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Iconic movie props that have been lost forever

Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, the golden ticket from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and Indiana Jones' bullwhip: What do these objects have in common? They're some of the most iconic movie props around. Props are essential to a movie's success, whether it's a sci-fi story or a romantic comedy. When a film wraps, these all-important objects meet many different fates. Some get sent to a warehouse or to other movie sets. Others are given over to the public through donation to museums or auctions. Some are simply thrown in the trash.

Filmmakers don't always choose what happens to props. Actors have been known to take home props from some of their favorite roles – sometimes without permission. Outright thievery happens too: Dorothy's ruby slippers, stolen from a Minnesota museum in 2005, were only recently recovered by the FBI more than a decade later. Most mysteriously of all, some props simply disappear without explanation, lost in the shuffle of Hollywood life. These are the movie props that vanished for good — though they'll never vanish from our hearts.

Where's my super suit?

10 years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe took flight in 2008's Iron Man, someone took off with the titular hero's red-and-gold costume. The Los Angeles Police Department announced in May 2018 that one of the original Iron Man costumes had vanished from a prop storage warehouse in Pacoima, sometime between February and April of that year. Police valued the suit at $325,000. No word arrived on what the suit weighed: At the time, Marvel referred questions to Disney, but the Mouse House was not forthcoming. Thus, we are left to wonder exactly how much weight the culprits had to shoulder in making off with one of the most iconic superhero costumes of all time.

 In the film, Tony crafts the suit from a gold-titanium alloy, painting it with "a little hot rod red." Behind-the-scenes footage shows the suit was made from a mix of materials, which enabled the wearer to move easily. Perhaps the thieves wore the suit out? Funnily enough, stealing superhero tech is a plot point in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which debuted the year before the theft. If we only the LAPD could put Peter Parker on the case.

The stuff that heists are made of

In the 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon, private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) becomes entangled with a flock of fortune-hunters seeking a priceless statuette of a bird. Said to be forged from gold and "encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels," the titular Maltese Falcon stirs up envy that drives at least one character to kill. Eventually, Spade discovers it's all for naught: The bird sculpture is actually made of lead, or as Spade quips, "The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of." 

Life imitated art when, in 2007, someone snatched a signed reproduction of the prop from San Francisco's historic John's Grill, along with vintage and signed books by and about Dashiell Hammett, author of the book the film is based on. Hammett, a frequent customer, put the eatery on the map by having his sleuth eat there – Spade likes lamp chops, a baked potato, and sliced tomatoes. Actor Elisha Cook Jr., a San Francisco native who appeared in The Maltese Falcon (as well as The Big Sleep) had presented the replica to the restaurant. Grill owner John Konstin initially offered a $25,000 reward for the bird's return, then enlisted students from the local Academy of Art to craft a replacement. That bird perches in a case on the restaurant's second floor — and reportedly weighs about 150 pounds, three times heavier than the plaster one that flew the coop.

Mooooved where?

Fans of Brad Pitt's 2013 globe-trotting zombie movie World War Z might be surprised to learn that filmmakers used a field outside an oil refinery in Scotland for scenes depicting war-ravaged Philadelphia. What happened while filming there is even more surprising — and more reminiscent of a comedy than a horror flick. While a security guard was on duty, thieves spirited away two fiberglass cows that the production had placed on the set, apparently to avoid working with actual livestock. The cows had baffled local residents from the start, as one told the Mirror: "These cows don't really look much like real animals, so we have been wondering how they might be used." Although bulky, the life-size replicas certainly could travel light, the resident added: "They look like concrete, but they're made out of fiberglass and are not as heavy as they look." News reports at the time show no one managed to rustle up any leads.

Chopped choppers?

In the 1969 counterculture classic Easy Rider, two bikers (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) smuggle cocaine across the Mexican border, sell dope to "the establishment," and hide money in the gas tanks of their custom-made choppers on their way to Florida. Builders actually hand-crafted four bikes used in the film, including the "Captain America" one with stars and stripes that Fonda's character rides. Easy Rider "did more to popularize choppers around the world than any other film or any other motorcycle," according to author Paul d'Orleans

But prior to the film's release, three of the bikes roared away from a storage garage. The thieves left behind the Captain America bike, which was partially destroyed in the film's finale and ultimately sold at auction in 2014 for $1.35 million. Some speculate that the thieves likely stripped the stolen bikes and sold them for parts, as they had no inkling of how popular the film would become. Perhaps pieces of these rides are still heading down the highway somewhere, untamed by Hollywood hands.

