The 50 Greatest Props In Movie History And The Stories Behind Them
Props are objects that a character interacts with during the action of a scene. Movie props make viewers scream, gasp, and sometimes sit in absolute silence. The best props go unnoticed, silently winning you over with truth. When movies are finished, the props are left on dusty warehouse shelves or buried under flea market knick-knacks. Production crews find props by using Google, eBay, commission them from blacksmiths, painters, and model makers, and sometimes are constructed out of whatever can be found at the local craft store.
The Closet Computer - Clueless
The film Clueless was released in 1995 and was directed by Amy Heckerling. They came up with the idea of a computer closet, and they photographed Alicia Silverstone so you could see the clothes coming onto her. They brought a computer expert in to help make it all work.
Heckerling stated, "Each day, they go through outfits, and they see what goes with what. It seemed like there'd be a lot of repetition and a big waste of time. Now I used to play with cutout solids when I was a little kid, and I thought, 'What if I had cutouts of all my clothes, little pictures, and I could figure it out that way?' Then when computers came along, I thought you could computerize every garment you have; you could go through every day quickly. It was always something I thought would be a time-saver. I thought that before there were computers."
The Cigarette Holder - Breakfast At Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany's is an iconic film that stars Audrey Hepburn. The movie was meant to be established as a film about the city. Robert McGinnis was brought in as the poster designer.
He wanted just a single figure, a woman standing with a cat over her shoulder, and he wanted her to be holding a long cigarette holder. The director, Blake Edwards, stated that the producers thought it was perfect, and they all agreed to move forward.
The Red Stapler - Office Space
The film Office Space was released in 1999 and stars Ron Livingston, Gary Cole, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Root, David Herman, and Ajay Naidu. The director, Mike Judge, wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and wanted it red.
Staplers weren't made red at that time, so they had to paint them red. After people saw the film, they called the company trying to order red staplers, but they couldn't order them, so people started making red staplers and selling them on eBay, making a lot of money.
The Hourglass - The Wizard Of Oz
The film Wizard of Oz was released in 1939 and has become a beloved, iconic film. One of the popular props from the film is the hourglass.
Jay Scarfone and William Stillman wrote, "The Wicked Witch's hourglass was re-created as a wood and papier-mache prop for the scene in which the Witch shatters at an angle, allowing the prop to glide the length of a wire in order to consistently hit its mark. The hourglass measures 20 inches in height and 11 ½ inches in width. The glass is handblown; its frame is decorated with six-winged gryphons."
The Clay Pot - Ghost
When most people think about the film Ghost, they think about the intimate scene with the clay pot. The film was released in 1990 and stars Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. Jane Musky was the production designer and had said that Demi Moore wanted a workspace of some kind in her loft set.
Demi was taking pottery lessons, and a real working studio was created on set. There was a huge mess, with clay everywhere, but the final result was magical and unforgettable.
The Talkboy - Home Alone 2
The Home Alone movies are beloved films, and they made Macaulay Culkin a household name. The director was John Hughes, and he worked with Roger Shiffman, founder of Zizzle L.L.C. Hughes's original idea for Home Alone 2 was for Culkin to have a gun, but Shiffman took the lead and came up with the Talkboy idea.
They designed the Talkboy with the grip where Culkin could slide his hand into it and the extending microphone, so it looked more lifelike. After the movie came out, the Talkboy were selling out everywhere and sometimes had people fighting over them in stores.
The Guitar - Purple Rain
Prince was one of the biggest music stars ever, and one of his most famous songs is "Purple Rain." He also starred in the film Purple Rain, and Dave Russian was the guitar maker.
Russian stated, "Prince wasn't much for small talk. He could certainly express himself if he felt it was necessary, but in this case, he didn't all that much. He had this bass with him in the store that day, I'd actually worked on it before, and his main requirements were just that the guitar should be in that shape, it had to be white, and it had to have gold hardware."
The Commandment Tablets - The Ten Commandments
The film The Ten Commandments was released in 1956 and stars Charlton Heston, Anne Baxter, Yul Brynner, and Edward G. Robinson.
William Sapp was the special effects property master, and he said in an interview, "God, of course, is an animated pillar of light.But after the animated lightning bolt strikes the granite of Sinai, I'm back behind the rock during the scene, lighting the gunpowder that makes the words and the shape of the tablets. Heston's tablets were those real granite tablets. Mr. Heston's stand-in worked with a lightweight plaster pair I made for camera rehearsals and lighting set-ups."
The Neuralyzer - Men In Black
The film Men in Black was released in 1997 and stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Bo Welch was the production designer, and he wanted the neuralyzer to look simple.
