Here are 20 famous movie scenes that were created with miniature models.
Over the years we have seen some incredible movie magic come out of Hollywood, making some of the most iconic scenes in movie history.
Whether it is man fighting aliens, man fighting ghosts or man fighting Jedi, we all can agree that Hollywood has been able to make us believe what we are seeing on the screen is real.
It is easy to assume most of the scenes are filmed in some huge movie warehouse with large full-sized sets that were built to make the actors believe they were actually in space or in the apocalypse. In reality, there was some creative set magic that made those scenes come alive.
Many of our favorite scenes from some of our favorite movies were actually filmed using miniature model sets that replicated the location they wanted to film in.
This tactic allowed the director to control every aspect of the landscape down to the size of the front door.
Lets see which are the 20 famous movie scenes that were created with miniature models.
Famous Movie Scenes That Were Created With Miniature Models #1-5
1. The Fifth Element
Remember that scene in The Fifth Element where Leeloo smashes into Korben Dallas’ flying cab and causes a whole lot of mayhem and destruction? (What do you mean, you haven’t seen The Fifth Element? Go watch it right now. We’ll wait.) That whole scene, with cabs flying every which way and the cops chasing them and stylized buildings that you can hang off of the side of while the police are trying to shoot you with submachine cannons? An expertly-edited mix of live-action close-ups and carefully filmed models. Just goes to show you that, for all the good CGI can do, sometimes you just need to throw a bunch of little plastic cars around.
Alien is a classic film that takes place after a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call and their landing on the source planet finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform. Continuing their journey back to Earth with the attacked crew having recovered and the critter deceased, they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun. But it is a little known fact that Alien actually used miniature models to film many of those famous space scenes.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Hey, look at Young Steven Spielberg lying there all beardy and hipster-ish, with his Raiders of the Lost Ark trucker’s hat and his whatever-that-rectangular-thing-is, overseeing his landscape of small blue figures like a God, a veritable GOD. Which, for the guy who made Raiders AND Schindler’s List AND Saving Private Ryan AND E.T. AND the supremely underrated A.I. Artificial Intelligence and a whole bunch of other good-to-great and extremely watchable films, is kind of fitting. Truth be told, we aren’t entirely sure what’s really going on here – some sort of storyboarding or something like that, maybe? – but whatever it is, it’s elaborate and sophisticated and detailed, and it’s Raiders, and isn’t that what really matters?
4. Escape from New York
It’s funny to think about now that New York City’s become a sanitized strip mall overrun with super ultra ultra wealthy people who buy condos in buildings shaped like toothpicks that they don’t even intend to live in (and yet the subway’s still a disaster most of the time, of course), but it wasn’t all that long ago that New York was a dystopian hellscape that you really could see becoming a giant prison at some point. This is, of course, basically the plot of Escape from New York, a prime slice of early-‘80s kick-ass action which, as you can probably gather from the image above, used a terrifically detailed model of Manhattan for its aerial shots. And who can blame them, really, considering the state of the city at the time. (Bet it was fun, though, when you weren’t getting mugged.)
ParaNorman’s a fairly new one, made in 2012, which is the sort of thing that might make the casual observer (or someone who hasn’t seen it) think, “Well, of course it’s mostly CGI, why wouldn’t it be?” ParaNorman, though – as anyone who’s seen it knows – is a stop-motion film in the spirit of Wallace and Gromit and a handful of other films that take a looooong time to make because you take a picture, then move the figures around a little, then take another picture, then move the figures around a little, repeat what feels like a billion times. What’s different about ParaNorman is that it’s the first stop-motion film with characters whose faces were printed on a 3D printer, which is pretty cool.
Famous Movie Scenes That Were Created With Miniature Models #6-10
Ghostbusters is one of the most iconic movies of our generation. There are quite a few scenes that leave us asking “how did they do that” throughout the movie. One of the most memorable scenes is with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man walking down the streets of New York, stomping on cars and smashing into buildings. What many people didn’t know is how this was filmed. In reality this was all set up as a miniature model and a real person was in a marshmallow suite.
7. Braindead (aka Dead Alive)
That looming, bearded figure there looking like he’s about to grab up that streetcar, rip the top off and feast on whomever’s inside is Peter Jackson, who you might know now as the director of a slightly classier film trilogy, one that won a boatload of awards and made all the money. (Stay tuned, it’s coming up.) Before he grabbed Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson was best known for having made a handful of ultra-bloody, ultra-quirky B-movies in his native New Zealand – Braindead (Dead Alive in the U.S.), Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, which, to be fair, isn’t so much bloody as pitch black – on a barely shoestring budget, so whatever’s happening in the shot above shouldn’t really be all that surprising. It’s fair to say, though, that if you have any stomach for splattercore and haven’t seen his early stuff, you should fix that as soon as you can.
8. Lord of the Rings
Dead Alive is what Peter Jackson can do with eighty-five bucks, a couple gallons of blood, and a bunch of friends helping him out. Here’s what Peter Jackson can do when he has a virtually unlimited budget, a legendary property to adapt, and no inclination to film hundreds of zombies being ground to mulch by a lawnmower: make one of the most widely acclaimed trilogies in film history. Considering that he managed to make an entirely regular-sized man, Ian Holm, look like a Hobbit through the use of nothing more than some camera tricks, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that Jackson and his team built tons of supremely detailed shooting models, like the one above, to flesh out their vision of Middle-Earth.
