In day-to-day life, shoes quite often take centre stage. Shoes worn by dancers, for example, are specifically chosen and designed for the specific type of dance, footballers invariably wear specially designed football boots, and office workers will often choose their shoes to make a statement about status. However shoes, in the context of films, are not often focused on. Usually the whole outfits of the main characters are, in aesthetic terms, what the viewer remembers of a pivotal moment in a movie. Frequently, the viewer has no idea what shoes any film character is wearing at any given time, as it’s generally of no real consequence to the action.
Every so often, however, we might come across a film that makes a pair of shoes its focal point. It’s a good idea, really; it gives a movie an interesting spin and often makes it stick in the memory. Perhaps the most famous story to put a particular emphasis on footwear is Cinderella, in which the action is centred around shoes: Cinderella’s iconic (and impractical!) glass slippers are both a symbol of her liberation and the means by which she finds her Prince Charming. Another famous example of shoes being used to their full effect in film is their appearance in The Red Shoes, a 1948 romance in which the protagonist wears a pair of (surprisingly) red ballet shoes throughout, to great visual effect.
Below, we’ve compiled 5 more of the less obvious but seriously iconic ‘shoe’ moments in the history of film…
5. Marty McFly shoes — Back to the Future Part II
Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nike Air Mag shoes were impressively futuristic in the 1989 Back to the Future Part II — hailing from 2015, according to the film. They are an integral part of the movie in that they aid in providing the means by which Marty manages to blend in with the futuristic society. Interestingly, while Hoverboards and flying cars still sadly seem quite a way away and unlikely to appear in the next year, Marty’s self-lacing Nike Air Mags may well be making an appearance by their originally projected date. Nike have in fact already previously released replicas of the shoes in 2011, but they were limited edition and, sadly, not self-lacing. Nike designer Tinker Hatfield has confirmed that the fully-functional fantastical shoes are due for production, but most of us will skeptically believe it when we see it.
4. Carrie Bradshaw shoes — Sex and the City
“Men I may not know, but shoes? Shoes I know” — so says the heroine of the lucrative Sex and the City franchise, Carrie Bradshaw. She certainly backs this claim up in action; the protagonist says she has spent tens of thousands of dollars on shoes over the course of the series and films, and has worn everything from boots to strappy high heels (with the occasional flip flop thrown into the mix). With such a wide range of shoes to choose from it’s difficult to decide which shoe could embody the franchise best, but after much deliberation it seems evident that the “something blue” pumps from the 2008 Sex and the City movie are the essential pair.
The Manolo Blahnik pumps make the film’s plot into something of a Cinderella spin-off in its focus on the shoes: Carrie originally bought the shoes to go with her wedding suit, but changed her plans when she ended up wearing an extreme, glamorous Vivienne Westwood creation. The shoes are also instrumental in the reconciliation between Carrie and her longtime on-off lover Big, after the white wedding crashes and burns and the blue shoes make a reappearance. This makes them truly magical — and with ostensibly valued at $525, they’re not too bad price-wise either. Manolo Blahnik is often cited as Carrie’s very favourite shoe designer, so it’s appropriate that this essential pair carry that label.
3. William “Will” Munny shoes — Unforgiven
The quintessential cowboy, Clint Eastwood, wore similarly quintessential cowboy boots throughout his career. The star of such classic films as Dirty Harry, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has worn a wide variety of similar types of footwear over the years, but at number three is one of his most famous pairs — those which feature in Unforgiven, which, incidentally, are also the ones worn by Eastwood in TV series Rawhide.
The boots in question are part of Eastwood’s own private collection, but were on loan for a time to the Sergio Leone exhibit at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. The designer of the footwear remains an unconfirmed and speculated entity, but what is unequivocally certain is that the boots are tan in tone and are square-toed. The pair is known — and frequently revered — worldwide, regardless of origin, for being the ultimate spaghetti Western boot.
3. Andy Dufresne shoes — The Shawshank Redemption
At number three are the shoes of a prison warden worn both poignantly and pointedly by a prisoner. Shoes are an integral part of Andy Dufresne’s character in the 1994 hit movie The Shawshank Redemption. Most notably, in his escape from imprisonment, Andy is wearing the prison warden’s shoes, which he had been shining to meticulously exacting standards. To wear these shoes during his escape symbolises an extra level of defiance in the face of authority, while they’re visually insignificant enough to get by unnoticed in front of the prison guards. The powerful and subtle statement is underscored by the wise words of the film’s sage prison veteran, Red, whose rhetorical question “how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?” functions on both a metaphorical and a literal level.
2. Vivian Ward shoes — Pretty Woman
At number two are the shoes of ultimate modern-day rags-to-riches leading lady: Julia Roberts‘ character Vivian Ward in the 1990 film Pretty Woman. The shoes in question are those which appear on the recognizable cover of the film, the formidable thigh-high black PVC boots. These are the boots worn by Vivian when she is rescued from her fairly dismal life by Richard Gere in his metaphorical shining armour, and so the boots, along with Roberts’ wild and untamed curls, stand out as the defining features of her feisty character, which proves indomitable, no matter how many staggeringly expensive necklaces she wears. The boots also proved instrumental in cementing the first meeting of Gere and Roberts’ characters in the mind of the viewer: Vivian’s hair is at the time a strange blonde bob, so the defining part of her ensemble are the boots, which she draws further attention to by tapping her feet on a bench while exchanging sharp words with Edward.
1. Dorothy Gale shoes — The Wizard of Oz
At number one are the first shoes to jump to mind when the idea of “film” + “shoes” is presented to (most) people: Judy Garland’s ruby slippers in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz. Although Frank L. Baum’s book stipulates that the magical slippers are in fact silver, they famously appear as ruby red shoes in the MGM production. This may have been because the film was one of the first major ventures in technicolour, and having red shoes at the centre of the story was both eye-catching and memorable, as well as being awe-inspiring to an audience not used to seeing on-screen items in bright colour. As was often the case for films at the time, several sets of the slippers were created, all by Gilbert Adrian, MGM Studio’s chief costume designer. The ones worn in Garland’s dance sequences had felt on the soles, in order to muffle the clattering on the yellow brick road. One pair of the ruby slippers was donated to the National Museum of American History in the year 1979, and remains one of the most asked-about exhibits in the institution. They were displayed for a time in an exhibition called 1939 in 2012, and are now housed in American Stories.