Iconic movie props and where they are now
Iconic movie props and where they are now
The power of movies to carry us from our own world into millions of alternate realities lies not just in the actors’ performances, but also in the costumes, props, and sets that provide context for and give color to those worlds. An only mediocre film can be elevated to greatest-of-all-time levels through the carefully chosen objects that populate the story, while a genre-defining movie can turn into a box office flop if its universe comes off as unbelievable.
It should come as no surprise then, that some props take on a life of their own. They become cultural touchstones, instantly recognizable even by those who have never seen the film in question. In celebration of the way these sometimes ordinary, sometimes out-of-this-world objects have defined our culture and lives, Stacker surveyed popular film history and chose 25 memorable and meaningful props, and found out where they are now.
From the leg lamp in “A Christmas Story” to Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates and the “Star Wars” Death Star, read on to find out what’s become of some of cinema’s most easily identifiable things.
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– Movie: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
The main antagonist in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” HAL 9000 is an artificially intelligent computer that’s responsible for controlling the Discovery One, and eventually attempts to kill everyone on board. The original prop is now owned by director Peter Jackson, who has amassed a collection of various props from movies that have been meaningful to him throughout his life. In 2016, the prop appeared in a Tested.com video where Jackson shared the original HAL 9000 with former “Mythbuster” Adam Savage.
– Movie: “A Christmas Story” (1983)
According to production designer Reuben Freed, all three of the original leg lamps that were made for “A Christmas Story” were broken during production. Still, plenty of reproductions can be purchased online and at the “A Christmas Story” house and museum in Cleveland. In 2012, Amazon reported that enough knock-off leg lamps had been purchased during that Christmas season alone that, stacked end to end, they could reach the top of Mt. Everest.
Paul Allen’s card
– Movie: “American Psycho” (2000)
Paul Allen—or rather the question of his existence—is a key figure in “American Psycho.” Early on in the movie, the Pierce & Pierce investment bankers are sitting around comparing business cards, and agree that Paul Allen’s is hands-down the best. This set of business cards, including Allen’s, sold for almost $4,000 in a 2015 auction, and now resides in a private collection.
– Movie: “Back to the Future Part II” (1989)
Another iconic prop that now resides in a private collection is Marty McFly’s hoverboard from “Back to the Future Part II.” Designed by Mattel, who created dozens of knock-off versions for underage fans desperate for their own flying boards, the original prop sold for $42,500 in a 2018 auction.
– Movie: “Cast Away” (2000)
In “Cast Away” Tom Hanks’ character Chuck Noland spends four years on a deserted island with only a volleyball, whom he affectionately nicknames Wilson, for a friend. There were several of the balls, which feature a face made from a bloody handprint, made for the film, making it impossible to identify the location of all of them. However, it’s believed that one of the originals was purchased by former FedEx CEO Ken May for $18,500 after the film wrapped.
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40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
– Movie: “Do the Right Thing” (1989)
Few films have confronted racism as head-on as Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” The movie opens with a lone woman dancing to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” a song that plays over and over again throughout the runtime via Radio Raheem’s Promax Super Jumbo Jukebox. Today, the jukebox, which bears a personalized inscription from Lee himself to the original owner Gene Siskel, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Culture and History.
– Movie: “Groundhog Day” (1993)
Amie McCarthy-Winn, the prop master for “Groundhog Day” told Thrillist that she’d had two original alarm clocks for the film, as well as up to 12 non-working replicas. There’s more than one scene in the movie where Bill Murray’s character destroys the alarm clock that announces each morning that he’s still stuck in a time loop, so it’s likely that all of the originals are now just piles of shattered plastic. If any of them do in fact remain intact, they haven’t been found.
The Wizarding World
– Movie: “Harry Potter” series
So much of Harry Potter’s world, from original set pieces to costumes and props, is on display at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London—The Making of Harry Potter. Located in Leavesden, England, the tour is just adjacent to the working sound stages where all eight “Harry Potter” movies were filmed. Fans of the series can take guided or independent tours through the space, experiencing some of the wizarding world magic for themselves.
– Movie: “Jaws” (1975)
There were four Fiberglas models made of Bruce, the shark and main antagonist in “Jaws.” In 2016, the sole remaining model—the rest were presumably destroyed during production—was gifted to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Up until 1990, the model had been on display at Universal Studios Hollywood before it was relocated to a junkyard in Sun Valley, California. Thankfully, the junkyard owners had enough foresight to donate the model to a museum when they decided to shut down shop.
Jumanji board game
– Movie: “Jumanji” (1995)
Three versions of the “Jumanji” board game were created for the film, and at least two of them reside in private collections. One sold on eBay in 2014 for an impressive $60,800, while another, this one designed to be lighter and more pliable for action sequences, went up for auction at the Profiles in History auction house later that year. Both versions had the game’s rules inscribed on them: “Jumanji is a game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind. You roll the dice to move your token. Doubles get another turn. The first player to reach the end wins. Adventurers beware: Do not begin unless you intend to finish. The exciting consequences of the game will vanish only when a player has reached Jumanji and called out its name.”
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– Movie: “Big” (1988)
In 2014, the fortune-telling Zoltar Machine from “Big” went on sale for a measly $8,500. Considering how instantly recognizable the prop is, as well as how major of a role it played in cinematic history, the small asking sum was surprising. Perhaps the seller simply didn’t have space for the 77-inch tall by 33-inch wide veneer cabinet any longer.
Immortan Joe’s car fleet
– Movie: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
According to a “Mad Max” fan blog, the various vehicles from Immortan Joe’s car fleet have ended up all over the place. Some were shipped back to Australia for storage, while others were crushed in Namibia, South Africa, where filming was completed, in order to avoid a costly export fee. A handful of the cars were gifted to various people and reside in private collections, including one of the Polecats, which was given to a South African crewman.
