Five greatest Super Bowl ads of all time (+video)

In addition to football, Super Bowl XLVII will bring a new crop of ads to rate, discuss, and chuckle over Monday morning. But while several Super Bowl ads hold our attention for hours or days, very few stand the test of time. Here are five that do, from special frogs to an iconic ad from a master director. Can you guess which ad took the (highly subjective) top spot? Did we miss your all-time favorite?

A screen shot of the 1993 McDonald's Super Bowl ad 'The Showdown,' featuring a shooting contest between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

5. 'The Showdown,' McDonald's (1993)

The greatest Super Bowl commercial featuring pro athletes should, in theory, involve football players, but this Super Bowl XVII ad with MJ and Larry Legend playing a game of horse for a McDonald’s Big Mac and fries takes the cake.

The one and a half-minute spot opens with Jordan, wearing matching T-shirt and shorts combo that will make you yearn for the early '90s, walking into a practice gym with a bag of McDonald’s food. Bird challenges him to a shooting contest for it. Things escalate, and they wind up trying to make a shot from the top of the Hancock Center in Chicago.

The commercial was such a hit that McDonald’s brought it back in several iterations: Jordan repeated it in a shooting contest with Marvin the Martian, a spot that inspired the movie “Space Jam.” During Super Bowl XLIV, current NBA superstars Dwight Howard and LeBron James rehashed the commercial, competing in a dunk contest. It ended with Howard shattering the backboard and Larry Bird walking off with the McDonald’s bag.

There were a lot of stellar ads from years past that didn’t make our list. Honorable mentions included:

A few words about this year’s Super Bowl ads: 30-second spots during the broadcast on CBS sold for between $3.7 and $3.8 million, meaning the 1:30 MJ/Larry spot would have cost McDonald’s about $11.3 million today. The ads generating some pregame buzz include appearances from Amy Poehler, Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame, and (squeal) a baby Clydesdale. 

1 of 5

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.