He stated that the shape was sort of born out of the Space Race and alien technology and that they didn't want it to be too big and bulky, so it starts small, but once the button is pushed, it pops up to roughly twice its length.
The Chainsaw - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released in 1974. One of the biggest props in the film is the chainsaw, the murder weapon. The director, Tobe Hopper, wanted a saw that was older and had character. They had to change up the saw often because it had to be safe for the running scenes but needed to work in the scenes where it needed to cut something.
In the scene where Leatherface falls and cuts his own leg with the saw, he had a piece of metal with meat and fake blood between it and the saw. However, the saw heated the metal up and burned the actor, so his reaction to the pain was very real.
The Red And Blue Pills - The Matrix
The film The Matrix was released in 1999 and stars Keanu Reeves as Neo. The film was very popular, with some well-known props being the red and blue pills.
Owen Paterson was the production designer, and he said, “Lana and Lilly are true geniuses. I would have specific conversations with them about the scene. It takes place in a hotel that is essentially closed down. It’s derelict. They had this beautiful expression for it, which was ‘putrid decay.’ I can’t remember what was in the pills, but there were discussions with doctors, so if anyone had swallowed them by mistake, then it would be safe. It was just something that had to be blue and something that had to be red. I believe we used gelatin caps. It was quite simple the way that was set up. The other really interesting thing was there were certain shots that were physically impossible to do.”
The One Ring - The Lord Of The Rings
One of the most well-known props from The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the One Ring. It is a plain gold band that expands and shrinks to fit the hand that wears it.
When it is heated, it reveals a phrase in Black Speech: ‘One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.’ Jens Hanson, from New Zealand, was chosen to make the ring props, and after one was chosen, he made about forty copies for filming.
The Knife - Psycho
The film Psycho was released in 1960, with Alfred Hitchcock as the director and Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh as the main stars. One of the main props in the movie is the knife.
Hitchcock said, “It took us seven days to shoot Marion’s stabbing, and there were seventy camera setups for forty-five seconds of footage. We had a torso specially made up for that scene, with the blood that was supposed to spurt out from the knife, but I didn’t use it. I used a live girl instead, a naked model who stood in for Janet Leigh. We only showed Miss Leigh’s hands, shoulders, and head. All the rest was the stand-in. Naturally, the knife never touched the body; it was all done in the montage. I shot some of it in slow motion so as to cover the breasts. The slow shots were not accelerated later on because they were inserted in the montage so as to give an impression of normal speed. This is the most violent scene in the picture. As the film unfolds, there is less violence because the harrowing memory of this initial killing carries over to the suspenseful passages that come later.”
The Burn Book - Mean Girls
The film Mean Girls was released in 2004 and was directed by Mark Waters. Waters stated that the script just said that Karen takes the scrapbook off of the shelf but doesn’t give any description of the book.
They wanted it to look like a yearbook, and it had to be pink. The prop man also suggested that it look like those kidnapping videos, with the cutout letters.
The Golden Ticket - Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971 and is a family favorite. The most important prop in the film is the golden ticket, which was made with foil paper.
They had to be very careful with the tickets because they would tear easily, but they did have plenty of spares. Everyone wanted a golden ticket, and this prop has gone down in prop history. The film even inspired the Wonka Bar, which was sold all over the world.
The Leg Lamp - A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story was released in 1983 and tells the story of a young boy and his wish of having the Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. One of the best-known props from the iconic film A Christmas Story is the leg lamp.
Reuben Freed was the production designer and stated, “The term ‘leg lamp’ is Jean Shepherd’s invention. Bob told me he wanted The Old Man to be in the window with the lamp and that it needed to be big enough to be seen from across the street. So, it had to be the size of a human limb. I got a mannequin leg and asked costume designer Mary McLeod for input. She brought me a single pump, and I added fishnet stockings because that’s what a bad girl would wear. For the lampshade, I drew on an image from a comic book that had the ‘40s look to it. That was the easy part. The difficulty was creating something that would break on command, that we could have more than one of, that could be electrified and stand by itself.”
The Heart Of The Ocean - Titanic
One of the most popular movies of all time is Titanic, which was released in 1997 and is based on the real Titanic tragedy. Peter Lamont was the production designer, and he helped design the ‘Heart of the Ocean.’
James Cameron wanted everything to look as much like Titanic as possible. They said that the necklace wasn’t based on an old design and was heart-shaped, and was very expensive to have made. The stone is semi-precious and deep.
Wilson - Cast Away
The most famous prop from the film Cast Away is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson is just a volleyball, but he becomes the star of the movie as well. Robin L. Miller was the property master and stated that Mr. Wilson was in the original script.