Box of chocolates
– Movie: “Forrest Gump” (1994)
“Mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,” is perhaps one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history. In 1999, Christie’s auction house sold the Tom Hanks-autographed white Russell Stover box that accompanied the line in a lot alongside several other original props from the Academy Award-winning picture. The final selling price for the lot was almost $6,000, and the items remain in a private collection somewhere across the pond.
– Movie: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
Leathermaker David Morgan was responsible for the creation of all of the whips used in the “Indiana Jones” franchise. The company supplied some 30 whips for the first three films: A 12-foot-long “stunt whip,” which was the only whip from the first installment “Raiders of the Lost Ark” left intact, was up for auction at Bonhams in 2011 and was expected to fetch at least $70,000.
Heart of the Ocean
– Movie: “Titanic” (1997)
Inspired by real jewels and inspiring the creation of new jewelry pieces, the Heart of the Ocean from the 1997 film “Titanic” was not actually a massively expensive piece like it’s long been rumored to be. In fact, the necklace, which was made of zirconia and white gold, is only worth $11,000, not the $425 million it would have commanded if it had been genuine diamonds. The necklace that was worn in the film is currently stored in the studio’s archives, though a replica, which was worn by Celine Dion in her “My Heart Will Go On” music video, sold for $1.4 million and is on display in a museum in Cornwall, England.
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Billy the Puppet
– Movie: “Saw” (2004)
The original Billy the Puppet that was used in the first two installments of the “Saw” franchise was made from paper mache, clay, and ping pong balls. Because of its incredibly fragile nature, it was largely disintegrated by the time filming for the third film began. It’s likely that this first puppet just doesn’t exist at all anymore, though if it does fans seem to agree that co-creators James Wan or Leigh Whannell would have it.
– Movie: “Star Wars” (1977)
Despite the massive popularity and iconic nature of the “Star Wars” film series, Lucasfilm has been incredibly cavalier with many of its props and costumes, especially those from early installments in the franchise. Take the Death Star, for example: After production on “A New Hope” wrapped, the studio stopped paying rent on the storage unit where they’d been keeping many of their set pieces and props. When the storage facility threw everything in the locker out, an eagle-eyed employee recognized what a treasure trove they had on their hands and held onto the Death Star model. Through the years, the model has passed between collectors and is on display in the private home of a fan in Seattle as of 2021.
– Movie: “Superbad” (2007)
In “Superbad,” a group of underage high school students get their hands on a laughably bad fake ID to procure alcohol for a house party. It’s likely that dozens of the McLovin IDs were printed for use in the film, and at least one of them sold in February 2021 through a memorabilia auction website, LiveAuctioneers, to a private collector.
– Movie: “The Godfather” (1972)
A little-known fact about the most famous scene in “The Godfather” is that the horse head that was placed in bed next to actor John Marley was real. Director Francis Ford Coppola acquired the head from a dog food plant in New Jersey, and the severed head arrived on set in a container of dry ice. Despite its iconic nature, no one had an issue with the fact that the prop went straight to the incinerator after the scene was completed.
– Movie: “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy
On a 2015 episode of “Conan,” “Lord of the Rings” actor Elijah Wood revealed that he had been gifted the original one ring to rule them all upon the commencement of filming. He went on to tell Conan O’Brien that there had been about 10 rings made for the shoot, but where the rest are—in Mordor, or on the deathly finger of Gollum—is unclear. Although it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to imagine that director Peter Jackson kept one for himself as he’s a huge collector of movie memorabilia.
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The Maltese Falcon
– Movie: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
One of the most recognizable movie props of all time, the falcon statuette from “The Maltese Falcon” is also one of the most controversial. In 2013, a heavy lead statuette, which was then believed to be the original prop, sold at auction for $4.1 million to Steve Wynn, owner of the Las Vegas hotel and casino. However, a number of other falcons, notably not made of lead, have resurfaced in recent years, and the owners of these plastic and plaster statues all claim that they are, in fact, the originals. While experts are still trying to sort the whole mess out, and several of the props have been authenticated, the mystery about which one is actually the original falcon remains.
– Movie: “The Seventh Seal” (1957)
From the close of production in 1957 until 2009, the chess set from “The Seventh Seal” belonged to the film’s Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Two years after his death, it was sold at an auction in Stockholm to an unnamed owner for $150,000. The hefty sum was 50 times the asking price and was easily fetched despite missing a white king that broke during filming.
– Movie: “The Piano” (1993)
In “The Piano,” the cable instrument is more than just a simple prop, it’s a character in and of itself, giving a voice to the mute Ada McGrath, played by Holly Hunter. Andrew McAlpine, one of the film’s production designers, told Thrillist that there were five pianos in total, one original and four replicas made for specific scenes. One of these replicas, the one with no working parts that was used in the famous beach scene, sold at an auction in 2016 for $7,200 to an anonymous buyer.
The golden ticket
– Movie: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
Like with many of the other props on the list, there were dozens of golden tickets made for the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” One of the tickets, which originally belonged to the actress who played Veruca Salt, went up for auction in 2019, while another belongs to Scottish collector Gregor Gee. Unfortunately, many of the props and sets were thrown out after production on the movie wrapped as the team had to quickly clear the sound stages for use by the Liza Minnelli film “Cabaret.”
– Movie: “Wizard of Oz” (1939)
The 1930s were a different time when it comes to moviemaking and preservation, which explains why the set of ruby slippers that’s currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History are mismatched. Made from different base shoes, with different heel heights, the slippers are also different sizes and have different levels of wear, indicating that they were never worn by Judy Garland at the same time. However, with seven pairs made, and five still in existence, including a couple in private collections and one at the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota, it’s likely that their matching siblings are out there somewhere.
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