Logistics Goes To Hollywood

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A scene from Legally Blonde

In Legally Blonde, heroine Elle Woods' pal Pauline carries a torch for the UPS deliveryman.

The supply chain plays a starring role in popular entertainment.

More to the Story:

The global supply chain is as ingrained in Hollywood lore as the phrase "Lights! Camera! Action!" In fact, filmmakers have been relying on logistics to cement their plot lines since before there even was a "Hollywood" in the popular imagination.

Credit Thomas Edison for the first use of logistics on film. His 1898 "feature" Freight Train captured 58 seconds of footage of a Southern Pacific Railroad train emerging from a tunnel and rounding a bend.

Since then, shippers, carriers, distribution centers, and ports have been fair game for depiction on screens large and small. Grab some popcorn and watch as we show some highlights of logistics' distinguished career in television and film. Roll 'em...

EAGLE EYE (2008)

Starring: DHL Packing Center, Riverside, Calif.

The international War on Terror sets the backdrop for this film, which begins with the U.S. government carrying out a strike on a terrorist leader, but inadvertently killing several innocent civilians instead. A Stanford University dropout, played by Shia LaBeouf, is framed as a terrorist and spends the rest of the movie trying to extricate himself from a plot to kill the president in revenge.

One of Eagle Eye's key action scenes takes place at the DHL Packing Center in Riverside, Calif. The scene—a hair-raising variation of the old Chutes and Ladders board game involving LaBeouf, Billy Bob Thornton, and Michelle Monahan—plays out amidst an intertwining system of mail package conveyor belts and envelope shoots, and even a high gantry crane.

Also featuring DHL:

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) Super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) poses as a DHL driver to traverse Rome incognito. A bright yellow van might not be the most obvious choice for blending in, but the carrier's ubiquity on European roads makes it work.

CAST AWAY (2000)

Starring: FedEx

This modern-day Robinson Crusoe saga of a FedEx employee stranded on an uninhabited island netted Tom Hanks an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Chuck Noland (Hanks) is called away on an unexpected business trip during Christmas. While flying through a thunderstorm, the FedEx jet he's in decompresses and crashes in the South Pacific.

Saved by an inflatable life raft, Noland floats helplessly on the ocean until he lands on a deserted island. Within days, several FedEx packages wash ashore, and, after a failed attempt to sail from the island on his inflatable raft, Noland begins to open the packages, many of which contain Christmas gifts the castaway is able to use as life-saving tools.

Although FedEx did not pay for its presence in the movie, CEO Fred Smith made a cameo appearance, and Noland's homecoming scene was filmed at the company's Memphis facility.

Also featuring FedEx:

I, ROBOT (2004) Who delivers packages in 2035? Why, FedEx robots, of course.

THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994) Santa Claus may handle his own distribution via that famous sleigh-and-reindeer combo, but it takes a fleet of FedEx trucks to deliver the naughty-or-nice list to the interim Jolly Old Elf played by Tim Allen.

DEADWOOD (TV series, 2004-2006)

Starring: An Old West courier service

Deadwood, S.D., in the 1870s didn't offer much in the way of modern conveniences, but thanks to the express courier service run by Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), denizens of the frontier mining camp could send and receive letters and parcels through the closest city, Cheyenne, Wyo.


Starring: Job-saving and career-making distribution decisions

Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) leaves Kansas with dreams of making it big in New York, where he gets his start in the mailroom of Pemrose Corporation.

From the various communications that pass through his hands, Brantley discovers several logistics inefficiencies within the company, such as duplicate requisitions being issued by the purchasing department. "Look at the purchasing department: Two people are doing the same job, and neither of them are doing it right," he complains.

While daydreaming at the desk of a recently fired employee, Brantley answers a phone call from a distribution center manager. Not pausing to ask who he's talking to, the manager yells, "We got a problem in Midwest distribution! We can't get approval for an extra two trucks!" After thinking a moment, Brantley asks, "What does a boxcar cost?"

Encouraged by the DC manager's approval, Brantley continues, "You tell your carriers that they have to service our customers, or we'll find someone who will!" The DC manager responds, "That's what we need—someone to make gutsy decisions around here!"

Brantley then takes on a double life as a mailroom clerk and a middle manager, delivering letters while also making big decisions, such as closing a DC in Toledo as a cost-cutting measure.

SPARTAN (2004)

Starring: A shipping container

Tracking the kidnapped daughter (Kristen Bell) of a high-ranking government official, a covert U.S. agent known only as Scott (Val Kilmer) uncovers a Dubai-based white-slavery ring and multiple layers of global intrigue. Arriving in Dubai to follow a lead, Scott locates a shipping container at the airport and accesses a secret compartment within, where an associate has left weapons for him. Hidden in plain sight, Scott uses the container as his hideout during his investigation.

TOMMY BOY (1995)

Starring: A small manufacturer's shipping department, loading dock, and private fleet

When recent college grad Tommy Callahan's father dies suddenly, the family business falls into immediate danger. Thanks to a recent manufacturing facility expansion expected to be the future of Callahan Auto Parts, Tommy (Chris Farley) has to hit his dad's sales route and make enough money to save the company from a big-name competitor looking to buy Callahan and shut down its plant.

With a handle on the company's inventory carrying charges and shipping guarantees, Tommy convinces customers that he has Callahan under control, but soon a shipping mix-up threatens to destroy the whole operation. Loading dock delays on crucial orders prove to be the result of Tommy's bad-seed stepbrother, Paul (Rob Lowe), meddling with the inventory department's computer system. With the help of his girlfriend, inventory manager Michelle (Julie Warner), Tommy discovers what Paul has been up to and saves the day...and the company.


Starring: A fictional expedited shipping service

When a hapless deliveryman (Donald Faison) leaves a package containing illegal drugs at the wrong address, he sets off a chain of events that draws in his partner (Mos Def), two bungling would-be dealers, drug kingpins, and an assortment of other dangerous and dim-witted characters.

THE WIRE (TV series, 2002-2008)

Starring: The Port of Baltimore

The Port of Baltimore and its unions—specifically its stevedore union—were significantly featured on HBO's critically acclaimed crime drama The Wire. The plot of the series' second season revolved around the port's declining fortunes, its impact on the city's working-class community, and international smuggling.

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