How movies turn ordinary objects into something magical

Written by Simone | 7th February 2020 | Updated 13 January 2023

Movie magic has the ability to transform everything it touches. Everyday objects are used as movie props and turn into prominent collector’s items, especially if it manages to nab an Oscar. With the help of Expert in Movie, TV & Animation Luud Smits, here are some of our favourite examples of pedestrian movie props that were given a new meaning in the eyes of the audience.

Every year, we await various film festivals and award ceremonies for the glam, the speech and the ultimately the people behind the silver screen. But so much more goes into a movie than cinematography – objects and props play a crucial role in capturing the feeling and atmosphere the film is trying to convey. There's a whole business around it but some props and costumes still stand out.

The scuba suit in The Graduate

A coming-of-age tale of sorts, The Graduate is filled with memorable moments from start to finish. The classic line “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?” and the image of Mrs Robinson slowly taking off her stocking on the movie poster were cemented into our collective memory. Yet it’s the scuba suit that Benjamin Braddock receives as a graduation gift from his father that became a visual touchpoint for an entire generation

The scene: At a party organised by his parents, Ben is forced to repeatedly answer generic questions about his future and dutifully listen to the advice his parents’ friends give him. Ben is eventually pressured to wear his newly gifted attire in front of the whole party, alienating him further. Harpoon at hand, he drops to the bottom of his parent’s pool, invoking a sense of lethargy that is palpable throughout the whole film and rang all too true with the film’s young audience.

The window scraper in Fargo

A Coen Brothers’ classic, Fargo is almost impossible to categorise as demonstrated by its nomination in the ‘Best Musical or Comedy’ category of the 1997 Golden Globe Awards (Evita won). Jerry Lundgaard– a desperate and petty car salesman–is planning to have his wife kidnapped in order to extort a ransom from her rich father. Things quickly go south, and Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson–a pregnant, Minnesotan police chief–is left to solve the mysteries behind the weird series of deaths and events that follow.

The scene: After a meeting with his father-in-law proves frustrating, Jerry sulks to his car, only to find his window completely frozen. An aggravated Jerry starts frantically scraping the window. This is the first scene where he really starts to crumble and it marks a turning point when Marge is introduced and replaces Jerry as the protagonist. 

Later in the film, Steve Buscemi’s goonish Carl Showalter uses a similar red window scraper to mark where he buries the money. That he won’t be able to return to collect his treasure is almost certain, making this the second scene to feature a window scraper as a symbol of a character’s loss of control. 

The yellow Volkswagen bus in Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine follows a dysfunctional family as they travel cross-country for their daughter, Olive to enter the ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ child pageant. The film features a truly stellar cast including the likes of Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano and Alan Arkin. Its standout star is, however (next to Abigail Breslin) the yellow VW T2 Microbus that, eventually, honks them to their destination. 

The scene: Not able to set off on its own, the stick-shift Volkswagen needs to get to a certain speed and put into third gear to get going. This means the whole family has to band together to push the van and quickly jump in one-by-one. 

It’s the first scene where the family has to actively work together and put in actual effort to continue their journey for Olive. After they’ve made it into the van, it seems like they’re finally on the same page, so even though the car is slowly falling apart, the family is getting closer together. When they push the bus again, after hijacking the pageant, you can see how far they’ve come; how much they’ve all grown and what bright future is ahead. 


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