Given their action-oriented plots, power-up-driven quests, and cartoonish violence, movies based on video games are a natural fit for pro-wrestler-turned-irresistible-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His latest film, Rampage, which opens Friday, April 13, sure fits that bill. More importantly, we also know that in the movie Johnson drives around in a Ford Bronco concept. No, not a concept of the upcoming Bronco—one from nearly 15 years ago.
The action of the movie is quite plainly derived from that of the game, a Bally Midway arcade diversion from the mid-’80s in which animals—ferociously Frankensteined by synthetic food additives, environmental waste, and other proxies for scientific hubris—wreak havoc on the infrastructure, skyscrapers, and residents of various cities, only able to advance when everything is ruined. So, why is there a Bronco in it?
“As they were putting the movie together, the script called for them to use a Jeep,” says Craig Patterson, Ford’s SUV Marketing Manager. “But Dwayne Johnson is a huge Ford fan, and had worked with us previously doing advertising work for us for our Customer Service division. And he said, ‘I’d much rather use a Ford product here, and I know there’s a new Bronco coming out. Maybe I could use that?’”
If you’re The Rock, one of the highest-paid and most bankable actors in the world, it’s apparently that easy. You just make your vehicular wishes known, and they come true. Of course, there was one glitch. “We’re actually quite a ways from having a new Bronco available to do something with,” Patterson says.
As it happens, the forthcoming version of the iconic off-roader is not expected to go into production until 2020, and has not yet been unveiled. Fortunately, Ford had a solution. According to Patterson, the Hollywood studio team told Johnson, “We have a concept vehicle that we made for an auto show some time ago. And you could use that if you’re interested.”
This was a previous Bronco revival mockup, a block fantasy created way back in 2004. These chimeras are often crushed to save on storage costs, but this one was still lingering in a warehouse. “It had a lot of fans internally,” Patterson says. “So we kept it around hoping that we could build it someday.”
That truck was built on a rolling chassis, and capable of going around 30 mph, so when you see it moving in Rampage, it’s possible that it is doing so under its own power. We haven’t seen the movie yet, so we have no idea what kind of hijinks it or its drivers get up to, outside of what appears in the trailer. But an opportunity to see a one-off Bronco in a movie with Johnson is a good enough excuse for us to hit the multiplex this weekend.
Apparently, it’s a good enough excuse for Ford as well. “Bronco is a vehicle that, like Mustang, is iconic and cool,” Patterson says. “And so anything we can do to associate it with other things that are also iconic and cool, like The Rock, I think is beneficial to both of us.”
Of course, other more strategic considerations also had to be made. With a new Bronco design to be made public soon(ish), Ford wasn’t exactly seeking opportunities to show a 15-year-old concept, to avoid muddying consumer comprehension. “We wanted to make sure that people understood that this isn’t what’s coming for the next Bronco,” Patterson says. “That was kind of the only downside to it, that people would see it and say, ‘OK, that must be what the new Bronco’s going to be.’ And that’s not the case.”
Even with this limitation, the brand saw large potential upside to the partnership. “We thought it could help us from an overall branding perspective,” Patterson says. “As we announce the nameplate coming back, it could help us with awareness of it and build that anticipation for when we do have the new product.”
You shouldn’t feel manipulated by this placeholder insertion. You should feel excited. Remember, a new Bronco is coming! As for that old concept, borrowed by Warner Bros. for the filming, its fate is bit less clear. When we ask Patterson if the studio had returned the vehicle, he pauses. “I don’t think so yet. At least, not as far as I know.”