They had psychologists tell them that when people are stranded or in moments of isolation, they often choose an inanimate object to talk to because they can't handle being alone. There were only five Wilson props used in the film, so they were guarded closely.
The Hoverboard - Back To The Future Part II
The film Back to the Future Part II was released in 1989 and stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as the kooky duo. One of the props used in the film was the hoverboard.
"Before I was on loan in the department in Los Angeles, I worked with Steve Gawley and Richard Miller in the Highland model shop on the early designs for the hoverboard, which at the time were bigger, more like skimboards or snowboards, bigger, wider, almost like a truncated surfboard. The early boards were super complex, but when you start getting into production, and you realize they have to make multiples of all these things, it just got too cost-prohibitive. The silver lining is that the final version of the hoverboard is so simplistic in its shape, with crazy graphics, that the magic is the power inside of it. You don't understand it, but you enjoy using it. It's like a cell phone." ----- John Bell.
The Lightsaber - Star Wars
Every young boy wants a lightsaber to pretend to fight with. The Star Wars franchise has always been hugely popular. Roger Christian was the set decorator, and he said that he knew that the lightsaber would be the symbol of the film.
He said that he had a hard time finding exactly what he wanted, but he found them in a photography shop in boxes covered in dust. To make the handle, they painted projection material onto wood, took a wooden dowel, and drilled out a few of the Graflex lightsabers that were made. They turned out perfectly.
The Mockingjay Pin - The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is a very popular franchise, and one of the main props is the Mockingjay Pin. Dana Schneider was the jewelry designer, and the pin was designed from the book illustrations.
Schneider started designing the pin by carving wax by hand, but it ended up being made out of 14-karat gold and featured birds in flight. The arrow was added to stand for fighting back, and having it in the beak really makes it a symbol of courage and strength.
The Hockey Stick Putter - Happy Gilmore
Adam Sandler has starred in many comedy films, including Happy Gilmore in 1996. Perry Blake was the co-production designer who helped design the famous hockey stick putter. Blake said that it was completely fabricated from a regular hockey stick, with the bottom part being flat and smooth.
Adam Sandler was very involved and tested the sticks out and decided which one he wanted to film with. On the day of filming the scene, they bet on how many shots it would take for Adam to get the ball in the hole.
The Fuzzy Pen - Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, and Matthew Davis. The film was released in 2001, and one of the props was a fuzzy pink pen.
Robert Luketic was the director, and he stated, "Amongst the most ludicrous things we talked about in the movie were the color of blonde hair, the breed of dog, and then what this was going to look like. This pen was brought to my attention by my art department. My eye went immediately to the puffy pink ball. I had never seen anything like it. That was the pen you brought to the first day of Harvard Law. She did things on her own terms, in her own way, and in her own world. She wasn't going to conform. That pen said it all. And it's something the writers and I hear about all the time: 'The movie encouraged me to go to law school. Look at me; I can still be who I want to be.' Women say it was empowering and freeing. And the pen slapped me in the face. It was so apparent."
The Alarm Clock - Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day is an iconic movie, and one of the main props is the alarm clock. Amie McCarthy-Winn was the prop master, and it was her first movie as a prop master. She said the one thing that Harold Ramis, the director, said that stuck in her mind was, "I just want the props to work."
She said that they decided they wanted a digital clock, but they had issues with the lighting of it. As a result, they used a little older fashioned one but only had two for filming. They had someone make duplicates of the clock, but the one problem was the billboards because the clock they showed was not the clock that they used.
The Box Of Chocolates - Forrest Gump
The film Forrest Gump was released in 1994 and stars Tom Hanks. Robin L. Miller was the property master, and he wanted the props to feel nostalgic. Russell Stover Chocolates was an icon, and the box of chocolates had all the selections.
Miller stated that the studio was adamant about getting the box of chocolates. The prop didn't stand out, but that is sometimes what makes the best prop.
Zuzu's Petals - It's A Wonderful Life
The film It's a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 and stars Karolyn Grimes as Zuzu. Grimes stated that the flowers were a very pretty burgundy color, but she was pretty sure that they were thrown away.
No one knew it would become one of the most beloved movies of all time, and most of the props were destroyed. Everyone that has seen the movie remembers Zuzu's petals.
The Flame Thrower - Spaceballs
Spaceballs was released in 1987, and Dennis Parrish was the prop master. Mel Brooks, the director, left it all up to Parrish and let him go crazy with the props. Parrish came up with at least twice as many props as was scripted.
