The Most Iconic Movie Props And The Stories Behind Them

In any piece of storytelling, props are there to guide the plot and characters in a certain direction. They can be used for symbolism, or to add more significant meaning to the theme. Audiences are sure to remember at least one important prop from their favorite movie that stood out to them.

There are numerous film props with interesting backstories that go unnoticed. Throughout movie history, prop masters have turned inanimate objects into something that convey as much emotion as the actors on screen. These props mean so much to viewers that they are often auctioned off for millions of dollars.

Ruby Red Slippers, The Wizard of Oz

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Some props can withstand the test of time in terms of their popularity. The ruby red shoes Dorothy wears in The Wizard of Oz are so valuable that they are locked up in the Smithsonian Museum. The purpose of the shoes in the story were for Dorothy to click her heels three times in order to return home.

There were actually multiple pairs made for the film, and only five pairs are known to still be around. Originally, the slippers were going to be silver, but the filmmakers thought that the ruby red looked a lot better on screen.

Wilson, Cast Away

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imdb.com

Cast Away’s plot has Tom Hanksas the only person on screen for the majority of the movie. In order to survive on the island, his form of companionship was a volleyball (Wilson) that washed up on shore. Like most props, many versions were made for the film. One was known to be sold for $18,400 in an auction.

Even though Wilson was technically an inanimate object, it became one of the main characters of the movie. The popularity of the bloody-faced volleyball grew so much that stores began selling replicas with the iconic face painted on.

Leg Lamp, A Christmas Story

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

A Christmas Story featured many memorable props, like the Red Ryder BB Gun, Ralphie’s bunny costume, and the duck from the Chinese restaurant. One that stands out from all the others is the leg lamp the father receives for winning a contest. Unfortunately, none of the leg lamps from the movie have survived over the past few decades.

Many fans can remember Ralphie’s dad seeing the box arrive and exclaiming the classic line, “Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” As audiences go back and watch the movie each Christmas, the leg lamp represents the nostalgia of years past and what it’s like to spend time with your family during the holidays.

DeLorean, Back to the Future

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In a movie about time travel, the object that sends Marty McFly 30 years in the past is a DeLorean. Its prominence in Back to the Future makes it one of the most famous props in cinematic history. Originally, the time-traveling device was going to be either lasers or a refrigerator, but director Robert Zemeckis, later decided he wanted the machine to be mobile.

The DeLorean was chosen because of its futuristic look, and it actually was a real car model before the movie was even made. For the film, the first three of the DeLoreans were built in just 10 weeks and one of them is displayed at Universal Studios.

Heart of the Ocean Necklace, Titanic

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Clocking in at three hours and 14 minutes, Titanic is one of the longest box office hits of all time. Since it’s such a lengthy film it can be difficult to remember everything that happened aboard the ill-fated ship. In the story, the blue diamond was originally owned by Louis XVI and was cut into a heart after the French Revolution.

Throughout the movie, the necklace was used for the elderly version of Rose to reminisce about her time on the Titanic and switch back to her present day. The real Heart of the Ocean, otherwise known as the Hope Diamond, can be found at the Cape Town Diamond Museum.

Golden Ticket, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

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The only way that kids would get a chance to tour Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is to find a golden ticket in one of his chocolate bars. The protagonist, Charlie Bucket, has his life changed forever when he discovers the last remaining ticket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Julie Dawn Cole, best known for playing Veruca Salt, mentioned that there were probably hundreds of golden tickets made for filming. This vintage prop is historic and is even used as a catchphrase for when people win big today.

Burn Book, Mean Girls

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There are very few movies that define a generation, but Mean Girls was able to tackle the life of high school girls in a refreshing way. In the film, the Burn Book was used by the group of mean girls (The Plastics) to write what they didn’t like about the other girls in the school.

It served as the catalyst after the contents of the book were leaked by Regina George. The book’s purpose ended up demonstrating how teenage girls actually felt in high school. Some of the racy stuff that’s mentioned in the Burn Book caused the film to almost be rated-R. And of course, it had to be pink.

The Talkboy, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

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imdb.com

The Talkboy first appeared in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and was then sold in stores after a large number of letters were sent in by kids asking if they could own one. It isn’t really more than a tape player with an extendable microphone, but the way Macaulay Culkin’s character used it in the film inspired pranksters everywhere.

This recording device was made from screenwriter John Hughes’ specifications for a device that was realistic, yet at the cutting edge of new technology. Culkin’s character needed a tool that would help him get out of trouble in a clever way to outdo his antics from the first film.

The Portable Memory Eraser, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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imdb.com

While this product doesn’t actually exist, it got many psychology-minded people wondering what would happen if memories can just disappear forever from just a small machine. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) undergoes a medical procedure using the portable memory eraser to forget about his girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), after she already did the same.

The main goal of the prop designers for the memory eraser was to make a machine that looked believable and not too futuristic. After they visited a neurosurgery department, they turned the prop into something with electrodes, wires, and monitors to match what current neuroscientists usually work with.

