What are the most memorable props in movies?
I looked at a number of factors in choosing these props. Did the film change the way the object is viewed? For example, one cannot drive a DeLorean without hearing at least one reference to Back to the Future. Did the use of the prop have a strong visual impact? John Cusack holding a boombox over his head is an iconic image, whether one remembers the actual plot of Say Anything or not. Perhaps the object has gained a life of its own apart from the film, such as the lightsabers in Star Wars. Or, the prop may have encapsulated the themes of the film, or expressed a symbolic idea which no other object could. In any event, I’m sure all of you will have disagreements with this list, or additions. I went through hundreds of films to come up with an initial list of over 75 props before narrowing it down to these 25. I decided to limit the list to American films just to keep myself sane.
25. Wilson. Cast Away
In what is essentially a one-man movie, this prop fills the voids in the dialogue and nearly becomes a character in its own right. It has become an easily-recognized reference in pop-culture, and has even been mentioned in psychological studies. One of the originals sold for $18,400 after the film came out, and the Wilson company even makes a volleyball with the bloody hand print face printed on the side.
24. Robbie the Robot. Forbidden Planet
One of only thirteen fictional robots in the Robot Hall of Fame. After being introduced in Forbidden Planet, he has appeared in dozens of films, television shows, and cartoons, as well as innumerable toy and model versions.
23. Raquel Welch poster. Shawshank Redemption
When Raquel Welch appeared in a fur bikini in the late sixties, it quickly became an icon recognized around the world. When a poster of that image appeared in Shawshank Redemption, it became an icon all over again.
22. cane. Citizen Kane
Just kidding. It’s probably unreasonable to not give away the ending of this film by now, but for those who haven’t seen it, there is a major plot point which hinges on the identity of a certain prop uttered in a character’s dying breath.
21. Necronomicon. Evil Dead
Though used in the film to conjure undead demons, in real life it has almost single-handedly created the careers of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. Not only is it the driving element of the Evil Dead trilogy, but it appears briefly in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, making it one of the few recognizable props to crossover between two completely separate films.
20. shoes. Gold Rush
Charlie Chaplin is so hungry, he eats his shoe. According to the creators of the film, the prop was made entirely out of licorice.
19. videotape. The Ring
Other horror movies have an object which cause the terror in the story, but none do it well as The Ring (or the Japanese Ringu, if you prefer). You watch a film where watching a video causes the images in the video to interact with the images in the film. It’s very deep. Seriously.
18. Coke bottle. The Gods Must be Crazy
In this film, a Coca-cola bottle falls from a plane into a tribe of African bushmen, who until then had no contact with Western civilization. With this simple setup, a single object creates a complete allegory of modern society.
17. wood chipper. Fargo
Ask someone if they’ve seen Fargo. If they have, ask what they thought of the wood chipper. They will most certainly have a reaction, and that’s why this prop is on the list.
16. Jacobs Ladder. Frankenstein
AKA a high voltage traveling arc. A spark forms between two rods of metal pointing up and travels upwards. Though Frankenstein was filmed almost eighty years ago, the use of this prop still automatically says “mad scientist”.
15. watch. Pulp Fiction
When Christopher Walken told Bruce Willis he stuck a watch up his you-know-what, he created a mental image in our minds that will never be erased.
14. axe. Shining
In a film filled with memorable images, none is more so than Jack Nicholson poking his head through a hole in the door he just made with an axe. In this case, the axe is vastly outshined by his “catchphrase”, but it nonetheless stands as one of cinema’s most memorable props.
13. pill. Matrix
Though the movie is complex, rich, and heavy at times, the moment Neo is forced to make a choice comes down to a very simple, clear, and visually-stunning image; choose a red pill or a blue pill. In the literary sense, the pills are a metaphor for his choice, while in the construct of the narrative, the pills are a representation of a computer program designed to expel Neo from the Matrix. They work on so many levels.
12. homemade bullets. Patriot
When Mel Gibson’s youngest son is killed by Jason Isaacs during the Revolutionary War, he spends the rest of the movie pining for revenge while leading a militia in the fight against the redcoats. Throughout the film, he melts his son’s toy soldiers to cast bullets. Before the final battle, he melts the last soldier for one final bullet. It creates a visual image that echoes throughout the film, as well as a strong metaphor.
11. Reeses pieces. ET
The use of Reese’s Pieces in E.T. essentially launched cinematic product placement into the mainstream.
10. boombox. Say Anything
Imagine the scene of John Cusack standing outside a window holding a boombox above his head. Now, imagine that scene without the boombox.
9. potter’s wheel. Ghost
One single scene transformed the lowly potter’s wheel into an object of foreplay. Forever.
8. hockey mask. Friday the 13th series
The hockey mask has become synonymous with slasher flicks, despite the fact that Jason does not become the antagonist until the second film, and does not begin wearing the mask until the third.
7. Inigo Montoya’s sword. Princess Bride
Inigo Montoya’s father was commissioned Count Rugen, a six-fingered man, to make a sword especially balanced for him. When he later reneged on the price, Montoya refused to sell the sword, and Rugen killed him in front of the ten-year old Inigo. Inigo then spends the next twenty years training with the sword to avenge his father’s death. Thus, as in The Patriot, the object which was pivotal in the need for revenge is also used to carry it out. Also, like Chekhov’s gun, once introduced, it is inevitable that it will be used.
6. Maltese Falcon. Maltese Falcon
It’s “the stuff that dreams are made of.” When it was auctioned in 1994 for $398,500, it was the highest price paid for a movie prop at that point. Check out Adam Savage’s (from Mythbusters) obsessed quest to reproduce the Maltese Falcon from the film.
5. lightsaber. Star Wars
Every little boy wants one, and every lucky man has one. The internet is filled with discussions and arguments over the different types, colors, and details of what is essentially a fictional object. Even the sound it makes is instantly recognizable by an entire generation.
4. ring. Lord of the Rings
It’s the most powerful ring in Middle Earth, and the most recognized ring prop in regular Earth. I wanted one of these for my wedding ring. How come you never see anyone wearing these? Oh… right.
3. bullwhip. Indiana Jones
The manufacture of bullwhips nearly disappeared towards the end of the twentieth century… until Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. Now, the bullwhip, along with a fedora, are the only two objects needed to imply Indiana Jones’ character.
2. leg lamp. A Christmas Story
Oh, look at that! Will you look at that? Isn’t that glorious? It’s… it’s… it’s indescribably beautiful! It reminds me of the Fourth of July! It’s a major award!
1. Delorean. Back to the Future
As mentioned in the introduction, this film cemented the idea of a DeLorean as a time machine. Not only that, but I totally want one. Okay, maybe that’s not the best criterion for choosing the most memorable prop in film.
What do you think of this list? Agreements? Disagreements? Leave a comment!