As every teenager with access to cardboard and sound effects knows props are part of what make a great movie great. Where would the world be without Indy's whip or literally everything in Mad Max: Fury Road?
But what happens when you find the perfect prop for your film, only to discover that it's been used before? Well, you go ahead and use it anyway, because who's going to notice? As it turns out, plenty of people notice, but in a way it only makes these films and shows better. And in some cases, directors will use the same prop more than once on purpose just to see how much you're paying attention.
1. The Immortal Newspaper
If you've ever seen Desperate Housewives, Scrubs, No Country for Old Men, or any one of dozens of other films and shows, chances are you've seen this newspaper. Just about anytime a script calls for a character to be reading a newspaper, this little guy shows up. It's not the same paper, obviously, but it's the same exact prop print showing the black-and-white photo of a young, smiling woman.
So what's the story? According to Slate, the prop paper was first created by the Earl Hays Press in the '60s. Whenever a production needs a realistic-looking newspaper, they order a bundle for about $15 a pop. It saves the trouble of dithering over legal rights with a real publisher. In No Country for Old Men, Tommy Lee Jones was reading it at the breakfast diner near the beginning of the film. If you freeze the scene, you can see him reading one copy while another is folded on the table in front of him.
2. Wes Craven And Sam Raimi's Poster Duel
Adding an Easter egg for eagle-eyed viewers to find is nothing new in filmmaking, and Sam Raimi's 1973 Oldsmobile is an Easter egg classic. But the sum of Raimi's madness plunges far deeper than that. In the '80s, he got into a friendly little horror feud with recently departed master of the craft, Wes Craven.
According to an interview with Esquire, it all started with a Jaws poster. While filming The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven stuck a torn-up Jaws poster in the background of a scene. When Raimi saw it, he figured that Craven had put it there as a way of saying that his film was scarier. So Raimi upped the ante – he stuck a Hills poster in Evil Dead. Craven struck back by having Evil Dead playing on a TV in A Nightmare on Elm Street, along with sticking an Evil Dead poster on Nancy's bedroom wall.
And, of course, it all ended with a stolen prop. If you squint, you can see Freddy Kreuger's glove right beside the door in the tool shed in Evil Dead II.
3. Indiana Jones' Golden Idol
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the stuff childhoods are made of, and the opening sequence in which Indy tries to steal a golden idol, is one of the most iconic moments in the entire series (those few minutes alone are better than 3/4s of Temple of Doom).
But once it was all said and done, the world had seen the last of that little statue...until 20 years later, when the same prop showed up in Jim Carrey's The Majestic. If you missed it, you're not alone. It was only on the screen for an instant during the black-and-white faux-film Sand Pirates of the Sahara. Steven Spielberg actually lent them the prop to use in the production, according to the closing credits of The Majestic.
4. The Starship Trooper Helmets
Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers used a ton of cheesy props to launch an awesomely cheesy movie wrapped around a not-so-cheesy social commentary. In as many ways as scientifically possible, the movie was fun as crap. But what happened to all those cheesy props after production ended? They went on a tour of the universe. At least, the helmets did.
The first place they showed up was in 1999's Power Rangers: The Lost Galaxy, a fact you'd be forgiven for not noticing. Two years after that, the ape army at the end of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake were sporting chic Rico headgear, and the next year, Joss Whedon snatched them up to stick on his Alliance soldiers in Firefly. They've seen more galaxies than Anakin and yet, for some reason, nearly everybody who wears them dies.
5. License Plate 2GAT123
Fun fact: The DMV sets aside certain number/letter sequences for films to use as license plates. That way, you can't Google a license plate you see in a film and come up with a real person who happens to have the same plate. It's like using "555" for phone numbers.
But even with a limited pool of plate numbers to choose from, filmmakers always seem to go back to the same one: California plate 2GAT123. It's showed up in the X-Files, Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills Cop, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Training Day, and so many more that it's impossible to list them all here.
For our next Moviepilot Magazine, it's all about fear. So we're polling our readers to find out what terrifies them. You can help by answering the question below!