He explained the flamethrower, "The flamethrower was a weed burner, and we made it a little more powerful. But I got it out of a catalog and adapted it to make it into a flamethrower. We were very careful with it, and Mel did it while on his knees playing Yogurt, which complicated it somewhat, but we rehearsed for a while before we put the flame to it. He did it!"
The Snitch - Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
The Harry Potter films are some of the most popular films and are based on J.K. Rowling's books. Stuart Craig was the production designer, and he said that, like most everything else in the film, the concept is really all in the original text.
Rowlings describes the snitch in her books as the size of a walnut, with a golf ball being used in practice. The snitch had fluttering silver wings that were hidden when not in flight. The prop-making team made the snitch and said it was a really delicate piece of mechanical engineering.
The Ghost Trap - Ghostbusters
Who are you going to call? Ghostbusters. The film Ghostbusters was released in 1984, and Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd decided together that they needed to have a place where the ghosts would go after they were frozen.
The ghost trap was made out of metal but was very simple because it needed to look like the guys who made it. For the beam, they used an inverted pyramid because it pushed wide but came from a small source on the ground.
The Game Board - Jumanji
The film Jumanji was released in 1995 and stars Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt, and Bradley Pierce. The film made the game Jumanji very popular.
Jo Johnston, the director, described the prop, "Cast foam carry boards were used in scenes where the actors had to walk outdoors or move around on the set with the closed Jumanji game. The hero boards that were used for close shots were made of wood and were quite heavy. To reduce the risk of a hero board being dropped and damaged, a mold was made from one of the hero boards, and reduced-weight carry boards were produced."
Billy The Puppet - Saw
In the film Saw, Billy the Puppet was frightening. James Wan, the director, stated that the puppet was built in his apartment in Melbourne. It was made from clay, ping-pong balls for eyes, and newspaper wrapped together.
That was all hidden underneath a cheap kid's suit. They thought they would end up getting a more Hollywood version with animatronics, but because the film was so low budget, the producers told them to use the puppet again.
The Hamburger Phone - Juno
Who doesn't remember the awesome hamburger phone from the movie Juno? Steve Saklad was the production designer, and he said Diablo Cody described the phone, and they had to search a Japanese online website to find one.
The phone doesn't have much coverage in the film, but that was the point. It was one of the first props they found for Juno's bedroom.
Mark's Cue Cards - Love Actually
The film Love Actually was released in 2003 and was directed by Richard Curtis. To prepare for this film, Curtis said that when he's stuck, he writes numbers one through five on paper and comes up with five ideas.
For this film, he came up with five romantic ideas for a man and a woman and asked the women in his office what they thought. Then he came up with the Bob Dylan signs or Mark's cue cards.
The Frogs - Magnolia
The film Magnolia was released in 1999 and has a star-studded cast that is led by Tom Cruise. Anyone that has seen the film remembers the frogs.
William Arnold, the production designer, stated, "We were initially going to use rubber frogs for most of the effects. Our special effects team created hundreds of them. We even tested a way to drop them into a scene. There was a conveyer belt, and a trampoline suspended high above a parking lot to see how they would fall and what kind of coverage could be achieved. The results were disappointing. This led to a rethinking of the problem and, in my opinion, a brilliant new concept. We would physically create the effects on the environment when hit by frogs. Then add the frogs digitally falling into the effects."
The Mask-Maker - Mission Impossible III
The film Mission Impossible III was released in 2006, and Syd Mead was the concept artist. They wanted the mask to be in the shape of the head, and they used a scan of Tom Cruise.
They put a polyurethane mask over his head, then the laser, and finally an inkjet printer. It was made with a sort of military-grade look, making it look used and abused. J.J. Abram was given the finished sketches to hang in his office.
Lemarchand's Box - Hellraiser
In the 1987 film Hellraiser, Simon Sayce was the special effects designer and maker. He said they knew right away that the director wanted a Chinese puzzle box, but they felt that it would be boring.
Instead, they created Lemarchand's box out of wood with a wood stain. The etching is very delicate. It took roughly eight hours to make one of the boxes, and they made at least ten to fifteen of them.
The Piano - The Piano
In the film The Piano, Andrew McAlpine found the infamous piano at a supplier of pianos and other instruments in London. They had to make four other replicas of the piano, with one of them being built into the box in the canoe.
Another piano was a silent piano because you can't have a live piano for the camera, and the last piano was a steel-frame piano for when it's thrown off the boat at the end and sank.
The Hula Hoop - The Hudsucker Proxy
The Hudsucker Proxy was released in 1994 and stars Tim Robbins and Paul Newman. One of the best-known props in the film The Hudsucker Proxy is the hula hoop.