Not Goldfinger, but sticky fingers

In the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore's 007 faces off against high-priced assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), known for using a golden gun that fires a single golden bullet. Scaramanga is a cool customer who can assemble his gun from several pieces, including a lighter, a cigarette case, and a fountain pen — a deadly combo that nevertheless fails to kill off the super-spy. 

The production actually made three prop guns for the film: One that could fire a blank round, one that was whole, and one that came apart. In October 2008, Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, home of many a Bond film, reported one of the three golden prop guns missing, placing its worth at about $136,000. Although news reports at the time joked that Bond's nemesis SPECTRE might be behind this, Moore's agent cheekily suggested that authorities check out whether Lee had it back at his house.

A retired replica for retiring replicants

Speaking of firearms, the blaster that Harrison Ford's futuristic cop Rick Deckard wields in 1982's Blade Runner is like Excalibur for science-fiction fans. Special effects designer Adam Savage (MythBusters, Tested) is a great example of the prop's renown — he's amassed a collection of replicas over the years, and he's definitely not the only one. During filming, the production used only one firing weapon for Deckard to "retire" replicants, or artificial people. Artists created the unique weapon with custom amber grips and dual triggers by joining a Steyr-Mannlicher Model .222 SL receiver with a Charter Arms .44 police bulldog double-action revolver, according to entertainment auctioneer Profiles in History, which sold the distinctive handgun for $270,000 in 2012. But one gun wouldn't suffice for the whole shoot. The filmmakers also had two rubber copies made to knock around during stunt scenes ... one of which vanished during the production. Some wonder if whoever took it had a hand in the plastic replicas that popped up for sale on the collectors' market soon after the film's release. 

The Maschinenmensch that went missing

In director Fritz Lang's landmark 1927 film Metropolis, an inventor kidnaps a young worker named Maria and transforms her into the Maschinenmensch, a cyborg with an elegant Art Deco look that remains instantly recognizable today. The robot's designer, Walter Schulze-Mittendorff, didn't bother crafting an initial figurine but instead sculpted directly on the plaster cast of actress Brigitte Helm. His work in this film has inspired artists as diverse as Madonna, Motorhead, and Janelle Monae. Replicas of Mittendorff's design remain popular among collectors, including one that sci-fi literary agent Forrest J. "Forry" Ackerman, who represented authors Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, kept at his Los Feliz home, decked out in tinsel, beads, and bows. After Ackerman's death, that model sold at auction for $48,000 in 2009 (presumably without the accessories). What happened to the original Maschinenmensch model is something of a mystery, however. It may have been ruined during production, but is also rumored to have been destroyed in a Berlin museum fire.

The Goonies treasure map in the trash?

Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings) has one of the more amusing stories behind a missing prop. Astin made his feature film debut in the 1985 family comedy The Goonies, and he admits that the yellowed map to pirate One-Eyed Willie's treasure was something that he couldn't resist taking as a souvenir. "I don't believe we were formally gifted these items. But I remember being in possession of it," Astin told an audience in Worcester, Massachusetts, on the occasion of the film's 30th anniversary in 2015. Astin, whose mother was the late Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker), moved out of his mom's home a few years later to film Memphis Belle in London. Upon his return, he discovered that his mom had sold the house, and now presumes that she tossed out the map along with other items he'd stored over the years. "I think my mom threw it out. Although I may owe her an apology," he said. "Maybe one of my friends took it from my room. Who knows."

One heck of a way to take home an Oscar

These aren't a movie prop, but they're the official Academy Award of Merit, so we figure it counts. In March 2000, workers at a loading dock in a Los Angeles suburb reported that 55 Oscar statuettes weighing about 8.5 pounds each were missing. With the 72nd Academy Awards ceremony just weeks away, R.S. Owens, the statuettes' manufacturer since 1982, raced to produce a new batch of little gold men. However, within days of the theft, junk scavenger Willie Fulgear found 52 of the missing Oscars in a dumpster, netting a $50,000 reward from the company responsible for transporting the statuettes and two seats to the ceremony. 

Years later, R.S. Owens employee Joseph Petree said that the Academy always keeps a solid inventory of statuettes, so there was no real risk of running short because of the theft after all. However, the ones that Fulgear recovered were destroyed. "They were never going to hand out a stolen statue," Petree said. Authorities eventually caught the thieves and later recovered another statuette in 2003 during a Florida drug bust. Two of the statuettes are still drifting around somewhere. Credit them with Best Disappearing Act.