You might not remember this, but Hollywood once tried to convince us that Sylvester Stallone belonged in romantic comedies. They almost pulled it off, too, and that's how you know they're the best masters of disguise in the world. A good movie prop master can create the most realistic device from any old cheap piece of shit laying around. For example ...
#5. Sci-Fi Guns Are Just NERF Guns Painted Black
Today there's a whole scene of NERF modders who paint and age toy guns to look so realistic that they're forced to play NERF wars in the dark so the neighbors won't call the cops.
Nerf or Nothing Brazil
Or the National Guard.
In fact, the toy guns look so good that they're popping up in movies like 2009's Hunter Prey. The gun below is actually a $30 NERF N-Strike Recon CS-6 Blaster.
Despite having a $20 million budget to work with, the guys behind the flopped sci-fi show Terra Nova ended up spray painting NERF Longshot guns black and calling it a day.
Reddit / Giant Freaking Robots
That show didn't have a prop department so much as one dude with some spray paint.
#4. The Light Saber Is a Camera Flash
What would Star Wars be without light sabers? Probably nothing more than a bunch of guys swatting at each other and making swooshing noises with their mouths. So thank God special effects expert John Stears was there to make sure Lucas ended up with something cool on screen. And what's cooler than the flash gun from an old-fashioned paparazzi camera?
For the first light saber prototype, Stears used the battery pack of the flash as the hilt, which was way better than his first version (a painted NERF gun). Next, he mounted the little red bubble LED lenses from Texas Instruments calculators and a cut down computer card to the hilt.
Finally, Stears glued six T-tracks from old cabinets to work as the hand grips. All that was left was a D-ring so it could connect to Skywalker's inevitable belt clip (OF COURSE Luke Skywalker had a belt clip). Boom. Light saber. Don't act like you're not about to start collecting all the parts to make one for yourself.
Speaking of Star Wars ...
#3. Just for Her Comlink
During The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master and Jesus Impersonator Liam Neeson used something called a comlink to have a private conversation with Obi-Wan. It looked something like this:
"Note to self: start pre-reading my scripts."
OK, yeah, that's a $27 lady razor.
We know what you're thinking: When did lady razors get so expensive? We don't know, but it probably has something to do with Obama. The Phantom Menace prop guys used the handle of the Gillette Sensor Excel razor to make a resin cast of the comlink, which they painted a metallic black and then glued on some solder lugs and pins as antennas.
Matthew Munson via Parts of Star Wars
It's hard to believe that something so simple could be transformed into something so also-simple. But that's movie magic for you.
#2. The Stylus from Star Trek: Nemesis Is a Butane Torch
In Star Trek: Nemesis, Captain Picard is seen using a shiny blue-and-gold stylus to interact with his PADD, Personal Access Display Device. (Or iPad.)
It takes three centuries of development to make the tablet less convenient.
It turns out that the stylus is nothing more than a small butane pencil torch that costs about $5 at any hardware store.
Not content to let a butane torch go completely unmodified in a movie that nobody would see, the prop guys added some reflective tape to complete the world's least convincing stylus.
#1. The PKE Meter from Ghostbusters Is a Shoe Polisher
In Ghostbusters, the Psychokinetic Energy Meter is the device used to detect manifestations of the spirit world, and also to determine why Rick Moranis is losing his shit.
You may have also noticed Hulk Hogan using it to find where the aliens stashed his cheeseburgers in Suburban Commander. Or not. You probably didn't notice that scene.
A version of the device was also used in the movie They Live. Again, probably not on your movie radar at the moment.
This versatile piece of equipment is actually a shoe polisher -- a Sears Iona Shoe Polisher Model SP-1 from the early 1970s, to be exact.
In order to make the PKE meter, the prop guys removed the brush spindle and power strip; added ribbed contouring, a screen, and plastic arms that erupt from the body of the gadget; and painted the whole thing black.
We're guessing you'll never look at a vintage electric shoe polisher in the same way again.