When the Star Wars prequels were being released to the world, I searched high and low for the perfect replica lightsaber to don at the premiere of Episode III. Yes, I’m that kind of geek. It took me a few weeks of research before I decided to go with a replica company that machined saber handles out of aircraft grade aluminum that worked with attachable blades made out of a practically indestructible material. This replica would have cost me around $400, so I held off for the time being.
This wasn’t the last time that I would hunt down the perfect replica movie prop. Little did I realize — until very recently — that there is an entire subculture of geeks that research and collect exact replicas of famous movie props. Be it the Zorg ZF-1 from Fifth Element, Indiana Jones’ fedora, or R2-D2, the prop replica scene is alive and well.
You can even find movie prop replica booths set up at Comic-Con and Maker Faire, arguably two of the geekiest conferences you can attend.
So how do you go about building your own collection of movie prop replicas? You can’t exactly walk into your local toy store and walk out with a prop replica collection. You have to really pay attention to detail and build something that looks as close to what you see on screen as possible. These projects take a little more attention and are hardly (if ever) mass produced.
A true replica matches in scale and look to what you might expect if the movie world were real and you had your hands on what the characters were actually using. It means being part curator, part investigator, and part craftsman.
Adam Savage has a series of videos on the Tested.com channel on YouTube where he takes viewers through a tour of his man cave filled with current and previous movie prop replica projects. During the videos, he shares some of his tips and tricks to finding the perfect matches to the original props found in the movies. It’s a great series, and one I’d personally recommend any movie prop fan check out.
Here are some tips to help you create your own movie prop replica collection.
Replica Prop Forums
There are several big replica prop forums where users post screenshots of their target prop and open the floor up to feedback from other users. This is a great way to crowdsource the identification and location of various prop components for makers working on their own building projects. Something as complex as a lightsaber, for example, may have been designed with a number of unrelated components which can only be found at specific sources. Users of these forums have worked on their own projects and are often very good at identifying what a particular prop component is.
In addition, the friends you can make in these forums can sometimes help get you in touch with a source directly. Building the perfect replica R2-D2 is often seen as a collaborative effort in these communities with each invested member working on their own replica with the help of the community’s input.
If you have some money to spend, there are a number of prop studios out there that continue to make replicas of their movie props for collectors. This is as close as many people can get to buying the actual on-screen movie prop as it’s made by the same manufacturer with the same specs as the one found in the movie. IMDB and Wikipedia (in addition to the movie credits) can help you find which studio or prop designer provided pieces to a particular movie.
Another type of prop studio is the amateur replica maker. Garage kits are available all across eBay and some of them can be quite good. Be careful, though; not every garage kit out there is a gem.
Find the Original Source
Often, props are sourced from standard distributors. The bag used by Indiana Jones during the films was actually a British MK VII respirator bag used during World War II. You can still find these bags from a number of sources in both the movie prop and military markets.
A surprising number of props used in movies are sourced from everyday items that are cheap and easy for the props director to find. How many times have you seen an iPhone in a movie? Chances are, more often than you might think.
Kitbashing is a term used to describe modifying toy replicas of movie props to make them more true to what’s found in the movie. This can come down to chrome plating, scaling, or any number of modifications but the end result is a replica that looks as true to the movie as possible.
Charity and Warehouse Auctions
Keep your eyes open for auctions taking place that feature actual screen-used props from your favorite movies or television shows. Star Trek props were auctioned en masse at one point as entire warehouses worth of stored props were combed through so fans could get their hands on the actual costumes, phasers, and ships used in shooting.
Charity auctions happen quite often, and sometimes fairly significant props can be grabbed for relatively affordable prices. It all comes down to timing and luck as you find an auction the rest of the fan world doesn’t.
These tips can help you find that perfect movie prop. What are your tips? What is your favorite prop of all time?