In the early days of film, most of the studios and film set organizers were unaware of the goldmines they were sitting on. They never clued in that people would be interested in buying props or memorabilia from famous films, so they usually just tossed them out, repurposed them or burned them. We hear the odd story about a keen collector from the early days who was lucky enough to nab certain pieces before they were trashed or some lucky fan winning a prize in a giveaway contest.
This practice of wasting props changed in 1970 as part of a money-making/cost-saving venture by MGM. The studio planned to sell off many of the props that had been taking up valuable space and earn some money at the same time. They sold much of their goods to auction houses and private investors. Actress Debbie Reynolds, for instance, purchased $180,000 worth of memorabilia for her own collection.
Since then, many studios have continued to sell off props at auction or to collectible dealers. Sometimes this is done for charity, sometimes profit, while others simply do it to generate some buzz for the films. You would think that the dilution of the film industry would have lessened the value of props, but the market for old or iconic movie memorabilia has only increased the numbers on the price tags. As with most collectibles, the older and rarer the item, the more valuable. Over the years, we’ve seen some pieces sell for astronomical prices, but we’ve also lost contact with some of the most valuable pieces. We want to go through and identify the most valuable movie memorabilia that have gone missing at some point in time. Some have been found since, but there is still plenty out there, still missing. Maybe you will be the lucky one to find these items. Definitely not, but maybe. Here are 15 pieces of insanely valued movie memorabilia gone missing.
15. Aston Martin, $4M – Goldfinger
The Aston Martin DB5 James Bond (Sean Connery) in Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965) is one of the most expensive pieces of film memorabilia we’ve ever seen. It certainly helps that the car is a collectible on its own, but adding in the film and star value on top makes it one of a kind. Well, two of a kind. There were two cars made for the film and one was purchased in 1969 by radio executive Jerry Lee. He originally paid $12,000 for the car and he sold it at auction for $4.6 million in 2010. It’s unclear what the condition of the other car is these days because it was stolen in 1997 from an airport hangar in Boca Raton. It’s unlikely that it would fetch as high of a price as the other car because of how good condition Lee’s car was, but that DB5 would still be worth a pretty penny these days.
14. Peter Jackson Film Props, $500K – The Hobbit/LOTR
A few years ago, some of the props used in the filming of The Hobbit (also some from The Lord of the Rings) were reported missing from a New York storage facility. The missing props were said to be valued at a whopping $500,000, including two swords from The Hobbit that were about $150,000 each on their own. Police went to the record books to find out who all had access to the storage facility and identified one of them as the culprit. Eyewitnesses stated that the thief was walking around town swinging the swords about yelling, “Fly, you fools!” No, not really, but how amazing would that be if this lady really was doing that. Her name was Brenda McKay and she’s the fool.
13. The Maltese Falcon, $400K – The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon in the film, The Maltese Falcon, is an artifact that continues to be stolen throughout the ages. The film focusses on one detective trying to track down this bird statue. The prop designers for the film made two statues out of lead. The shoot carried on for a while with these two statues until the star, Humphrey Bogart, complained about the excessive 50-lb weight of the birds. Pshh. What a wuss. The prop team then made some plastic replicas. In 1994, one of the two lead statues sold at auction for just under $400,000. One of the men who bid and lost out on that item was John Konstin, the owner of John’s Grill, a century-old restaurant that houses a small museum dedicated to the author of the original Maltese Falcon book, Dashiell Hammett. The restaurant even had a scene from the film shot in it. In 1995, one of the actors from the film, Elisha Cook Jr., donated his own personal replica statue to the restaurant. It sat there for 12 years until it was stolen in 2007. It still remains missing to this day.
12. Golden Gun, $100K – The Man with the Golden Gun
In the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, the villain, Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee), had a very strange golden gun. One shot from it was all that was needed to kill any enemy. He just needed several minutes to assemble it from a cigarette case, a lighter and a pen. This gun was not ideal in a pinch. For a long time, the gun was stored at Elsetree Studios, a prop storage facility. No one knows when it first went missing because the theft wasn’t discovered until a crewmember of the film Kick-Ass was being shown around. The value of the gun is unknown, but it’s assumed to be in anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000, potentially even more now that the legendary Christopher Lee has passed.
