The effort that goes into your average Hollywood movie production is often of a bewildering scale. After years of toil, involving thousands of extras, hundreds of locations and months of CGI editing, the red carpets are laid out to reveal the magic of the movies to an awaiting public. But what happens to all the items that made the story come to life, the costumes, the cars, the props and signs so beloved by movie fans?
Sometimes they get re-used, sometimes they get thrown away, but if they’re special enough they get turned into cash. Fans will pay a pretty penny for a piece of their favourite film, and so submitted for your approval… the top ten most expensive Hollywood props of all time.
Marilyn Monroe’s dress – $4.6m
The Marilyn Monroe costume is as iconic as the woman that wore it. The Seven Year Itch (1955) dress was purchased from the Debbie Reynolds memorabilia collection auction in Los Angeles by an anonymous buyer. Marilyn Monroe famously wore the dress that rose up around her, while standing over a subway grate at 1am in New York (1). A scene which took 14 takes and 3 hours to film (1). Thousands gathered to watch the sequence being captured; hundreds were male photographers. The dress itself has been reported to of slowly tarnished with time, fading into a yellowish brown colour. The dress is so small that it couldn’t fit onto a modern size 2 mannequin when it was attempted to be displayed due to its size. It had to be sown onto the actress, much like most of Marilyn Monroe’s costumes. Marilyn Monroe’s measurements for the dress were 35-22-35 (2). The priciest item to feature on our ‘top 10 most expensive Hollywood movie props’ list.
Aston Martin DB5 – $4.1m
The most famous car in the world sold for $4.1m at auction in 2010, making it currently the 2nd most expensive piece of movie memorabilia in existence. This car has had an impact on many people, one of which being director Steven Spielberg who, after seeing Goldfinger (1964), felt compelled to have one. The car showcases some special features in the film. An ejector seat to rid yourself of unwanted passengers, tyre tearing blades useful for de-roading unsuspecting women and of course it comes with a rear bullet proof windscreen, an inbuilt smoke machine and a pair of complementary machine guns. These customisations, however, are only available to those with double 0 status. While the original car may have fetched this price, other models that have not made an appearance on the big screen are currently selling for around $500,000. The Aston Martin DB5 most recently re-emerged onto the big screen during the film Skyfall (2012), in which it made a cameo appearance (3).
Chitty Bang Bang Car – $805,000
It may not actually fly, but the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Gen 11 is still a valuable and sought after piece of movie memorabilia. The reason the license plate reads Gen 11 is because this was the closet combination of numbers and letters they the UK licencing office could get to the word ‘Genie’(4). While the original movie car is worth hundreds of thousands, Corgi toy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Gen 11 cars are worth hundreds; not bad for a toy (5).
Steve McQueen’s Racing Suit – $984,000
The leather jacket featured in the film Le Mans (1971) was worn by actor and racing enthusiast Steve McQueen. The suit McQueen wore in the film came under the ownership of Morry Barmak, the owner of the film’s production company Collector Studios. He thought he had struck up a great deal selling Steve McQueen’s Le Man’s racing suit for $155,000, but then found out that his buyer had sold on the racing suit for $984,000 three months later(6). McQueen desperately wanted to indulge in his passion and race in the 24 hours Le Mans, but was deprived of the chance by his film producers. His Porsche 908 however did participate in the Le Mans race, however, and it was rumoured that Steve McQueen secretly drove it despite his producers’ objections. He did race in the 12 hours of Sebring 1970 and came 2nd to Mario Andretti, who said that he couldn’t allow himself be beaten by a movie star (7).
Audrey Hepburn’s Black Givenchy Dress- $923,187
Featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and worn by legendary actress Audrey Hepburn. This unique little black dress was sold at an auction at Christie’s in London, by the dress maker’s wife Dominque Lapierre (8). She used the funds raised from auctioning Audrey Hepburn’s costume to help fund the construction of a school in Calcutta. The Audrey Hepburn costume featured in the film 4 times, accompanied with different accessories each time, most famously with her pearl necklace (8).
Cowardly Lion Costume – $826,000
Bert Lahr adopted the persona of the Cowardly Lion in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939). The Cowardly lion costume he wore was made from real lion fur and human hair; synthetic fur had yet to be invented. The weight of the costume was 27 Kg and under the intense lighting used for the Technicolor scenes in the film, the costume became a heavy and heated challenge for Bert Lahr to wear (8). After the film was done and dusted, the costume was collected by a member of the film crew who believed it would make a great Halloween costume (9). It sat in a bag in his house where it time took its toll and the cowardly lion costume became unkempt and saturated. Upon its rediscovery, the costume was set upon by 21 artisans, who worked on the costume for two years in order to restore it to its former glory (9).
Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady Dress – $4,551,000
The Ascot dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) was designed by renowned dress designer Cecil Beaton and is another iconic movie costume to of sold from the Debbie Reynolds collection. Reynolds originally paid $100,000 for the outfit in 2001 and was sold a decade later for $3.7m in 2011 (10).
1970 Porsche 911S Steve McQueen – $1.375 Million
This luxury vintage car was owned by Hollywood actor Steve McQueen and featured in the opening sequence of the racing film classic Le Mans (1971), driven by the actor through the French countryside. Steve McQueen was a racing car fanatic and suited the role of the film Le Mans (1971) as well as the Porsche 911s. It hosts a series of customizations unique to the model including air conditioning, tinted windows and an electric sunroof. The Porsche 911S could reach up 124 mph through its 2.2 litre engine (11). Not quite as impressive as the upgrades on the Aston Martin’s DB5 that James Bond received.
James Bond Submarine Car – $860,000
Another Bond car to fetch a hefty wage. The Lotus Esprit is one of the more elaborate Bond cars conceived in the James Bond franchise. Roger Moore drove the submarine car in the The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). This model is 1 of 6 and the only one that was capable transforming into the submarine car. The Lotus Esprit submarine car was designed by Perry Oceanographic and was fully capable of operating underwater. Although, Sir Roger Moore was not the one to be driving it. Instead it was operated by an ex-Navy Seal for safety reasons(12).
Dorothy Ruby Slippers – $660,000
The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a film that captured the hearts and minds of many and what could be a more iconic piece of Hollywood memorabilia from the film, than Dorothy’s red ruby slippers worn by actress Judy Garland? Within the original novel by L. Frank Baum the slippers were silver, but the colour didn’t quite take to the glitter effect that could be achieved through the Technicolor advancements in film and so they were changed to red (13). $612,000 was the price paid for the pair of test slippers from the collection of Debbie Reynolds movie memorabilia collection, but the pair used in the film was recently purchased from Profiles in History, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an estimated $3m. The Academy had financial help from famous figures in the movie industry, including Leonardo Di Caprio and Steven Spielberg (14).
A Couple of Notable Mentions…
Captain Kirk’s Chair – $305,000
The original Star Trek chair which William Shatner graced with his behind on many a deep space voyage. It was picked up by a Trekkie fan who received a tip from a friend at Paramount Pictures that the Star Trek set was being scrapped and was up for grabs (15). Its current whereabouts are said to be within a bookstore within Los Angeles (16).
Delorean DMC 12 – $541,000
A car that doesn’t need roads. The Delorean DMC 12 was auctioned by its private owner with some of the money raised being distributed to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (17). Only 3 of the 7 models are said to of survived the trials of time. The time travelling vehicle that carted Marty McFly and Doc Brown back to the future was mainly used in the third film of the Back to the Future series (1985 – 1990).