By Jason Hellerman
When you’re watching a movie, it’s easy to look over the movie props, but scene-stealers don’t always have to be superstars.
Sometimes, objects speak louder than people and the real stars are inanimate objects.
The props department deserves some props for their work in these movies since all ten Hollywood props have made their mark in cinema history.
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of these famous movie props are behind glass at Planet Hollywood or preserved for tourists’ viewing on studio lots across Los Angeles.
Movie memorabilia and famous movie props are gifts from the prop maker gods and, from Star Wars movie props to The Maltese Falcon statue, this list has it all.
So let’s countdown the ten movie props that stole the show…
Movie Prop #1: McLovin’s Fake ID in Superbad
It’s rare that the visual of a movie prop leads an entire movie theater to erupt in laughter for several solid seconds, but the unforgettable cutaway shot in this 2007 comedy did exactly that. When director Greg Mottola gives the audience that close-up of the world’s worst fake ID, it is hard not to lose control.
But it’s not just the director who deserves the credit, as the prop maker had to put a lot of work into it. Even the prop maker would confess, the actor was tantamount to this movie prop; the authentic teenager, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, was perfect casting and his laugh-out-loud driver’s license has now solidified its place in film history as epic movie memorabilia.
Movie Prop #2: Wilson the Volleyball in Cast Away
Sure, Tom Hanks is the star of this 2000 survival film, but don’t forget his silent co-star. One of the more poignant props in movie history, Wilson the Volleyball represents the need for contact and connection, as he (notice I didn’t say “it”) is the only companion the bearded Hanks can find out there on the island.
And not to spoil the ending, but this seemingly simplistic item one can buy at their local sporting goods store ends up being a source of true drama and emotionality in the movie. It probably would have been hard to nominate a volleyball film prop for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but we’re happy the famous movie prop’s co-star Hanks at least scored a nomination that year.
Movie Prop #3: The Bike in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
The entire movie is devoted to this Hollywood prop: a red bike that means absolutely everything to Mr. Pee-Wee Herman. This Tim Burton classic has an incredibly simple premise (Pee-Wee wants to get his bike back) and yet the cross-country adventure he takes us on is anything but simple; the bike leads Pee-Wee to dangerous situations, crazy characters (“Tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya”), and a variety of wacky locations (yes, even Texas).
Pee-Wee’s famous line in the movie was always “I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel,” but the truth is — with this film prop — Pee-Wee was never really alone.
Movie Prop #4: The Boombox in Say Anything…
The moment when John Cusack’s character goes outside the home of Ione Sky’s character in the middle of the night and holds up this film prop is one of the more parodied moments in movies.
The 1980s were coming to an end, and there was no better way to mark that ending than by a nostalgic blasting of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” from one of these epic movie props. This film prop is the way Lloyd Dobler is able to communicate with Diane Court (remember, no cell phones) just how much he loves her, as he plays the song that was playing when they first had sex.
As far as Hollywood props and movie memorabilia goes, this is pretty damn romantic.
Movie Prop #5: The Statue in The Maltese Falcon
Movie props like The Maltese Falcon not only appear in a scene but actually drive the story. In this 1941 John Huston noir, film props become film plots, as three unforgettable characters all compete to obtain The Maltese Falcon statue.
It’s a statute of, you guessed it, a falcon but, as you can see, it’s encrusted with jewels and looks pretty incredible on any mantlepiece.
The sculptor of The Maltese Falcon statue was the esteemed late artist Fred Sexton, who had mastered the art of movie props. He put a lot of effort into all his props, and allegedly, The Maltese Falcon is cursed. There are many replicas floating around Hollywood, and recently a collector paid 4.1 million dollars for the original.
That’s a lot for a maguffin.
Movie Prop #6: The Lightsabers in Star Wars
Of all the Hollywood props out there, it’s fair to say most prop makers would love the chance to create Star Wars movie props. How many prop makers get to say they created a “fictional energy sword?”
With all due respect to The Maltese Falcon statue, there’s also a Millennium Falcon cockpit panel that has led to massive fandom and, frankly, there could be an entire list solely devoted to ranking the greatest Star Wars movie props.
But film props like Darth Vader’s melted helmet don’t hold a candle to the epic Lucasfilm lightsaber; of all the Star Wars movie props, this signature weapon became a household name and a household toy for kids.
Movie Prop #7: The Pills in The Matrix
Is there anything more “memed” than Keanu’s meds in this movie? “Red pill and blue pill” even has its own Wikipedia page, as the iconic Hollywood props have not only become movie memorabilia in their own right, but they’ve also become a cultural metaphor for the general act of “making a choice.”
Specifically, in the movie, the red pill grants you a brutal knowledge of reality while the blue pill grants you a blissful ignorance of illusion. Hopefully, the prop maker didn’t get too high on his or her own supply.
And yet neither of the pills could ever stop more Matrix movies from coming out…
Movie Prop #8. The Box of Chocolates in Forrest Gump
Yes, Tom Hanks movies made this list twice, but “Hanks” and “Hollywood” are pretty much synonyms at this point, aren’t they? Just be glad we didn’t crowd the list with other Hanks-centric props like the piano in Big, and his revolver from Saving Private Ryan.
The box is used as an explicit metaphor for life, thanks to the titular character’s mother (shoutout to the great Sally Field), and Forrest uses the box as a way to talk to people on the famous bench and tell them/the audience his story.
While that very bench could arguably make this list, isn’t it better to go with something delicious?
Additionally, one has to wonder if this was one of the authentic movie props from the set…so did Hanks ever get the chance to eat ‘em? And if so, did the prop maker have to keep refilling?
Hard-hitting questions like this are all to be expected when analyzing movie props and film props from the world’s greatest films.
Movie Prop #9. The Coke Bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy
An inciting incident that results in an unforgettable premise with funny and poignant themes, the prop in this 1980 South African comedy is perceived by the characters to be a gift from the Gods.
While the Coca-Cola Corporation might see their products as gifts from the gods, the irreverent humor in The Gods Must Be Crazy derives in part from the way in which this movie prop is celebrated, worshipped, and vilified by the end of act three.
By the way, as far as cheap movie props go, a bottle of Coke must’ve made the prop maker’s job rather easy that day.
Movie Prop #10. The Sled in Citizen Kane
Does it count as a spoiler if it’s over 75 years old? Well, let’s just say in the way Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was about one man’s hunt for a bike, Citizen Kane is about one man’s hunt for a sled — even though that man doesn’t know it. The sled’s reveal has inspired decades upon decades of films using objects as metaphors in similarly cinematic and climactic ways.
Sure, it symbolized his childhood and a deep connection with his lost parents, but that’s all pretty heavy to put on screen.
Welles imbued the sled with so much significance it carried the entire movie. That’s no simple feat.
Orson Welles’ sled reminds us of innocence, taking us back to our own childhoods (okay, if you grew up where there was snow), and a more carefree time of sliding down a hill.
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