If you see someone walking around with a ridiculous looking golden gun, try to get it from them, but remember, it only takes one golden bullet to dispatch you, so be quick.
11. Maria Robot, $10M – Metropolis
The “False Maria” robot from the silent classic by Fritz Lang, Metropolis, is the El Dorado of movie props. Said to be burned in a fire many years ago, the original robot will likely never be seen again. If it ever did show up, the value would be something amazing to behold, undoubtedly in excess of $10 million. Even an original poster from the movie sold for just under $700,000, and was rumored to be purchased by Leonardo DiCaprio. However, there are a few replicas that were commissioned to be built in the 70s. One was sold at auction for $40,000, so if you know the whereabouts of the others, you could be in for a treat!
10. Sankara Stone Prop, $50 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Adam Savage is best known for his work on MythBusters, but he is also a propmaker and an obsessive film fan. During San Diego’s Comic Con, Savage had kindly brought some of his valued film props and replicas to display at an after party being hosted at a local club. Sadly, at some point in the night, one of his treasures, a replica of the Sankara Stone from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was stolen from the display case. A flustered Savage appealed to party-goers to help track down the stone. Incredibly, it was returned safely to Savage not too long after the event. Apparently, the thieves thought it was a real jewel and not just a boring old movie prop.
9. Spider-Man Suits, $25K – Spider-Man
When Spider-Man was being filmed with Tobey Maguire in the suit, someone came into the studio lockers through the night and stole four of the Spider-Man suits that were locked up. While it didn’t necessarily hurt the production, as they had more of the suits ready to go, it appears that they still were valued quite highly. After news of the theft broke out, Columbia Pictures offered a $25,000 reward for anyone who had information that led to the “prompt and safe” return of the suits. It’s unclear what the value of these suits would be on the market today because none of them were ever found or sold. But, now that Spider-Man has been rebooted a few more times, you would have to believe that the seller has missed their window.
8. Motorcycle, $60K – Happy Days
Okay, so Happy Days was a TV show, but c’mon, we’re talking about The Fonz here. Henry Winkler, the man behind the Fonz, is likely responsible for a huge portion of the older motorcycle riding population today, making riding a bike about the coolest thing there was, next to giving the thumbs up and saying “hey” of course. Hilariously, Winkler himself could not ride a motorcycle and was terrified of them. Most of the Triumph Trophy TR5 motorcycles that were used on set were scrapped during that time, but there was one that still existed out there. It wasn’t located until the buyer, who stored it in his garage came forward. Amazingly, this guy didn’t even know it was used on Happy Days, he simply bought it because he liked it. When its famous origins were discovered, the bike was auctioned for over $60,000.
7. Wardrobe, $150K – Star Trek
In 1987, a man was arrested when he attempted to sell off some props, clothing and masks from the Star Trek TV show. Ugh, another TV show? At least they made a few movies of this one though. When police raided this nerd’s home, they found about 25 items from the popular TV show, as well as some from the Star Trek: Next Generation show. This was a huge breakthrough for police as they had been looking for the person who raided the studios over the course of a two-year period for some time. All together, there were about 75 items stolen with a value totalling about $150,000 (at the time). Since they only recovered 25 of the 75 missing items, that means, if our math is correct, there’s still about 50 items unaccounted for out there. If we assume that the value of the missing goods is split evenly amongst the lost items, that’s about $100,000 worth of Star Trek goods still out there. Start searching.
6. Captain America Bike, $1.6M – Easy Rider
When the famed “Captain America” bike from Easy Rider sold at auction a couple of years ago for $1.62 million, it became, what many consider, to be the most expensive bike in the world. But there’s a debate here about the authenticity of the bike. Many people involved with the film, Easy Rider, will tell you the same story that everyone had heard before this bike came forward. There were four bikes that were made for the film. All four were said to have been stolen before the film’s release. However, the man who rebuilt the bike, Dan Haggerty, claims that only three were stolen because one was wrecked in the final scene. This wrecked bike, he says, has been restored. After they finished filming, Haggerty scooped up the destroyed bike and rebuilt it himself. Now he’s a millionaire.
