For some film buffs, collecting original movie props is a passion that can yield both great fun and lucrative returns on investment. Whether it’s a DeLorean from “Back to the Future” or the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” these iconic pieces can provide both a sense of nostalgia and an intriguing conversation piece for any home. But before you start shopping for an authentic prop from your favorite movie, be sure to do some research and weigh the pros and cons of each option
Props are the tangible, everyday objects that characters interact with in movies. They can be anything from maps, masks or traps to costuming parts, weapons and furniture or artwork. Props can also serve as visual gag items, weapons that are used to kill or hurt someone, tools, unique animals or creatures or valuables, character references, symbols and MacGuffins (the film’s central concept). In many cases, the right prop can evoke the emotional core of a film and help the audience connect with the story.
Creating the props that appear on the screen is often more difficult than many viewers realize. A prop person has to research the props they need, design them and then build or obtain them. This process is often time consuming and can be expensive, especially if the props are incredibly complex. Then, once the prop is built or procured, a prop master will need to make minor tweaks to ensure that the prop works on camera. For example, if the prop is supposed to make a noise, a prop master might add felt or other sound-absorbing materials.
Once a movie is complete, most props will remain in the possession of the studio that made the film. If the studio no longer wants or needs the prop, it may be sold to an authorized dealer. Often, these are individuals who have worked as prop masters and are therefore the best sources of authentic movie props. It’s also possible to find props from older films that were discarded after production. But this can be a risky proposition, since some people will sell fakes or poorly-recreated props as authentic.
While some collectors are willing to only buy genuine movie props, others are fine with a quality replica. The good news is that there are props available for collectors of all kinds. Props can be found online and at auction houses, where some of the more famous and rarer items can fetch quite a bit of money.
While some movie props might be considered bargains, it is important to remember that most are one-of-a-kind or extremely rare. This is why most props aren’t cheap. Some professional prop dealers even offer layaway plans spanning months, making it more affordable for some to acquire the props they’ve always wanted. So before you start browsing for that coveted item, do some research to see what similar props have sold for and to make sure you can safely store or display it.