9. Back to the Future: Part III
The Back to The Future trilogy was ahead of its time when the movies came out in movie theaters. There was a ton of special effects that had to go into making these movies happen. I mean… it was a movie about time travel. Each of the three movies had their big scene with trying to get the DeLorean back to 1985. But a little known fact was that the steam engine train scene in Back to The Future Part III was actually done using a miniature model. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be in a car being pushed by a train either!
It’s probably not too surprising to learn that the original Superman – well, original unless you count the one from the 60s with George Reeve – used a lot of models, considering it was shot nearly forty years ago, but it’s still pretty neat to see this scale model of Gotham City circa 1978 in action. Apparently, they shot Christopher Reeves’ flying scenes using an early version of green screening, with Reeves lying on a board of some sort. (Or maybe the board ran along his back, beneath his leotard? Something like that. Hey, Google’s right there.)
Famous Movie Scenes That Were Created With Miniature Models #11-15
11. Superman Returns
Brian Singer doesn’t half-ass things. His first big success, The Usual Suspects, basically ushered in that twist-ending trend that was so cool for a little while until it seemed like every other film that came out had some sort of unforeseen third-act twist where the rug gets pulled out from under the audience. Unfortunately, a little of that goes a long way, which might explain what happened to M. Night Shyamalan. Take a look at that picture there, though. Brian Singer is in control. Everything that’s going to happen in Metropolis is going to happen exactly as he wants it to. Wonder what the rent is on some of those buildings beneath the tracks.
12. Independence Day
Independence Day will forever be the iconic movie that we all watch on July 4th as America’s “fight song” against extra terrestrials. Starring Will Smith as the lead bad ass, Independence Day shows scenes of man vs alien battling it out with spaceships and military jets. There is one scene in particular that many people remember though when Will Smith is flying through the caves, trying to avoid being hunted by an alien ship. It looks so real on film, but this scene was actually filmed in a miniature model of the real thing.
13. Batman (1989)
In the wake of Christopher Nolan’s dark and atmospheric Batman trilogy of recent years, no one really seems to talk about Tim Burton’s Batman that much anymore, which is sort of a shame, since it’s a pretty effective imagining of the Dark Knight’s origins and methodology, even if Jack Nicholson’s Joker hasn’t aged all that well and, frankly, doesn’t really compare to Heath Ledger’s take on the grinning psychopath. But Michael Keaton does a seriously subdued and effective Batman, and the soundtrack’s by Prince. Hard to go wrong there. And look at that picture up there: doesn’t just a small part of you want to reward that guy’s dedication? It’s probably streaming somewhere right now. Hint, hint.
The Bond that launched what is still one of the classic fifth-generation video games of all time, conveniently also called Goldeneye, this one’s about some sort of satellite weapon, the GoldenEye, and Pierce Brosnan’s efforts to get it back from somewhere in Siberia or something like that. Whatever, the synopsis is out there somewhere if you want it, for now let’s just stare for a while at this denim-clad dude hurling what looks like fake snow out onto the fake mountains of fake Siberia and imagine him to be Ullr, the Snow God, casting a chill upon his domain.
15. The Return of the Jedi
One of the most popular movie franchises in the world is the Star Wars franchise. Lucas Films is best known for its visual effects with innovation around light sabers and spaceships flying through space. When these movies first came out in the late 70s, many people had never seen such special effects in a movie before. For many of these scenes, it was impossible to replicate with full-sized sets so miniature models were used in replace of them.
Famous Movie Scenes That Were Created With Miniature Models #16-20
Inception is a dream, or a nightmare, or something in between, or both – it’s fair to say it’s complex and ambivalent – but one thing that it definitely is is a marvel of filmmaking. The picture above isn’t even the best part; there’s a zero-G fight scene in a hallway that involved the actual hallway moving around as the actors fought within it. Even thinking about how it was choreographed is exhausting: so much precision, so much the hallway turning at precisely the right degree at precisely the right time to match, precisely, the movements of the actors involved – and all so quickly and seamlessly that it looks natural (or as natural as a fight in a zero-G hallway can look.)
17. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome takes place after Max has been exiled from the most advanced town in post apocalyptic Australia and he is now traveling with a group of abandoned children to rebel against the town’s queen. In this movie there are many deathifying scenes where Max is doing many stunts and car crashes throughout the desert. In most of these scenes, miniature models were used to replicate the desert.
18. Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson film, and like all Wes Anderson films it’s quirky and brightly-colored and visually stunning and far less twee than you might think from the advertising and the trailers. It’s probably not that surprising to learn that he used models not only in this film but in most of his earlier ones; he’s got a particular vision that would be likely be prohibitively expensive to replicate in the real world, to say nothing of the fact that, as in the case of Grand Budapest Hotel, they might not be all that replicable. (No sense in spending to build the entire exterior of a grand old hotel stuck way off in the mountains, is there? Where would you put it?)
19. Jurassic Park
We all know and love the Jurassic Park movies. We were shown what it would be like if dinosaurs were able to walk the Earth today through the genius of Steven Spielberg’s work. We saw a t-rex destroy cars, buildings and even a bathroom. These were special effects we had never seen before in movies prior. Many of the dinosaur scenes, though, were filmed using miniature models.
20. The Harry Potter series
If you’ve been a sentient creature in the years since 2001, you probably immediately recognize the spiked, imposing towers of Hogwarts, the school of magic that all of the players in the Harry Potter universe attend in order to learn how to properly cast spells and avoid ghosts who are nearly headless and hang out in paintings trying to catch them sneaking out and, oh by the way, defeat He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named before the world comes to a crushing end. Also, they hang out drinking butterbeer and playing Quidditch and eating jellybeans that may or may not taste like strawberries or lint.
[notice]Quiz: How Well Do You Know Your Movies?[/notice]