after he released "Off The Wall," Michael Jackson began appearing in commercials for Suzuki's Love Scooters. In each of the ads, Jackson is seen dancing up a storm before uttering the phrase, "Love is my message," and then blinking rather heavily and deliberately.