Most Valuable Movie Props Ever Sold
For movie memorabilia collectors, the dream of owning an often one-of-a-kind prop or costume featured on-screen in their favorite film can be as intoxicating as a James Bond martini, shaken not stirred.
Sure, with an eBay account and a few hundred bucks you may be able to pick up a mock pistol handled by Steven Segal in one of his random 1980s insults to the art of cinema. But when it comes to silver screen classics and wealthy collectors, major auction houses like Bonhams and Christie's have gotten in on the act — trafficking in everything from "Back to the Future" DeLorean time machines to $3.1 million cowardly lion costumes.
While singing "Hooray for Hollywood," we've rounded up some seriously expensive movie props and costumes. However, be aware this isn't a rundown of the priciest artifacts ever sold. To spare you a list largely comprised of multi-million-dollar dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, we've mixed things up with other, unique screen-used gems.
Before the curtain is raised, if you've ever wondered where the word "prop" originated, it springs from the term "theatrical property" — an object used in a stage play or film that comes from the production's property department. Roll film.
James Bond's Aston Martin DB5
On-screen appearances: "Goldfinger" (1964), "Thunderball" (1965)
Cruising the highway with a maniac driver hot on your bumper, who among us hasn't wished we were behind the wheel of 007's gadget-loaded Aston Martin DB5 to flip the switch unleashing an oil slick or smoke screen?
The British sports car company produced two prototype DB5s that Sean Connery drove in what are arguably the best Bond films. One of the cars, which later appeared in the comedy "The Cannonball Run," was stolen from its Florida-based owner in 1997 and has never been recovered. The other, auctioned in 2010 for $4.6 million, came with nearly all its movie-customized "Q-Branch" gadgets. Sadly, one feature not included was the ejector seat for annoying passengers riding shotgun.
Luke Skywalker's Lightsaber
On-screen appearances: "Star Wars" (1977), "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)
If you grew up in the late '70s and early '80s, chances are good you once clobbered childhood pals with a stick while making the "whoosh" sound of Luke Skywalker's "elegant weapon for a more civilized age."
Hamstrung by the first "Star Wars" movie's relatively low production budget, the original Jedi lightsaber hilts waved by Mark Hamill were crafted from 1930s'-era Graflex camera flash handles that set-designer Roger Christian found in a photography shop.
For filming, Christian created "two or three" lightsaber handles; their glowing blades are special effects. Two of the props landed in the personal collection of "Star Wars" producer Gary Kurtz. Sold at auction in 2008 and 2017 — fetching $240,000 and $450,000, respectively — the latter model appeared only in "The Empire Strikes Back" and was procured by the Ripley's Believe It or Not! chain of museums.
Robby the Robot
On-screen appearances: "Forbidden Planet" (1956), "The Invisible Boy" (1957)
"Welcome to Altair IV, gentlemen." These are the first words spoken by Robby the Robot in the landmark sci-fi film starring Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen (decades before "The Naked Gun" flicks) and Anne Francis. If Robby could speak today, he might ask "What geek actually paid $5.3-million for me at a 2017 Bonhams auction?"
The "Forbidden Planet" fanatic with deep pockets remains anonymous. But before you go judging the buyer, be aware the astronomical winning bid for the 7-foot-tall Robby prop also included the robot's jeep vehicle from the movie. So, there's that.
Marilyn Monroe's White 'Subway' Dress
On-screen appearance: "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)
The most expensive movie costume ever sold is this cocktail dress worn by Monroe as the air-blast from a subway grate sends it billowing upward — much to the delight of her date for the night. While the film itself isn't a stone-cold classic, this particular scene ranks among the most iconic in cinema history.
At auction in 2011, Monroe's flirty white number netted an eye-popping $4.6 million. The seller was the late actress Debbie Reynolds, who at the time was unloading what many consider the most valuable personal collection of movie props and costumes ever assembled.
Aries 1B Trans-Lunar Spherical Space Shuttle
On-screen appearance: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
According to legend, director Stanley Kubrick ordered all the miniature spaceships used in the filming of "2001" be destroyed to prevent them from being recycled by other filmmakers in cheap knock-offs of his sci-fi classic. So imagine the collective freak-out in the memorabilia community when this nearly 3-foot-tall model of a spherical shuttle, seen early in the film, surfaced in 2015 and was verified as the real McCoy.
For more than 40 years, the model belonged to an art school teacher who kept it in his personal studio in Hertfordshire, England — a town that also happened to be the long-time residence of Kubrick. The Aries 1B sold at auction for $344,000 to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which plans to display the model at its new museum in Los Angeles, slated to open in late 2019.
