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This has been a mystery to me for quite a while. I'm talking about this cup:

A red cup

The screenshot is from the 2008s movie Fanboys. The exact same cup also appears in movies such as:

  • American Pie (screenshot is from nr 2):

    Red cups

  • Neighbors:

    Red cups

  • Blue Mountain State (screenshot is from episode 5 season 1):

    Red cups

  • Easy A (same style cup, just blue instead of red)

    Blue cups

Other examples include No Strings Attached, The Spectacular Now, 21/22 Jump Street and probably a lot more.

Why is it always the same type of beer cup used in these college-style movies/series? Is it part of a cleaver product-placement plan or is it just the only suitable cup available in the US?

  • 4
    Ah yes, the Ubiquitous Red Cup. – Doresoom Jan 16 '15 at 21:17
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    This is like an Australian asking why so many movies feature driving on the right hand side of the road. – Andrew Grimm Jan 16 '15 at 23:07
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    @AndrewGrimm: I'd argue it's more like an American asking why so many Australian movies feature driving on the left hand side of the road. – O. R. Mapper Jan 17 '15 at 15:37
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    Obligatory link: Toby Keith - Red Solo Cup. – user9311 Jan 19 '15 at 1:37
  • And they're so iconic, some people seem to want permanent ones, so now they're available in ceramic: amazon.com/Big-Mouth-Toys-Glass-Party/dp/B008X31H7G# – Catija Feb 9 '15 at 7:56
52

In the US and Canada at least, these are the most commonly encountered disposable cups used for beer - as pointed out by @Paulster2, because they can be purchased in large quantities quite cheaply (e.g. on Walmart's website, I found 100 for $6.34). There is also a fogged semi-transparent version.

For this audience, the kind of cup described is instantly recognizable and just about anyone who has been to college, an outdoor beer garden, or even a picnic will likely have used one.

  • 1
    One important key point you are missing here is you can get the cups very cheaply and in quantity -- 250 count per package. Easy to stack; easy to store; easy to use. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 16 '15 at 11:57
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    I thought that was implicit in their being commonly encountered, but your right, I should state that directly. – James McLeod Jan 16 '15 at 12:27
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    Your description is still apt ... just needed a little more to it (IMHO). I still +1'ed yah! – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 16 '15 at 12:30
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    Of course, it's entirely possible that product placement is also involved. – Nate Eldredge Jan 16 '15 at 18:36
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    Another reason they're used is because they're opaque. You can't tell what's inside them - so they're preferred by younger people who may be holding parties where some attendees are not legally allowed to drink. Plausible deniability and all that. – Doc Jan 18 '15 at 5:59
46

This cup was first produced by a company named Solo, which carefully designed it to be an all-purpose cup for drinks. The cup actually has 3 measuring points for each type of drink, denoted by specific contour changes:

enter image description here

Because of its cheap price point, its bold color and its abundance in grocery stores, it became the defacto cup to use at keg parties in high school and college, and so the cup is instantly recognizable as being one that likely has alcohol in it. Almost to the point where a trope probably exists for it.

Solo has often been imitated, but eventually found its place forever in the lexicon of Americans when the song Red Solo Cup was written by Toby Keith in 2011.

15

Something that the other answers haven't mentioned is that many of the people present at such a party are likely under 21, and an opaque cup prevents an outside observer from being able to tell that the liquid in the cup is actually beer. Many people believe that this will protect them from consequences if they are photographed or the party is raided.

(It also means the filmmakers don't have to fill the cups with an amber liquid and manage its level going down as people drink across what may be multiple takes, but this is just speculation)

  • Naaah, a cup that is ubiquituous at college keg parties and an outside observer should suppose that ecstatic guy is drinking water from it? Such an observer might also buy it if you say that beer in a transparent cup is really apple juice ... – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 17 '15 at 22:32
  • Use of a Red Solo Cup for deniability is a real thing. At the university in my town, until recently, alcohol was forbidden in public areas of the school, which really cut into the tailgating atmosphere. (Tailgating: American tradition of partying in the parking lot before a sporting event) However, it was well known that the police would not investigate any liquid being held in an opaque cup by anyone over 21, and alcohol was ubiquitous. – Aric TenEyck Jan 18 '15 at 15:06
  • Are you serious about that? Are parties getting raided in America often? The idea of hiding the – Traubenfuchs Jan 20 '15 at 10:12
  • @Traubenfuchs When it is illegal to drink under age 21, is it surprising that the police would try to find places where a lot of people under age 21 are drinking and arrest them? – Random832 Jan 20 '15 at 15:36
9

Supporting answer to @JamesMcLeod's:

It also packs in some meaning: The cup implies informal situations, outdoors ones, and/or low income. It's perfect for showing on camera to get the viewer to unconsciously understand that "this is a college party."

It can be used to imply poverty, simplicity, or bizarrity. Let's look at the latter:

In OP's images, imagine instead of these characters were holding fine wine glasses in those situations. It would make a very different scene. Maybe you'd expect a more snobbish atmosphere, or an older age-set (eg it could be appropriate for a movie about 30-somethings instead of college age folks).

Now imagine some spy movie with a fancy ball, except the characters are holding red Solo cups instead of fine wine glasses. This would be quite odd, but could be used to show for example a surreal situation.

This layer of subtlety is one of the methods storytellers (be they authors, filmmakers, or whatnot) use to "show, not tell." This can help build verisimilitude (the appearance or feeling of being real, a useful term in movies since verisimilitude does not mean ACTUALLY realistic), aid in immersion, or simply convey more information while characters' mouths are occupied telling you other information.

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    It's funny you mention the 'older age group' when showing wine glasses - the most recent American Pie did this when 30-something-old Stiffler hosts a house party like the 'good-ol-days' - except he turns up and everyone's talking quietly and sipping on wine... from glasses! – Robotnik Jan 20 '15 at 6:34
  • Just thought it worth noting, I have not seen that movie and did NOT know that! Excellent example, thanks. – Smithers Jan 20 '15 at 16:12

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