There’s an old song called Hooray for Holiday, back from the early-to-mid 20th Century which captured the excitement and fun of the first day of filmmaking from the West Coast. It may seem like we’ve done it forever because they’re so good, but we’ve only been making movies for around 100 years. It truly is astonishing when you think that they were five-minute, silent, grainy black and white movies back in those days just how far we’ve actually come.
There are many who are still in love with old Hollywood and that’s evident with cable channels like Turner Classic Movies which run film that are over 50 years old 24 hours per day. For some, they are reminders of a more simpler time while others are simply entertained by the kind of character-driven vs. special effect-driven movies that are rarely made these days. Whatever the reason, people’s love of older Hollywood films has never waned.
We’re all familiar with the most famous old films. The Sound of Music, Citizen Kane, Dr. Zhivago, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind are just a few of the titles that have stood the test of time. But while the films may stand the test of time, the props always don’t and that’s why they can fetch a pretty hefty sum.
With this list, we’re not looking at filmmaking equipment – even though one of the cameras from the original Star Wars fetched a pretty price at one auction – nor are we looking at awards or items owned by stars that didn’t appear in movies. For an item to qualify for this list, it has to have been seen or used in a film, no exceptions. So grab your popcorn, put your phone on vibrate, sit back and enjoy the Top 15 Crazy Expensive Pieces of Movie Memorabilia
15. Ruby Slippers of The Wizard of Oz – $660,000
There may be no place like home and if you happened to own one of the four surviving pairs of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, you could afford to buy your family a very nice home. They’re easily one of the most iconic items from an even more iconic movie. We won’t give away any spoilers, but Judy Garland’s sparkly red shoes are only the fourth most expensive item from the movie, but we’ll get to the others in a little bit. It’s been 16 years since this famous footwear went up for auction and some estimate if one went up for auction today, it would fetch well over $1 million. Realistically, there are only ever going to be three pairs that could see another sale as one set of slippers have a home at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and they’re not in the business of selling the stuff they have.
14. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car – $800,000
One of the larger auction houses to feature a lot of movie memorabilia is Profiles in History and they landed a great item when they were tasked to find a new owner for the only fully functional version of the car from the famous Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews movie. Unfortunately for them, they thought the car was worth more than it was. Six were made for the film, but even the best model couldn’t fetch the $950,000 originally hoped for, despite it being from a classic Disney film. The car finally found a buyer at $800,000, but like most items on the list, good luck figuring out who bought it. Most of the buyers of these kinds of items prefer to remain anonymous. Apparently, nobody wants you showing up at their house asking if you can take their magical flying car for a ride.
13. Cowardly Lion costume No. 1 – $826,000
Here’s the second of our The Wizard of Oz entries and it shows what a big deal that film was since both Cowardly Lion costumes are on this list of crazy expensive memorabilia. Bert Lahr played the sad-sack lion without a lick of courage in the MGM classic from the 1930s. This costume was sold 10 years ago, in 2006, by a sculptor by the name of Bill Mack. There is some dispute about if both of the remaining costumes were actually used in the film and in the case of Costume No. 1, there are those who think it was only used for still photography. Most people don’t realize it, but the Cowardly Lion costume was actually made of lion pelts, something that would not only be illegal today but would like get animal rights activists boycotting the movie. Can you imagine The Wizard of Oz being boycotted? We can’t either.
12. Sub-Car from The Spy Who Loved Me – $860,000
Between a lion’s costume and paying about forty grand more for an underwater car, we’d try to find the extra scratch. The submarine car, one of the most complex vehicles designed for the James Bond franchise, was seen in the hit The Spy Who Loved Me from 1977. Roger Moore was playing Bond at the time. The car was an early “transformer,” equipping itself for underwater travel before making the journey. While six models were made for the filming of Spy, this was the only one in the lot that truly was a submarine car. For those who wondered, it was a Lotus Esprit and like any stunt, the star wasn’t involved. Roger Moore was stuck standing on the shore watching an ex-Navy seal take the one-of-a-kind vehicle for a spin in the water. Technically a submarine when it is submerged, the vehicle was designed by Perry Oceanographic and like just about every other entry, we have no idea who owns it now.
