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Last Updated on April 9, 2023 by Chris Panteli
How cool would it be to own Aragorn’s sword from The Lord of the Rings or James Bond’s Astin Martin from Goldfinger?
With enough money and some savvy auction skills, it’s totally possible to own pieces of movie history and even flip them for a hefty profit.
As the value of movie props is going up, we’ve created a full guide on how to invest in movie memorabilia to help you figure out if it’s the right investment for you.
- What are Movie Props?
- The Market for Movie Props
- What Happens to Movie Props After Filming?
- Why Collect Movie Props?
- Tips For People Who Want To Collect Movie Props
- Finding Authentic Movie Props
- Best Famous Props from Movies to Invest In
- How to Invest in Movie Props
- Some of the Most Famous Movie Props on the Market
What are Movie Props?
A prop (short for property) is a set piece or moveable item used in a film. A prop can be anything from a tophat to an aircraft and can be handled by actors or just used in the background.
Prop masters are the professionals who make, store, and transport props to set and look after the props during a shoot.
Most well-known props have to be specially made for a film. Whether it’s Darth Vader’s lightsaber or Patrick Bateman’s business card, some props are incredibly famous and highly sought-after pieces of movie memorabilia.
The Market for Movie Props
Movie props have exploded in popularity over recent years. Compared to just a decade ago, old movie props have tripled in value, and the market has increased to around $330 million.
Of course, not all movie props are equal, and some are much more in demand than others. For instance, Olivia Newton John’s famous leather outfit from the musical Grease sold for around $400,000 at auction in 2019.
Back in 1992, a Tie Fighter Pilot helmet from Star Wars sold for £3,000. But it went to auction again in 2017 and sold for £216,000 – a 7000% increase in price.
Investment in collectibles has become incredibly popular, and if you can get your hands on a sought-after movie prop, you are almost guaranteed to make money re-selling it.
What Happens to Movie Props After Filming?
Sets are usually demolished after films end to make way for new sets. In some cases, they’re recycled or repurposed, but many are literally burned to the ground. MGM torched the set from the 1930s King Kong and used the footage to create the burning of Atlanta. Once it was gone, the set was used as the plantation set in Gone With the Wind.
Many of the iconic film sets are stored in the film studio’s back lot, while others are bought by collectors, actors, or prop houses. But even more are simply abandoned.
Not only does this type of destruction create masses of waste (around 225 tons of scrap metal a year and 50 tons of unrecyclable debris), but it also means that most props are destroyed.
In some cases, actors take their favorite props home. Chris Hemsworth famously admitted to stealing five Mjölnirs (Thor’s Hammer) from the set when he finished filming.
However, more often than not, actors aren’t allowed to keep their props, and they’re either stored by the studio or destroyed.
It’s a real shame, but it’s also why props are rare and why some are worth so much money. They simply don’t come on the market very often, and they’re incredibly hard to get your hands on.
Why Collect Movie Props?
Most people collect movie props to own a piece of history. Just like some people collect baseball cards because they have a love of baseball, some people collect movie props because they have a love of movies.
But there are some other reasons why more and more people are being drawn into the world of movie memorabilia collecting.
- Props are becoming rarer – with the increased use of CGI, studios are using fewer and fewer real props on set. This significantly bumps up the resale value, and collectors know this.
- It’s easy to get expert advice – years ago, you’d have to scour antique stores for props and gamble on whether they were real. With the power of the internet, you have experts and authenticators at your fingertips.
- 4K makes it easier to screen-match props – old VHS tapes made it incredibly hard to see props in all their glory. Now, it’s easy to see the prop you own on the screen, and it’s a great feeling.
- There are more high-profile auctions – More and more celebrity auctions are cropping up, which makes it much easier to buy an authentic piece of memorabilia.
- More specialized prop displays – no matter what prop you buy, there is now a specialized display case to preserve it in, and they look awesome.
- Far more conventions – movie conventions are everywhere, so you can show off your latest collectibles to other movie buffs.
Tips For People Who Want To Collect Movie Props
If you want to start collecting movie props as an investment, here are some tips to get started on the right foot.
- Buy as soon as a movie wraps up
When a movie stops filming, the market is temporarily flooded with movie memorabilia from the set. You’ll get a bigger selection and much lower prices since there will be multiples of most pieces.
Once the market starts to dry up months or sometimes years later, the value of your item will go up, and you’ll be able to re-sell for a decent profit.