5. Handgun, $300K – Blade Runner
When Blade Runner was being filmed, there were three pistols that were used on set. One was the real deal, or, at least, more real than the other two. This one was called the hero prop and it was purchased by a private collector in 1982. This same prop was resold at auction in 2009 for just about $300,000. The other two pistols used on the set of Blade Runner were rubber replicas. They were lighter and less valuable, so they were used most often by the cast and crew. One of these replicas went missing just after shooting wrapped up. Soon after that, very accurate replicas starting showing up on the market. It appears that the stolen gun was used to create a mold, which was then used to duplicate the weapon. The original rubber M2019 PKD Detective Special Gun has never been found and the thief is still at large. Dun dun dun.
4. Vincent’s Car, $10K – Pulp Fiction
About 22 years ago, when Pulp Fiction was being made, director Quentin Tarantino cast his own 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu as the car that would drive Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) around town. The beautiful red car was made iconic in the film, but, before the shoot was even over, it was stolen. The car was missing for 19 years until it was recently discovered by police. Apparently, this car was found about 10 years after it went missing but, because the Vehicle Identification Number was tampered with, police were unable to identify who it originally belonged to. Sadly, some poor schmuck bought the car for $10,000 at auction and then put $20,000 more into it, restoring it back to its original mint condition. Not long after he did all this, police identified it as the missing car and returned it to Tarantino.
3. Anduril, Aragorn’s Sword, $400k – Lord of the Rings
Dallas Poll is a retired police officer turned prop maker. He had the pleasure of building props on the set of The Lord of the Rings and even got to act as Viggo Mortensen‘s double in some shots. For his work, Poll was given a replica of Anduril, Aragorn’s sword in the films. On May 4, 2012, Poll’s home was robbed and many of his collectibles were stolen, including the sword. “We have been well and truly done over,” Poll told reporters. “They seemed to know what they were looking for.” While the value of the sword isn’t exactly known, the actual sword that Mortenson wielded in the film was auctioned off for over $400,000, so it’s safe to say that the replica sword is also very valuable.
2. Loch Ness Monster, Value Unknown – The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Early in 2016, a team of scientists took out a robotic submarine to scour the depths of the Scotland’s Loch Ness. What they found was amazing. It was Nessie, the legendary monster of those fabled waters discovered finally found. Unfortunately, it was only a fake. In 1969, the team behind the film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, starring Christopher Lee, needed to create a massive Loch Ness monster prop for the film. The shot was meant to be short, but the monster needed to be large and lifelike. The prop designers built it and showed it to the director. He hated it. It had humps and that was something that needed to be eliminated immediately. The prop designers suggested that, without the humps, the monster would not float. Still, the director remained less than enthusiastic about them, so they gave in and shaved them off. On the day of shooting, the monster went in the water, they got their shot, but the thing sank shortly after.
Nessie’s monetary value might not be all that rewarding, but finding her is worth all the money in the world in our hearts.
1. Ruby Slippers, $1M – The Wizard of Oz
When the MGM studio sale went down in 1970, some of the most sought after items were the three of the original four pairs of ruby slippers that were available from The Wizard of Oz. These items have remained one of the most iconic props in cinematic history since the film was released in 1939. Today, we still know where three of those original four are. One is at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. This pair was anonymously donated to the museum back in 1979. Another pair was awarded as a prize in a radio contest in 1939. This pair has remained in a private collection for many years, even changing hands a couple of times since the 80s. Today the pair is owned by David Elkouby, an investor who has plans to open a memorabilia museum in Hollywood. He paid $666,000 for the shoes in 2000. The third pair was sought out and purchased by a group of investors led by Leonardo DiCaprio in 2012. This pair is the cream of the crop, the shoes considered the most valuable by far. DiCaprio and his team (including Steven Spielberg) donated the slippers to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for their new exhibit.
The reported value of those ruby slippers was around $3 million. The fourth pair was stolen in 2005 from The Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota. They have not been found and, in 2015, a $1 million reward was offered to anyone who has information of their whereabouts.