Some of these legendary props sold for millions of dollars. You may be surprised to learn that the most expensive film prop sold at auction doesn’t involve a British spy or an underwater vehicle. Think that John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon was an intriguing mystery with twists and turns? The Maltese Falcon prop’s story is just as mysterious.
From the famed DeLorean to a certain notorious wood chipper to how Michael Myers’s mask was constructed for Halloween, these behind the scenes stories of props are sure to delight any movie fan.
In 1939, Dorothy (Judy Garland) was able to return home in The Wizard of Oz by clicking the heels of her unmistakable ruby red slippers. There were probably about six or seven pairs of red slippers used during filming and there are four known remaining pairs today. However, at least one of them is unaccounted for. One of the pairs from The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota was stolen in 2005.
Theories abounded about the slippers whereabouts. Some speculated the thief threw them into the Tioga Mine Pit Lake. Others believed the criminal sold them on the black market. There were no leads on the slippers for several years, until an Illinois man was allegedly spotted bragging about how he was involved in the heist from the Garland Museum. The cops raided the man’s house but didn’t find the slippers. In 2015, an anonymous donor put up a $1,000,000 reward for the return of the slippers.
Then, in September 2018 – 13 years after the slippers were stolen – the shoes found their way home. Thanks to a 2017 tip to Detective Brian Mattson, the Grand Rapids Police Department, along with Minneapolis FBI agents, were able to track down the missing shoes. The details surrounding the recovery were not discussed.
When Wilson floated away from Chuck (Tom Hanks), it felt like the death of a beloved human character. Yes, he may have been just a volleyball, but that volleyball probably saved Chuck from dying a slow death due to loneliness while he was marooned on a deserted island. The iconic prop has become part of popular culture. One of the original Wilsons used in Cast Away (2000) sold for $18,400.
The Wilson company also cashed in; they began selling volleyballs with the famous bloody hand print.
In terms of horror movie props, Michael Myers’s mask from John Carpenter’s first Halloween(1978) may be the most iconic. But here’s an interesting fact: the mask was actually a store-bought William Shatner mask made by Don Post Studios. DPS made several molds of actors’ faces for the Satanist film The Devil’s Rain (1975). These molds were then used during the movie’s melting scenes.
Actors like John Travolta, Ernest Borgnine, and Ida Lupino were all in The Devil’s Rain and all had replica mask molds for their faces. However, it was the replica of Shatner’s face that became the Mike Myers mask.
A Christmas Story (1983) has become a must-watch holiday film. The comedy’s most popular prop is the leg lamp. Before A Christmas Story became a movie, it was a series of short stories by radio personality and writer Jean Shepherd. He wrote a fictionalized story of his father’s obsession with a leg lamp called “My Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.”
Shepherd got the idea for the lamp from a Nehi Soda advertisement. This is how he described it in his story: “From ankle to thigh the translucent flesh radiated a vibrant, sensual, luminous orange-yellow-pinkish nimbus of Pagan fire. All it needed was tom-toms and maybe a gong or two. And a tenor singing in a high, quavery, earnest voice: ‘A pretty girl/Is like a melody…’”
None of the three original leg lamps from the film’s production currently exist. They all broke during filming. However, if you’re looking to buy a replica, they are everywhere on the Internet. Different models and price points are available at the A Christmas Story House Gift Shop in Cleveland, Ohio.
Perhaps no director takes as much time to construct a mise-en-scene (everything you see within the frame of a film) than cinematic auteur Wes Anderson. The director pays attention to every last detail. All of the newspapers used in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) were written by Anderson himself, not just the covers, but the interior pages as well.
The film’s prop master Robin Miller said, “It was months and months of coming up with typefaces. You can read all those composed stories even though it’s just a quick flash.”
Young, up-and-coming director Steven Spielberg pretty much invented the summer blockbuster with Jaws in 1974. But before the film became a monster box office smash and forever scared millions of swimmers away from the ocean, Spielberg nearly blew his opportunity to make his mark in cinema.