The Maltese Falcon
On-screen appearance: "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
Proving even "the stuff that dreams are made of" has a price, the falcon fetched a sky-high $4.1 million at the bang of a 2013 Bonhams' auction gavel. Though it's one of two known cast-lead Maltese Falcon props made for the Humphrey Bogart classic, only this statuette with a bent tail feather is confirmed by Warner Bros. studio historians as appearing on screen. How can they be sure? During filming, the actress playing Bogart's secretary accidentally dropped the falcon on his foot, smashing not only the bird's tail feather, but also Bogey's toes.
On-screen appearance: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003)
Weapon props from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy have fetched serious coin in recent years. Frodo's famous "Sting" sword sold at auction in 2013 for $161,000. A year later it was topped by the $325,000 paid for Gandalf the White's wizard staff. But the one prop to rule them all is Aragorn's sword "Andúril," wielded by actor Viggo Mortensen in the trilogy's climactic film. The blade's 2014 Bonhams auction realized $437,000.
King Kong Model
On-screen appearance: "King Kong" (1933)
Long before Naomi Watts monkeyed around with a CGI gorilla in the 2005 remake of "King Kong," the OG "Eighth Wonder of The World" was a 22-inch-high, fully poseable model covered in rabbit fur. The godfather of stop-motion animation, Willis O'Brien, created this particular model for the climactic scenes of Kong swatting airplanes out of the New York City sky.
After decades in storage, the Kong model's fur coat rotted away, yet the metal frame alone still managed to command roughly $200,000 at a 2009 auction.
Dorothy's Ruby Slippers
On-screen appearance: "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
Though it's considered the holy grail of film footwear, in fact there are four known existing pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in Oz. Countless millions of museum visitors have followed the Yellow Brick Road to ogle perhaps the most famous slippers, which reside in the Smithsonian Institution. Another pair of the sequined pumps are insurance-valued at $1 million and displayed at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Insurance estimates are one thing. But what about real-world auction prices? In 2000, the third pair fetched $666,000 at Christie's. In 2012, the fourth slippers took their turn in the auction spotlight with a starting reserve price of $2 million. Surprisingly, they failed to sell. In stepped the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which purchased Dorothy's kicks for an undisclosed price and plans to display them at their new Los Angeles museum in late 2019.
Sam's ‘Casablanca’ Piano
On-screen appearance: "Casablanca" (1942)
The piano on which Sam famously played "As Time Goes By" sold at auction in 2014 to the tune of $3.4 million. And if you recall the Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman classic, we're not talking a Steinway grand.
A small, upright piano with only 58 keys, it was painted with Moroccan-inspired designs to fit the decor of Rick's Café Américain, the movie's main setting. As for the famous "letters of transit" papers hidden by Rick inside the piano, they were auctioned separately and garnered nearly $119,000.
Audrey Hepburn's Ascot Dress
On-screen appearance: "My Fair Lady" (1964)
Putting cheap Kentucky Derby mini-skirts and fascinators to shame, this Edwardian-style white lace dress and hat worn by Hepburn in the movie's Ascot horse racecourse scenes won $3.7 million at auction in 2011. The gown was created by legendary costume designer Cecil Beaton, who bagged Oscar gold for his work.
On-screen appearance: "Alien" (1979)
Sure, the full-size aliens from the first flick and its sequels scared the snot out of you. But if forced to pick the single, most terrifying scene in the franchise, it has to be the bloody shock of an infant alien exploding from John Hurt's chest in the '79 original. It even freaked out the cast, including Veronica Cartwright, who reportedly passed out.
After the junior alien bared teeth, screeched and scurried off the table, the screen-used model sold at a 2004 Bonhams auction for roughly $43,000. The buyer was British pop artist Chris de Burgh, begging the question: Who on earth is Chris de Burgh? Or maybe you know his hit song, “The Lady in Red”?
Rick Deckard's Blaster Pistol
On-screen appearance: "Blade Runner" (1982)
While it can't hold a candle to sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick's novel on which the movie is based, "Blade Runner" has risen to cult-classic status. And its die-hard fans are more desperate for film-used memorabilia than Nexus-6 replicants are for their lives. The gun prop triggered by Harrison Ford — playing dystopian Los Angeles bounty hunter Rick Deckard — appeared on the auction block in 2009 and sold for $270,000.
Ghostbuster Proton Pack
On-screen appearances: "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Ghostbusters II" (1989)
Who ya' gonna call when you need an "unlicensed nuclear accelerator" on your back to exterminate freaky ghosts? In 2012, the Profiles in History auction house offered a proton-pack prop worn by Harold Ramis in the original film and its sequel. The mock "positron collider" sold to a wannabe Ghostbuster for nearly $160,000.