Movie props play a crucial role in the art of filmmaking. Some might even say the starring role. Once an actor touches these infamous objects, and the film itself is a smash hit, makeshift items of everyday materials can become prized possessions.
Nowadays, many movie props are barcoded and cataloged into a database at the beginning of production so that props don’t get lost throughout filming. But it wasn’t always that way. Many movie props would go home with cast and crew members, and then they were never seen again. Even now, very few props are released from film studios and become available to the public. But when they do, collectors, fans, and film fanatics alike compete for these coveted items.
Created by talented, passionate, and sometimes dark artists, here are 10 movie props that will give you chills.
10 Newspapers from Back to the Future II
Kicking off our list is a lesser-known prop from a wacky and wild trip from Universal Studios, Back to the Future. The second film in this timeless franchise follows the McFly family’s archnemesis, Biff, stealing the Delorean time machine and altering history, resulting in Marty McFly having to…well. You know the rest.
The film’s screenwriter, Bob Gale, kept some of the USA Today newspaper props from the film along with their gory headlines, all of which he wrote himself. The newspaper from the future includes an article that talks about thumb bandits cutting off and stealing thumbs! Gale explains that if you were using your thumb to pay for things, robbers would cut and steal the thumbs off of people in the future. Talk about a gruesome detail to include and a nightmare to keep us awake in our ever digital times.
9 The Slytherin Locket from Harry Potter
Looking for a spell-binding movie prop? Well, look no further than Warner Brothers Studios’ Harry Potter. As seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2, the Slytherin locket is a grave artifact that the main characters—Harry, Ron, and Hermoine—desperately try to destroy. Head of the prop-making department, Pierre Bohanna, revealed that sixty Slytherin lockets were made of all sorts of different materials. Since both the actors and special effects coordinators continually tried to destroy them, quite a few were actually destroyed. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop You-Know-Who.
Bohanna explains that a handful of repeat lockets were forged from pewter, a metal of mostly tin and some copper so that the Gryffindor sword could split the locket in half on screen. When a special effect could have easily been added to the locket through CGI, the props department went all-in with creating some on-screen magic.
8 Bella’s Rings from The Twilight Saga
Published in 2007, author Stephanie Meyer’s Eclipse from The Twilight Saga swept the romance world off its feet. Including Kristen Stewart, who played Bella Swan. In several interviews, the actress admits to keeping the engagement ring given to her by on- and off-screen partner Robert Pattinson, who played Edward Cullen. Stewart also revealed she kept two other rings: the wedding ring and the moon ring, gifted to Bella by her mother at the beginning of the series.
The prop department’s jeweler consulted with Meyer several times about the engagement ring, as it has a particular description in the novel. The jeweler knew fans would be furious if it wasn’t accurate. But jewelers were puzzled about the type, cut, and shape the ring was to take. The ring itself has 69 diamonds in an oval pave setting with an engraved “14k RF” inside the band, meaning it’s fourteen karat gold with a rhodium finish to prevent tarnishing. Fans have been dreaming, swooning, and throwing inadequate engagement rings away ever since.
7 The Meat Grinder from Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Still don’t have chills yet? Okay, so maybe you’re more into the gory type of chills.
Remember the meat grinder hidden away under quiet Fleet Street? It’s still around. And Warner Brothers Studios keeps it fully stocked. Okay, so it’s not real! But the props department had no problem handing over the literal ton of foam, gel, and wax body parts made for the 2007 film.
Oh, and the worst pies in London? They’re paper mache, foam pool noodles, and wax that’s been through an actual meat grinder. The Warner Brothers archive was established in 1992, and each item that enters the warehouse is stored with a tag listing the title, the actor who used it, and the date of the film.
6 HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey
If you thought HAL’s circuits got disconnected, think again. The 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey follows astronauts traveling to Jupiter with the sentient computer, HAL, after discovering an alien monolith. However, things take a turn when the machine starts interfering and claiming to be more capable of completing the mission than the humans, including setting astronauts adrift by severing oxygen hoses and turning off life support systems.
Director and film fanatic Peter Jackson has the original wide-angle, Nikon, 8mm fisheye lens in his collection. Jackson acquired the prop about 15 years ago and noticed that the props department added a separate lens along the back to channel the red light that gives HAL that eerie, evil glow.
5 Orcs from The Hobbit
Speaking of Peter Jackson, The Hobbit franchise has so many props from over the years that every available space was valuable, including storing orc corpses in the kitchen. That’s right. Imagine sitting around at lunchtime with gruesome Orcs staring at you.
Between the production of each film, props were stored in huge warehouses only to be brought out for a few months of filming in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The hardest part? Finding what you needed when you needed it. Costumes, swords, sets, staffs, sculptures, boats, bows, and arrows all lived in off-site storage facilities in New Zealand. Over 2,000 props were made for one armory scene alone. Just, maybe don’t eat in the warehouse kitchens.
4 St. Paul’s Cathedral Globe from Mary Poppins
Dan Lanigan from Disney+’s Prop Culture hunts down artifacts from the 1964 film Mary Poppins and even visits the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank to find the original prop. Only three St. Paul Cathedral globes exist, and two are replicas. The original snow globe was found in a trash bin by a janitor and was tucked away in a closet on the Disney lot until the studio’s archive started up. Back in ’64, items weren’t kept from productions like they are today, and while the original globe may not have birds swirling around inside anymore, the glass and cathedral are still intact.
Walt Disney had a deep connection to the song “Feed the Birds,” and when the film’s songwriter Richard Sherman of the Sherman Brothers would enter his office, Walt would simply say, “Play it for me.” And Richard knew which song to sing. To this day, Richard Sherman is the only person allowed to play the piano in Walt’s office preserved as carefully as the St. Paul’s Cathedral prop.
3 Chewbacca Skin from Star Wars
Though Star Wars consultant Adam Savage, commonly known from the show Mythbusters, isn’t sure which Star Wars film this prop is from. However, it is most certainly from the originals. The foam latex mask was thin enough for actor Peter Mayhew to portray facial expressions without any help from armature such as puppeteering or animatronics, which are techniques commonly used today. It is all Peter Mayhew.
Even creator and director George Lucas didn’t realize how much Mayhew contributed to the role. In a scene where Lucas didn’t believe Mayhew needed to be called to set, the costume and mask were given to a stand-in for the role, and Lucas immediately had Mayhew called to set to be in the scene.
2 Skeletons from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
It makes sense to film Pirates of the Caribbean in the Caribbean, right? How about including real islanders? Filmed just off the coast of St. Vincent island, Pirates of the Caribbean props can still be found all around the island, from plaster cannons to the original sinking boat mast Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow docks and walks away from at the beginning of the film.
But the creepiest prop that no one knows what happened to is the infamous “Pirates ye be warned” sign hanging next to two prop skeletons. The production crew left the sign after filming was completed as an homage to the island, but soon after, the sign was no longer there when boats went past. Many speculate that a local took it down to have a piece of the movie with them.
1 Dorothy’s Slippers from The Wizard of Oz
And finally, the most highly sought-after movie prop, the infamous red ruby slippers from MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz. These slippers are so famous that they earned a spot in the Smithsonian Institution. Though they are mismatched, with one shoe showing more wear than another, they were donated anonymously in 1979.
Dorothy’s slippers, worn by Judy Garland, are so famous that they were stolen. Well, not the ones from the Smithsonian. A pair of original slippers at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids was stolen in 2005. Thirteen years later, the police found them through an attempted extortion plot. Since only four pairs of these shoes survived production nearly a century ago, recovering the props symbolized the belief and a persevering hope for that special somewhere over the rainbow.