In an interview with Vanity Fair, (video on YouTube), the director of Knives Out, Rian Johnson, said that:

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...

So how come Barkawi, the villain in London Has Fallen, was allowed by Apple to use a MacBook? Does this statement apply to iPhones only?

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    The statement only mentions iPhones, so that's how I read it. Just iPhones. Dec 14, 2020 at 16:07
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    Also, I'm not sure they can actually prevent you using a product in a movie. Generally speaking if you show the product being used as it is intended and don't negatively defame the product or the manufacturer - then its just a prop used in the movie. I guess being used by the "bad guy" might count as defaming the product, but that's a real stretch.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 14, 2020 at 21:12
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    – iandotkelly
    Dec 14, 2020 at 21:13
  • Seems like they could fight companies like Apple if they wished, but it may not be worth the effort since Apple have lots of money.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 14, 2020 at 21:14
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    I think, and I posted an answer of this nature to a related question a long time ago, that Apple will give/loan free devices for product placement in movies and TV and I suppose it’s under the agreement that only good-guys will use them. If a production goes out and buys some Apple devices, there’s nothing Apple can do to stop whoever the film-makers want to use them from using them.
    – Darren
    Dec 14, 2020 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


There is no legally enforceable reason unless there is a product placement deal

There are, as the previous answer shows, many examples where even Apple products are used by "the bad guy" in a movie. This provides pretty good evidence that there isn't any universal legal rule that would allow Apple (or anyone else) to prohibit certain uses of a product in a work of fiction.

The possible exception, as pointed out by iandokelly in a comment, is if the mention of the product is potentially defamatory. But this has to be a rare event as legal standards for proving defamation are relatively high. And unlikely to be met in the case the villain in a movie happens to make normal use of a product. But, big movie firms may exercise an overabundance of caution in many cases to avoid even the small potential risk of being sued by a wealthy product owner (like Apple). This could easily incur a lot of legal costs even if the studio won.

But this doesn't explain the obvious exceptions or the perception that the rule exists.

What seem more likely is product placement.

Product placement has been ubiquitous since the early days of movies and television (though some countries like the UK prohibited it in TV until recently). It is fairly hard to work out how much money is involved in general (though we do know that the tobacco industry paid a lot for it). But it clearly happens a lot.

Even if a product company doesn't explicitly pay for product placement, they may provide free product samples (eg Apple Laptops) to the production which reduces the cost of making the movie. But, if the studio accepts such promotional gifts (or any extra cash) they will have to abide by the rules set by the provider (there will probably be a contract). So, if Apple provides free iPhones and Laptops to the production, they will be able to constrain how they are used.

So, given the prevalence of product placement, many productions will have to abide by the rules set by Apple or other product owners. Hence the common belief that "bad guys can't use Apple products" even though it is not an actual general rule. But this also explains the exceptions, since Apple can't stop normal use of its products if the production didn't get them as part of a deal.


[…] the director of Knives Out, Rian Johnson, said that:

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...

This supposed rule by Apple is not strictly followed or enforced. In Poker Face (a murder mystery TV series created by Rian Johnson, Knives Out director) S01E09 (an episode directed by Rian Johnson), there is a character named Morty (played by Stephanie Hsu). Morty is a thief and betrayed the protagonist (Charlie), attempting to leave them for dead in exchange for a luxury vehicle, and she was shown to be using an iPhone.

relevant scenerelevant scene

In the scene above, Trey (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) resets Morty's iPhone, erasing all its content and settings. Morty was using her iPhone earlier to take evidence of a murder in an attempt to blackmail Trey.

It's worth noting that the appearance of an Apple product in a film or TV show does not necessarily imply Apple's authorization, approval, or sponsorship. From an answer to the related question — Is every appearance of a product in a movie sponsored:

You'll see plenty of movies where characters use Apple products, however Apple have claimed (via the Washington Post) that they aren't paying for it:

Apple said it does not pay for product placement and would not discuss how its products make their way into television and films.

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