Joel Coen, the director, explained, "We had to come up with something that this guy was going to invent that, on the face of it, was ridiculous. Something that would seem, by any sort of rational measure, to be doomed to failure, but something that, on the other hand, the audience already knew was going to be a phenomenal success.What grew out of that was the design element that drives the movie, the tension between vertical lines and circles; you have these tall buildings, and then these circles everywhere, which are echoed in the plot, in the structure of the movie itself. It starts with the end and circles back to the beginning, with a big flashback. The hula-hoop just seemed perfect."
Reese's Pieces - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
One of the most beloved films is E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which was released in 1982. Jack Dowd was the director, and Steven Spielberg was the producer.
Spielberg is the one that decided they would use Reese's Pieces. The Reese's Pieces were used in the film to lure the creature, E.T., into the house. The film definitely made the candy Reese's Pieces very popular.
The Tennis Racket - The Apartment
In the film, The Apartment, one of the props is a tennis racket. It has stuck with people, seeing the actor use the tennis racket to strain spaghetti. Izzy Diamond stated women love seeing a man trying to cook in the kitchen.
Then we both set about trying to find the perfect situation that shows how a man tackles a problem with a missing kitchen object. It was obvious that it was his apartment; you know, he just never cooked. Or he just bought himself a sandwich or something on the way home."
Coma The Doof Warrior's Guitar - Mad Max: Fury Road
The film Mad Max: Fury Road was released in 2015, and Michael Ulman was the man hired to create objects for the film with a junkyard aesthetic.
The guitar used in the film was one hundred percent designed and created for the movie. Immortan Joe needed a musician and got a heavy metal guitarist. He needed to make it function as a real guitar and a fully functional flamethrower.
The Banjo - Deliverance
The film Deliverance was released in 1972 and was directed by John Boorman. At the beginning of the film, there are two cars with canoes that come up to the filling station and come across a boy with disabilities playing the banjo.
They found a young boy in the community who was very smart, but because of how he looked, the community thought he was mentally disabled. He couldn't play the banjo though, so they had another kid crouch behind him and play the banjo.
The Cups Of Water - Jurassic Park
The film Jurassic Park was released in 1993 and has had several sequels released since then. The special effects designer was Michael Lantieri, and he discussed the cups of water prop in an interview. "I was at work, and Steven Spielberg called into the office. He goes, 'I'm in the car, I'm playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking.
That's what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror, and I wasn't to do something with water.' The mirror shaking was really very easy. The water was another story. It was a very difficult thing to do. You couldn't do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to the right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do."
The Batarang - Batman
One of the major props in the 1989 film Batman was the Batarang. Terry Ackland was the art director, and he did the sketch of the Batarang and handed it over to the special effects supervisor, John Evans.
Evans made all of the gadgets, and the Batarang was based on the symbol of Batman. They wanted everything to be Batmobile-looking, and they made about twelve batarangs, some out of fiberglass and some with polished aluminum.
Cobb's Totem - Inception
The film Inception was released in 2010 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The property master was Scot Maginnis, and he redesigned Christopher Nolan's top. He got a lot of tops and made sure to spin all of them to see which looked the best and spun the best.
He had four people make one that would work, but he ended up spending about three to four months designing the top case that transported them in and out of their dreams.
The Supreme Being's Map - Time Bandits
The film Time Bandits was released in 1981 and was directed by Terry Gilliam. Terry worked with Bernard Allum to make a special prop, a map of the Universe. He wanted the map to look like it was made by God, and he wanted it big.
The map was very detailed and hand decorated. In addition, the map has a full-color image of the Creator's palace on the back. There were three maps made: one for rehearsal, one to shoot on set, and an extra in case there was a mishap with the other two.
The Business Card - American Psycho
The film American Psycho was released in 2000, and Gideon Ponte was the production designer. One of the well-known props was the business card.
Ponte stated, "All I remember was just trying to find out what you would put on these cards and how they were meant to look. So there was a lot of talking to bankers and trying to get a hold of cards. In the end, actually, the cards probably are, and this is my fault, more European than American."
The Zoltar Machine - Big
The film Big is an iconic and beloved film that stars Tom Hanks. James Mazzola was the property master, and he was actually Zoltar; he was inside the machine.
He actually built it for the specs of his body and had a screen in front so he could look at Tom to see his actions. The whole machine was handmade, and there were many people involved with it.
The Camera - Rear Window
An iconic film is Rear Window, which was released in 1954. The film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and one part of the film was an immobilized man looking out; the second part shows what he sees, and the third part shows how he reacts.
The main character was really a Peeping Tom and was often seen taking photos out the window with his camera. The camera prop was an Exakta VX, which is the most versatile camera in the world.