Gold Watch, Pulp Fiction

Miramax
Miramax

Even though the gold watch was only mentioned in one scene during Pulp Fiction, it is still one of the most talked about movie props. When one of the main characters (Bruce Willis) has a flashback, it transports the audience to a childhood memory when he received a gold watch from his late father’s army friend (Christopher Walken).

Walken’s entire role in Pulp Fiction was to deliver a monologue that explained how the gold watch was passed down to each male member in Willis’ family. The desire to hold onto the watch ends up leading Willis in one of the most violent and gory scenes in film history.

McLovin’s ID Card, Superbad

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After the high school seniors decided to throw a booze-filled party in Superbad, they needed to figure out how to buy alcohol. They realized one of their friends had a fake ID, and told him to use it to help them out. This then led to McLovin’s sideways plot of his adventures with a couple of off-beat police officers (Bill Hader & Seth Rogen).

One thing that stands out about the fake ID is that it’s from Hawaii, when the story takes place nowhere near there, on the mainland in the United States. After screenwriter, Seth Rogen heard the idea, he was totally on board.

Hamburger Phone, Juno

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This is another film that includes many props that help guide the plot. After viewers saw title character Juno’s hamburger phone, they couldn’t get enough. The phone was based on the writer’s recollection of what would’ve been around during her teenage years. She was later able to find one on an obscure Japanese website.

Juno’s personality in the film is straight to the point, yet youthful in her own way, so the hamburger phone reflects another side of her personality. Some might interpret it as paradoxical when she uses the childlike phone to call about her teenage pregnancy dilemmas.

Golden Snitch, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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With all of the magical props used in the Harry Potter franchise, it is extremely difficult to narrow down the best ones. In the first film, Harry becomes a Quidditch champion after catching the golden snitch.

J.K. Rowling originally described the snitch in her novels as being the size of a walnut with fluttering silver wings, which are hidden while the ball isn’t in the air. Although it may not look like it, it’s actually a rare species of bird in the Potter world.

Box of Chocolates, Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump’s signature prop also contributes to one of the most well-known lines in a film, “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” One reason the Russel Stover chocolate box was chosen was that it represented Americana. It was iconic at the time of filming, so most would recognize the design.

The saying that life is like a box of chocolates was first made public in the book, Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami in 1987. But the proverb never quite caught on until Forrest Gump shared it on a park bench.

Mockingjay Pin, The Hunger Games

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imdb.com

With another action-packed franchise, The Hunger Games film series is filled with numerous symbolic props. The Mockingjay pin stands out for various reasons. It’s on the cover of the books and movie posters and belongs to the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen.

The pin is based on the bird’s qualities of a creature with a spirit of its own. They are known to show great resistance and rebellion, just like Katniss demonstrates in the film after her town is taken over by a powerful force. The movie’s jewelry designer was inspired by the Mockingjay’s sense of freedom and incorporated that into the pin.

Inigo Montoya’s Sword, The Princess Bride

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imdb.com

It’s hard to forget one of the most classic lines from The Princess Bride, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” All throughout the film, Montoya’s character struggles to seek revenge on the man who killed his father with his prized sword.

The sword is pivotal in his need for revenge and he spent 20 years training to track down and duel with the murderer. Montoya is able to defeat his father’s killer at the end of the movie while repeating the famous phrase until he dies.

The Wardrobe, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the four siblings are sent into the fantasy land of Narnia after traveling through a wardrobe. Their true destiny is to free Narnia with the guidance of a mystical lion.

Author C.S. Lewis was inspired by his English country home that had a magnificent wardrobe in an upstairs room. The film’s wardrobe design tells the story of The Magician’s Nephew in the carvings on the wooden panels. It’s been theorized that the wardrobe represents the path to good versus evil.

The Power Glove, The Wizard

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imdb.com

If there was a movie prop to represent a decade, The Wizard’s Power Glove is one of those 1980’s phenomenons. The storyline of this retro film has two brothers running away from home with the help of a young girl. They run off to California for the younger brother to compete in the ultimate video game championship.

It wouldn’t be a video game-themed film without the newest releases at the time. The film featured all sorts of Nintendo games and equipment, but it also showed the most futuristic of them all, the Power Glove. After the film’s release, the Power Glove sold nearly one million units.

Electric Floor Piano, Big

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Big includes one of the most famous and unique movie scenes with Tom Hanks playing a life-sized piano on the floor with his feet. The piano was created by Italian artist and inventor, Remo Saraceni, and has become iconic in the movie prop world.

Even though it was already a product at FAO Schwarz in 1983, Big put it on the map when it released the toe-tapping scene five years later. The directors had seen it displayed in New York, and there was no question that it would be used for Big. It’s still available today for customers to buy or rent.

Bicycle, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

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One of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s most pivotal scenes was when the main character tried to get his alien friend safe and out of reach from government agents. He grabbed his bike and hid E.T. in the front basket. Soon enough the two of them are flying over the moon.

Since it was filmed in 1982, the filming process was just on the brink of new technology. The bike was bolted onto the end of a camera crane and moved across a blue screen in a movie studio. This famous film prop was so well-received that a silhouette of E.T. and the bicycle were made into the logo for Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment.