The reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2013 has received a lot of attention for how it portrays its heroine, the iconic Lara Croft, in a grounded and realistic way. Gone are the impossibly big breasts and icy attitude from Lara’s earlier games—instead, the new franchise portrays an actual human being with feelings and flaws, anchored through a stellar performance by actor Camilla Luddington. This new, humanized portrayal of Lara has paid off—literally. The Tomb Raider that came out in 2013, the first to show off the all-new Lara, was the most successful game in the franchise’s history, selling more than 8.5 million copies.
Unfortunately, the hypersexualized and sometimes straight-up bizarre marketing for the 1990s Tomb Raider games—almost exclusively built around Lara’s status as a sex symbol—left some deep scars. Depictions of Lara were so over-the-top that it caused her creator, Toby Gard, to quit his job at Core Design, the company that made the original Tomb Raider games (he diplomatically cited “a wish for more extensive control over marketing and PR decisions” in a 1998 interview).
Let’s take a look back some of the most egregious examples, including the commercial for Tomb Raider II that alleges Lara takes business away from strip clubs and a pop album produced by Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. Yes, really.
5. A (SUPER WEIRD) VISA COMMERCIAL STARRING SOFIA VERGARA
Before her days as a charming Colombian housewife on Modern Family, Sofia Vergara occasionally raided tombs with the help of her handy-dandy Visa.
The ad centers around Vergara, who plays a real-life Lara Croft who’s playing her own video game in which she flees from a giant demon, swats away a giant spear flung by the aforementioned demon with her hand, and gains access to a tomb by using an ancient credit card reader? Honestly I was just as confused trying to articulate what even happens in this commercial as you probably are trying to read it. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’m just going to suggest you take a look for yourself.
4. LARA’S APPEARANCE IN THE FACE MAGAZINE
In June of 1997, Lara Croft was featured on the cover of The Face magazine with the words “Silicon Chick” slapped beside her. The article tries to tease out whether Lara is a “girl-power heroine or mere boy-toy fantasy,” but next to this dialogue are images of the character’s backside in a bikini and a censored version of an image that was edited to make Lara appear topless. While it purports to entertain some kind of debate, the article is clearly more interested in making double entendres about her computer-generated breasts.
3. THE SEXED-UP COMMERCIALS FOR SEAT CARS
What do Lara Croft and SEAT cars have in common? About as much as Lara has in common with Visa, but that didn’t stop her from being a part of a number of commercials for the Spanish car brand in the late ‘90s.
The ads are as subtle as Lara’s impossibly curvy body, and the latter is on full display in this commercial where she causes a man’s insides to melt with nothing more than a seductive saunter towards him. Luckily, the car seems to have some killer air conditioning so he can continue to ogle her twelve-inch waist as long as he likes.
2. ‘WHERE THE BOYS ARE’ COMMERCIALS FOR *TOMB RAIDER II*
Though Tomb Raider had a number of cringe-worthy commercials over the years, the worst of them all are a series of ads that promoted Tomb Raider II in 1997. The series was titled “Where The Boys Are,” each one showcasing a vacant version of a stereotypically manly location, like a football stadium, a bar, a billiards room, or—what I didn’t realize was considered particularly masculine—a bowling alley. The ads go on to explain that all men everywhere are busy drooling over themselves while staring at Lara’s polygonal booty shorts and thus can’t fulfill their societal role of drooling over themselves while bowling, or something.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, one of the ads showcases an abandoned strip club, slowly zooming in on a stripper looking bored and defeated as she surveys all the empty chairs, essentially comparing Lara’s role to that of a stripper. Apparently, in the eyes of Lara’s marketing team, it was much more feasible that someone would be playing Tomb Raider II with their pants around their ankles rather than with a controller in hand. Not that those two things are mutually exclusive. No judgment here.
1. ‘FEMALE ICON,’ THE TOMB RAIDER ALBUM PRODUCED BY DAVE STEWART FROM EURYTHMICS
Did you know Lara Croft released a pop album in the late 90s? Okay, it wasn’t actually Lara Croft singing (because, you know, that’s literally impossible), but it was Rhona Mitra, Lara’s official live-action model at the time. The albums were produced by Dave Stewart (the male half of the band Eurythmics), and are perhaps the most baffling example of Tomb Raider marketing ever.
The video above is a fan-made music video for one of the album’s most notable tracks, “Getting Naked”—a song from Lara’s perspective about how she wants nothing more from the player than a purely sexual relationship. Don’t worry, guys, you don’t have to fret about your fictional video game girlfriend getting too clingy. She just wants sex. Phew.
Tim is a freelance writer from Tucson, Arizona. He recently shed actual tears during a Netflix binge of the HGTV show Dear Genevieve. Make fun of him for it on Twitter @timmulk