11. Black Dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – $923,187
This was one of two little black dress styles from Breakfast at Tiffany’s that made every young lady in America suddenly want to dress as elegantly as the character of Holly Golightly, portrayed by Audrey Hepburn. If you’ve ever seen a poster, DVD cover, or any other representation of the film, odds are this is the dress you’re looking at. Hubert de Givenchy, who originally designed the dress for the 1961 movie held onto it for 45 years before allowing Christie’s to sell the garment with proceeds going to a charity that constructed schools in Calcutta. Get this though…this wasn’t the actual dress. The one seen on screen was made by Edith Head, using Givenchy designs. He had made a slit that went very high up the thigh and movie producers got nervous and ordered the change. This dress was also worn by Natalie Portman on the cover of a magazine the same year it was sold.
10. Elvis’ car from the movie Spinout – $1.2 million
By this point you’re probably recognizing a trend. The most popular movie memorabilia items are clothing and cars because they are what we remember about a movie. They are also usually one-of-a-kind or nearly one-of-a-kind items. It helps when they’re old, too. It’s hard enough to find a 1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton in the regular world but to find one driven by Elvis in a movie? Jackpot! In fact, Elvis only has a little to do with the pricetag. If you were looking to buy a Duesenberg in 1929, you were dropping $20,000. That doesn’t seem like much until you consider the average family car cost $500 back in those days. Thankfully inflation didn’t hit the family car the way it hit the Duesenberg auctioned off in 2011. The car was never owned by the studio that made Spinout. They rented it from its owner at the time. Urban legend has Presley banging up the muffler before returning it to its owner.
9. Marilyn Monroe’s dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – $1.2 million
Marilyn Monroe was an icon like few others have been. Being beautiful, famous and dying young has a way of ensuring that. Could you imagine an 80-year-old Monroe playing the old lady from Titanic? Neither can we. One of the most expensive dresses in movie memorabilia history was auctioned off in 2011 as part of an amazing collection from actress Debbie Reynolds. Even younger people who may not have seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will remember the scene in question if they ever saw Madonna’s Material Girl video. The singer was getting a lot of comparisons to Monroe in the mid-1980s, so Madonna did a shot-for-shot remake wearing a replica pink dress with long gloves with tuxedoed men on a staircase. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released in 1953, which meant a woman flaunting her beauty and showing as much skin as Monroe did was cause for concern among the morality police. Thankfully, 60 years later, they haven’t won yet.
8. Steve McQueen’s car from Le Mans – $1.25 million
There are those actors, actresses, musicians and artists who are only famous for a short amount of time before their life is taken. James Dean, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain are three such icons, but for guys of a certain impressionable age in the early 1970s, the coolness discussion began and ended with Steve McQueen. He was Robert Redford, John Wayne and Stone Cold Steve Austin wrapped into one package. Who wouldn’t want to be that guy. His memorabilia is among the most sought after and the slate gray 1970 Porsche 911S driven by McQueen in the racing movie Le Mans tops the list. This kind of Porsche was the gold standard of its day and will cost plenty today whether McQueen’s name is attached or not. The car, which features a 2.2 liter engine capable of 123 horsepower, can reach speeds of 124 miles-per-hour, was seen in several opening scenes of Le Mans.
7. Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz Dress – $1.56 million
Here’s the third of four Wizard of Oz entries in our list. If we were one of the costume or prop designers, we would have been scooping things up left and right to make sure future generations of family members were filthy rich. This is the classic blue dress worn throughout the film. As an investment, it’s better than the stock market. In 2011, the dress was sold as part of the Debbie Reynolds’ massive memorabilia auction. The purchaser only had to wait four years to turn a tidy $660,000 profit on the dress. This is one of three dresses on the list that exists today because of Debbie Reynolds. After the collapse of the studio system for controlling talent, studios started selling off memorabilia to stay solvent. Reynolds didn’t want to see some of the most iconic pieces of clothing disappear so she spent thousands to save these dresses.
6. The Piano from Casablanca – $2.9 million
When Humphrey Bogart is in a moment of self reflection during the 1943 movie Casablanca, he looks over to a guy named Sam at a piano and utters the famous line “Play it again, Sam.” Maybe Sam wouldn’t have touched the piano if he knew it would be the most valuable musical instrument memorabilia in the history of Hollywood. Rotten Tomatoes gives the move 97 percent, so if you haven’t seen it, you’re almost guaranteed to love it. The plot is fairly simple: Bogart, playing Rick Blaine owns a nightclub in Casablanca (that’s in Morocco) and he bumps into an old girlfriend, Ilsa, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman. Ilsa is in town with her husband, Victor Laszlo, who is a famed rebel and they must escape. Ilsa asks Rick to help her flee. We’ll stop there so as not to spoil things.