- Know the Hero prop
Every movie has a Hero prop – that’s the most iconic piece the movie is known for. For example, in Blade Runner, the Hero prop is Harrison Ford’s decked-out firearm. Most believe that only one was ever made, and it sold for $270,000 at auction.
It’s much harder getting your hands on a Hero prop, and you’ll have to invest more, but these are the easiest to re-sell since they’re highly sought-after and most recognized.
- Know Your Replicas
Since movie memorabilia is such big business, there is also a huge replica market. Most replica sellers aren’t scammers; they just make movie props accessible to a wider audience. Some are even often by the studios who own the rights to the movies.
However, if you’re looking for authentic movie props to add to a collection, you must be mindful of replicas. Some are incredibly similar to the real thing and are priced high. You’ll also run into scammers who claim they’re selling the real thing.
If the price seems too good to be true, it’s almost definitely a replica. Also, look for certificates of authenticity from reputable sources if you’re unsure.
- Screen Used and Matched
Most movie sets have multiple props made, especially in large-budget sci-fi and fantasy movies. Screen-used or matched props are the most sought-after since they’re the ones actually seen on the big screen.
However, there is also a large market for props created for films that never made it to the screen. These are much more affordable but still pieces of the film’s history.
- Is It Easy to Display and Care For?
The easier a prop is to display and care for, the larger the market will be when it comes time to sell. For instance, a snitch from Harry Potter will look great in a display case and takes up hardly any space, so you’ll have hundreds (if not thousands) of people interested.
A Dalorian is a fantastic piece of movie history, but there aren’t many people who can store and care for it easily, so you’ll find it much harder to sell.
Finding Authentic Movie Props
The best way to get your hands on authentic movie props is to look out for auctions after movies wrap up filming. These are usually online with reputable auction houses and will give you the best chance of grabbing a great deal on a screen-used prop.
If you’re looking for a specific movie prop from a film that’s been around for a while, it’s best to stick to reputable movie prop companies and auction houses. You’ll find tons of props being resold on eBay, Craigslist, and other online platforms, but it’s hard to authenticate those pieces.
A few of the top online platforms for buying and selling movie props are:
There are dozens of auction houses and even more movie prop stores online, so make sure to do your own due diligence and figure out if they’re a reputable seller before investing in anything.
Best Famous Props from Movies to Invest In
If you want to start investing but you’re not sure what to add to your collection first, here are some ideas.
Most collections have a theme that ties them together, whether that’s the type of prop, a specific movie, or a movie genre.
It’s hard to go wrong investing in any of the legendary franchises. These are consistently popular, and the market for props is almost always hot.
Star Wars is one of the most popular franchises when it comes to movie memorabilia. In 2017, Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber sold for $450,000 at auction. More recently, in 2022, Harrison Ford’s blaster sold for over $1 million.
If you don’t have hundreds of thousands to invest, there are hundreds of props from the star wars franchise on the market to get started with, along with autographs from the cast.
Some collectors also like to focus on iconic costumes as a collecting niche. There are many iconic costumes throughout film history that have made waves at auction.
One of the most famous was Marylin Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch. At a heated auction in 2011, it sold for an impressive $5.6 million, smashing its estimated value of $2 million.
In 2015, Judy Garland’s famous blue dress from the Wizard of Oz came to the open market and sold for $1.6 million. Her iconic ruby slippers also managed to fetch $666,000 back in 2000.
Some costumes are far more iconic than others, but it’s incredibly hard to find screen-worn costumes for sale, so these can be a smart investment.
If you’ve got some serious cash to invest, vehicles hold their value well. A lucky couple in Long Island stumbled across the Lotus Submarine from James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me in an abandoned storage locker and sold it at auction in 2013 for $989,000.
Likewise, the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang hit the auction circuit and sold for $805,000. Although, it was estimated to bring in between $1 million and $2 million.
Remember, vehicles are hard to store and difficult to care for, so the market is much smaller. However, if you can get your hands on an original vehicle from a famous movie set, it’s a great investment.
Unique pieces of movie history
There are some investors who invest more broadly when it comes to movie props and, instead, go for any kind of iconic piece from any movie.
When you think of Willy Wonka, you can’t help but think of the gold tickets. There are a few in circulation, some selling for as much as $47,500.
When it comes to Harry Potter, the wands are key in movie memorabilia circles. The Elderwand sold for around $10,000 back in 2013, but interest in the franchise has begun to soar again in more recent years with the release of Hogwarts Legacy.
If you have no idea what to start investing in, look out for some iconic pieces from any movie, and you’ll start figuring out your specific interests as you go.
