Spoiler Alert: The next time you see a character in a movie sporting an iPhone, you can rest assured that they won’t be the villain of the piece.
In an interesting revelation today, Rian Johnson, the director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Knives Out, shared something we’ve long suspected: Apple doesn’t let the bad guys use iPhones in movies—at least not in any way that’s identifiable on camera.
Apple… they let you use iPhones in movies but—and this is very pivotal if you’re ever watching a mystery movie—bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera.
Johnson shared this little tidbit during a video interview with Vanity Fair where he breaks down a scene from Knives Out, jokingly adding that, “Every single filmmaker that has a bad guy in their movie that’s supposed to be a secret wants to murder me right now.” In this case of Knives Out, it’s a particularly salient point, since it follows the classic Everyone Is a Suspect trope.
Of course, this probably isn’t a huge surprise to anybody who knows how Apple rolls, since the company always wants to ensure that its products are portrayed positively. For example, in its Guidelines for Using Apple Trademarks and Copyrights, the company tells developers that they may only show images of Apple products if they are “shown only in the best light, in a manner or context that reflects favorably on the Apple products and on Apple Inc.”
In fact, a 2002 WIRED article by Cult of Mac’s Leander Kahney pointed out how this was first used in the then-new hit thriller series 24, where it seemed that the good guys always used Macs and the baddies always used Windows PCs. As Kahney noted at the time, one of the big reveals in the season-ending cliffhanger—the identity of a traitor—was telegraphed by the fact that she was the only one on Jack Bauer’s team of agents who used a Dell computer rather than a Mac. Another character who was suspected of being a traitor throughout the series used a shiny Apple Titanium PowerBook, which automatically cleared him of suspicion right away as far as some viewers were concerned.
As Kahney points out, however, the Mac vs PC character associations had been going on for years before that, with movies like You’ve Got Mail and Legally Blonde featuring down-to-earth and free-spirited characters as Mac users, while the more corporate and stuffy ones were saddled with PC notebooks.
That said, while it may seem like a spoiler, Apple and producers still do mix things up a bit from time to time. As Engadget points out, House of Cards’ Frank Underwood was “positively swamped with Apple devices”. Further, even The Morning Show, which Apple had full creative control over, had rampant product placements and didn’t seem to hesitate to let the “bad guys” be seen using them — in the opening of the very first episode, Steve Carrell is awakened by an iPhone.
As ScreenRant adds, however, the other interesting side-effect of Apple’s insistence on withholding iPhones from the villains is that it often forces them to be “identified as Android or Google guys.” This is especially true since it’s far more difficult for Google to employ a similar embargo due to the much wider variety of Android handset manufacturers, many of whom would likely be thrilled with any product placement on the big screen at all.