SCI-FI FAVORITES AND OBSCURITIES FROM INFLUENTIAL AND BELOVED HOLLYWOOD PROP CREATOR
By Zach Pogemiller
From paranormal infestations in the streets of New York to colonies on Mars, from the distant future to alternate dimensions, Modern Props gave form and shape to the entertainment world’s wildest visions of the otherworldly. The company’s credits read like a critic’s list of Hollywood’s most influential film franchises: Star Trek, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Batman, Spider-Man, Men in Black. The props and set décor elements created by Modern Props, founded in 1977 by artist John Zabrucky, played a foundational role in our collective vision of the future.
The now iconic devices fabricated by Zabrucky and crew – Vid-Phons in Blade Runner, the PKE Meter from Ghostbusters – are coveted by collectors. Their constructions were also prized by industry professionals. Modern Props had a reputation for creating much more durable and robust film property than other firms in the field, with multiple points of functionality. In addition to original prop development, the company developed a thriving business as a prop rental house. One of the many sci-fi gadgets they created has been dubbed by fans “the most important device in the universe.” Consisting of two long glass tubes with glowing, colored lights and featuring a control panel with buttons and dials, the piece was originally developed as lab equipment for The Incredible Hulk TV series. The futuristic console went on to make visible cameos in more than 100 other productions, among them classics like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Last Starfighter and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Zabrucky’s commitment to film art went beyond the soundstage as he amassed a staggering collection of more than 11,000 movie posters. A curated selection of these artifacts will be presented in Heritage Auctions’ The Modern Props Science Fiction Collection Movie Posters Showcase Auction on June 17. Focusing on horror and sci-fi, the incredible assemblage served as inspiration for and a record of the company’s film work, as well as a comprehensive repository of pulp science fiction, pop-futurism and kitsch Americana by generations of the movie poster medium’s most influential practitioners. Highlights of the sale include celebrated one-sheet and half-sheet poster designs by Albert Kallis, such as The Amazing Colossal Man, The Astounding She Monster, Invasion of the Saucer-Men and Terror from the Year 5000; unsettling and uncanny movie poster work from illustrator Reynold Brown, including House on Haunted Hill, Revenge of the Creature, This Island Earth, Tarantula!, The Time Machine and Destroy All Monsters; and James Bond compositions by Robert McGinnis from Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice.
Contemporary masters like Richard Amsel with Raiders of the Lost Ark; Drew Struzan with The Goonies; and John Alvin with Gremlins, Blade Runner and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial round out this diverse offering of the best in speculative cinema. Of special note is a selection of 59 kaiju posters, the Japanese giant monster genre, representing multiple nationalities and providing a survey of these catastrophic behemoths from the original King of the Monsters, Godzilla, through multiple generations of Ghidorahs, Mothras and Gameras.
Modern Props closed shop in 2019, and since then, Heritage clients have been afforded exclusive opportunities to own mementos from one of the most revered prop houses in motion picture history. Now they have a chance to add another piece of this historic legacy to their collection. Unlike the most important device in the universe, this opportunity will not be seen again.
ZACH POGEMILLER is Associate Director of Movie Posters at Heritage Auctions.