How to Invest in Movie Props
Now you know what sort of stuff to look for, you’ll need to know how to invest in movie props.
Most people won’t be able to get their hands on the Hero prop and don’t have hundreds of thousands to invest in a car from James Bond, so how do you get started with a limited budget?
To turn a quick profit, look for pieces with a broad appeal. Niche films do sometimes have a cult following, but it’s still hard to find buyers for niche movie props, so making a profit takes more time.
Look for props from films with huge audiences, extreme amounts of merchandise, and continual installments. A few common ones are The Avengers, Harry Potter, and Disney.
With such mass appeal, you don’t need to invest thousands to turn a profit. Even smaller, more affordable props can be easy to flip for a decent profit since the audience is so huge.
If you’re looking to create a movie prop collection as a long-term investment, think more about personal value. If you have a favorite movie or franchise, you’ll have a lot more fun hunting for props from those sets.
If you have niche interests, these long-term investments can pay off. You’ll have more time to find buyers and you might just end up with a piece that sky-rockets in popularity in the future.
When you do come across a movie prop you’re interested in, do some online research before you make a purchase. Are there already props like it on the market? Are they selling, and for what price?
Don’t get pulled in by the sale price of similar pieces on sites like eBay; you need to look at sold prices to see if there is a real market for the prop.
How will you store the items you plan to buy? If you’re limited on space or don’t have much to invest, go for smaller props that take up less space. A golf ball from Happy Gilmore can be safely stored in a protective bag, but a Dalek from Doctor Who is going to take up a lot of room.
Remember, the condition is everything to movie prop collectors. If a prop isn’t in great condition, the price is severely reduced. Everything you buy needs to be stored safely and protected from damage.
Every moveable item from a set is considered a movie prop, from Iron Man’s suit down to the pen sitting on his desk.
Of course, some props will fetch a much higher price than others. Start out with more affordable background props that will be sold for a lower price point. As long as it’s from a popular movie, you’ll still be able to flip it for a profit.
Once you have some experience and capital, you can begin working your way up to more expensive props with higher resale value.
Verify the prop’s legitimacy
Reputable movie prop sellers will have records showing the prop’s legitimacy. This will usually be a certificate of authentication or a record of the chain of ownership.
Fake movie props look incredibly real, so you need to do some research before making an investment in a fake piece.
Most props will have a stamp of the studio that shows they came from a specific set. If you’ve found a well-known prop, this can be something to look out for. Of course, not all props will be stamped, and it doesn’t mean it’s a fake.
If you’re feeling unsure about the legitimacy of a prop, it’s best to walk away. Legitimate props will have a lot of paperwork to back them up, so you’ll be confident in your purchase.
Some of the Most Famous Movie Props on the Market
Sometimes, famous movie props come on the market and send the collectible world into a frenzy. Here are some of the most famous movie props that are circulating.
- The Snitch from Harry Potter: In 2012, one lucky bidder got their hands on a golden snitch from the Sorcerer’s Stone for $7000.
- Paul Allen’s card from American Psycho: For horror movie collectors, Allen’s business card is iconic, estimated to be worth between $6,000 and $8,000.
- The hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II: This sold at auction in 2021 for just over $501,000.
- Wilson from Cast Away: The volleyball prop from the 2000 film sold at auction a few years ago for $83,000.
- The board game from Jumanji: if you want to try your luck at a game of Jumanji, the board game is worth around $10,000.
- The Zoltar machine from Big: The full-size coin-operated fortune-telling machine sold at auction in 2017 for around $8,500.
- Joker’s suit from Batman: Jack Nicholson’s purple Joker suit from Tim Burton’s Batman sold for $125,000 in 2022 at Heritage Auctions.
- The axe from The Shining: This cult classic is famed among horror movie buffs. One lucky auction winner bagged the axe for $175,000 after a bidding war between twelve buyers.
- The lightsaber from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): in 2018, Luke’s lightsaber brought in over $150,000, alongside other props from the movie.
- Darth Vader’s helmet from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: This iconic helmet ended up selling for over $1 million at an auction in 2019, a massive increase from its original $250,000 estimate.
It’s safe to say that movie props are a safe investment opportunity if you can find the right pieces to invest in.
Start by figuring out a theme for your investments. Collections with a clear theme sell well, and auction houses are usually keen to take them on. This could mean a great return if you’re in this for the long term.
And don’t forget to have fun with it! When you buy props, you’re buying little pieces of movie history, so start with props you have a real passion for to enjoy the process.
Movies not your thing? You could make money with these ideas instead: