Its products are a ubiquitous feature of modern life. So perhaps it is hardly surprising that, for the third year in succession, Apple products should have secured more appearances in box-office topping films in 2010 than any other brand.

According to, Apple products appeared in 10 of the 33 films which reached number one at the US box office last year.

Yet there is a sub-plot to this story. In percentage terms, that number was a reduction on 2009, when 19 Apple products were given a plug in 44 box office-topping films. In 2008, gadgets featuring the company's logo featured in 20 out of the 41 weekly chart-toppers.

Apple will hardly be worried. Its products still appeared more often than its nearest rivals, Nike, Chevrolet and Ford, making cameo appearances in hit films such as Iron Man 2 and Tron: Legacy. But the cooling of Hollywood's love affair with Apple is intriguing.

One explanation is that the studios may now be responding to hard cash rather than the cultural cachet surrounding Apple, which does not pay for product placement. It seems likely the technology giant simply does not need publicity any more. Its phones and computers actually have a disproportionate representation on screen – fewer than 15 per cent of US computer-owning households have one by Apple.

The company declined to say how its products found their way into films, but it was among the first to hire consultants to ensure that its Mac computers were well represented on the big screen.

The product placement industry is now worth nearly $4bn (£2.4bn) in the US, and Apple's rivals are employing their muscle. Sony Pictures Studios' film Resident Evil: Afterlife unsurprisingly delivered a large helping of product placement to the Sony VAIO laptop, at Apple's expense.

Some of last year's big hits delivered few opportunities for Apple to sneak in a plug – the iPhone would have seemed out of place on Pandora, the lush setting for James Cameron's Avatar. But the continued success of the iPad is expected to boost Apple's presence in next year's list. It has already featured in US television shows, including The American Office. Liz Lemon, the harassed television executive played by Tina Fey in the hit sitcom 30 Rock, also uses an Apple computer.

The most popular product placement opportunity among last year's hits was Iron Man 2. But with no fewer than 54 brands competing for screen space, including Google, Ferrari and Louis Vuitton, it's doubtful if Apple's presence registered with viewers.

Apple has regularly topped the list of the most conspicuous brands in Hollywood films. Its products have featured in more number one hits than McDonald's and Nike combined over the past decade. But Apple now faces competition from the likes of Sony, Dell, Land Rover, and Glock – a reflection of the shoot-outs dominant in action thrillers – whose products featured in nearly 15 per cent of the number one films of 2010.