The studio wanted Spielberg to use a real shark for the film, but the director defied the bigwigs’ wishes. Instead, he opted to use a mechanical shark, which nearly sunk the film. Spielberg had three identical mechanical sharks made. They were nicknamed Bruce by the crew (Bruce was Spielberg’s lawyer’s name), and suffered legendary malfunctions, like sinking to the bottom of the ocean. They also had major motor issues due to the corrosive salt water.
Spielberg had only one solution: he had to shoot less of the shark. Taking a page from Alfred Hitchcock, Spielberg enrolled in the “less is more” school of filmmaking. “I had no choice but to figure out how to tell the story without the shark,” Spielberg said. “So I just went back to Alfred Hitchcock: ‘What would Hitchcock do in a situation like this?’…It’s what we don’t see which is truly frightening.” The sharks were such a pain that all three were destroyed after filming.
“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”
Out of all the different ways Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) could have traveled back to the future, director Bob Zemeckis opted for the out-of-production DeLorean. But why? Producer Bob Gale explains the director’s thought process:
“It was a solution to a production problem, which had to do with the time chamber. Doc Brown had to carry it around on the back of a pickup truck. In pre-production, Bob thought, How are we going to do this? There’s a lot of logistics in moving this thing around, then he came in and said, ‘Let’s put it in the car, let’s make it mobile, and that saves a lot of nuts and bolts stuff production wise.’ John DeLorean was either on trial, or was about to go on trial for a cocaine sting. That put the DeLorean back in the public consciousness, because the company went out of business. Now it had this added notoriety of the cocaine bust, and that made it even hipper as an outlaw car.”
It also helped that the car had a futuristic look, especially when McFly traveled back to the 1950s. Just in case anyone is looking to buy a new DeLorean, the DeLorean Motor Company announced in January 2016 that they were planning to build 300 replicas from the Back to the Future movies. Previously, the DeLorean had been out of production for over 30 years.
A very observant Reddit user noticed that the same black and white newspaper kept turning up in different films and TV shows. Not only did the same paper appear in Modern Family and Married with Children, but it also popped up on the silver screen in No Country for Old Men.
The newspaper comes from a prop company in California called the Earl Hays Press. Production companies continue to use the prop (it’s not always the same exact newspaper, but sometimes they are recycled), so they don’t have to pay a real newspaper the legal clearance. A newspaper prop from Earl Hays Press costs just $15.
There is perhaps no more iconic movie prop than the Maltese Falcon, the legendary black statue from John Huston’s 1941 film noir of the same name. “What is it?” “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
The prop was lost for a while, then suddenly reappeared in the 1980s to do a world tour. When it was put up for auction in 2013, Las Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn purchased the statue for $4.1 million , making the Falcon the most expensive film prop ever. But no one is quite sure whether Wynn has the actual piece used in the film or a replica.
Bond’s original Aston Martin DB5 is not just a car; it’s also a spy gadget. It’s equipped with bulletproof windows, revolving license plates, machine gun front fenders, tire cutter wheels, and even an ejector seat. The world’s most famous spy car is estimated to be worth about $4 million. The only problem is that it’s been missing since 1997 after being stolen from an airport hangar in Boca Raton, FL.
There was an extensive search for the famous Aston Martin, but it’s feared that the car may have disappeared forever.
Could the Lotus Esprit Submarine Car (AKA Wet Nellie) from the tenth Bond film be the spy franchise’s coolest prop? It’s the only submarine car that ever appeared in a Bond film, and it actually was used underwater. Manned exclusively by retired US Navy Seal Don Griffin, the car propels itself by using four motors and has a turning radius of about 20 feet. The car cost about $100,000 to make.
But what happened to the car after filming? It was placed in a storage unit in Long Island, NY. The unit was paid off for ten years. After the lease was up, no one came to claim the storage contents, so it was put up on auction. The buyer, who did not know the contents of the storage locker, paid less than $100. After finding the pot of gold inside the unit, the new owner restored the exterior of the car and put it up for auction (again). It was sold in 2013 for about $1,000,000 to Elon Musk, who planned to use Tesla Motors’ electric train drive to convert the car back into a working submarine.