5. Cowardly Lion costume No. 2 – $3.07 million
In the lore of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, this is the holy grail. As the legend goes, this is the costume Bert Lahr wore most of the time the Metro Goldwyn Mayer classic was being filmed. As mentioned previously, at the end of the studio system (where an actor was bound to a studio and had to make the films the studio told them they had to make) it was clear not every studio would survive, so many, including MGM started selling things off. One of the items that didn’t sell was this Cowardly Lion costume. In fact, it was rescued from a dumpster following that studio’s auction. That’s like finding $3 million in a bag sitting in a trash can. James Comisar, a well-known memorabilia collector sold the costume in November 2014 at a New York auction run by Bonhams. We’re hoping whoever bought it isn’t running around the house playing The Wizard of Oz. But then again, what do you do with an 80-year-old costume made from real lions?
4. Dress and hat from My Fair Lady – $3.7 million
Audrey Hepburn, a fashion icon of the 1960s, makes a return to the list with the ascot dress and hat she wore in the 1964 movie My Fair Lady. This was another save from the Debbie Reynolds’ collection which sold at the 2011 mega auction for $3.7 million. The dress, an Edwardian-style white lace model featuring black bow detail was designed by famed costume designer Cecil Beaton. Beaton also served as not only the costumer designer but also as the art director for My Fair Lady. He captured Academy Awards in both categories. We don’t know what he made for a salary on the movie, but we bet if he knew what was going to happen with this iconic look, he might have asked to just hold onto the dress and let the studio keep its money. For $3.7 million, we probably would let them keep our Academy Awards as well.
3. The statuette from The Maltese Falcon – $4.1 million
When you’re going to spend a crazy amount of money on a piece of movie memorabilia, you might as well buy the prop the movie is named after. It was the most expensive non-automobile, non-clothing piece of movie memorabilia ever sold when it went at auction for $4.1 million in 2013. There were several falcon statuettes made, two were lead and weighed 47 pounds each. There were others made of plaster of about five pounds so the actors and movie makers could carry the piece around easily. This falcon was one of the lead models and is believed to be the only one used in the film while the other sat in safe keeping in case it was needed. While the lead models are clearly valuable, the plaster/resin replicas fetch a pretty penny as well. In 1994, Ronald Winston, president of jewelry company Harry Winston, Inc., purchase the five-pound model for $398,500, putting it around the 40th most expensive piece of movie memorabilia.
2. Aston Martin car from both Goldfinger and Thunderball – $4.1 million
So which would you rather have: A giant lead bird statute or the most iconic car ever put on film? Yeah, we pick the car driven by Sean Connery, too. Despite being in two films, this Aston Martin DB5 was in near perfect condition when RM Auctions sold it for $4.1 million in 2010. It still had many of the little gadgets that have made Bond cars so famous like the front wing machine guns (obviously not real), the front and rear rams and the ejector seat button. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work. The car was originally purchased by Philadelphia-area radio station owner Jerry Lee direct from the Aston Martin factory in Britain for $12,000 in 1969. We’d say it was a wise investment. For those who wonder about a Bond car sale in 2006 where one of the vehicles went for $2.1 million, it is disqualified from this list because it is a replica that never saw a second of screen time.
1. Marilyn Monroe’s dress from The Seven Year Itch – $4.6 million
And finally, we’ve got the most crazy expensive piece of movie memorabilia history and we’ve got to say we can’t disagree since it’s perhaps the most well-known, iconic dress ever worn on the silver screen. For those who haven’t seen The Seven Year Itch, you still know the dress. It’s from the scene where she’s walking down the sidewalk when all of a sudden a gust of wind from the subway bursts out of a grate she happens to be walking over and boom, the dress files up and we have one of the most classic movie moments. Snickers has been running a parody for a couple of years and we doubt it will be the last tribute. A final word about Debbie Reynolds, who rescued this dress as well as many on the list. If not for her, so much of Hollywood would have been lost. She rescued over 3,500 items and some are just as iconic as ones on this list (Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra headdress) that just didn’t sell for as much. She’ll be mainly remembered for her movies, but she should be remembered as the woman who saved old Hollywood.
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