50 Greatest Movie Illusions

“How do they do that?” you might gasp whilst watching a film, before quickly writing off the mind-boggling illusion you just witnessed to CGI. Don’t be fooled, though – not so long ago when CGI was merely a gleam in a filmmaker’s eye  palpable magical trickery was at work in front of the camera. Clever footage editing, prosthetics, and (obviously) sleight of hand illusions were there to pick up the slack and make audiences everywhere ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over spectacles that seemed impossible. Here’s 50 of the best movie illusions around,  and just for you we’ve even delved into how they did it…because magicians should always reveal their secrets. 

The Recruit (2003)

“Nothing is what it seems.”

The Movie Illusion: A newspaper is torn in half several times, only to be unfolded again completely intact.

Performed By: Al Pacino’s CIA recruiter, while spouting cryptic nonsense.

How Did They Do That? There is a way of performing a similar trick, which involves a second, hidden newspaper that remains unripped, but Pacino’s way? That’s all camera editing.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

“Harold, use your awesome might to save me from this hopeless plight.”

The Movie Illusion: The Jaws Of Death: Chainsawing a lady in half, which appears to go horribly wrong when she starts screaming…

Performed By: A young Harry Lockhart, ably assisted by a young Harmony.

How Did They Do That? Harmony’s screams just turn out to be enthusiasm for acting on her part. Meanwhile, the box is opened to reveal fake legs at the other end.

Time Bandits (1981)

“Who sent you? The gods? Was it Zeus? Apollo? Athena?”

The Movie Illusion: A ball hidden in cups moves and disappears as the cups are switched around.

Performed By: Sean Connery’s King Agamemnon

How Did They Do That? All faster-than-the-eye-can-see movement and trickery. Young Kevin is as shocked as we are to see Connery performing such a feat.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

“I’m really enjoying this – it’s a great trick.”

The Movie Illusion: Rosanna Arquette’s magician’s assistant Roberta is placed in a box and – as the classic trick dictates – sawn in half.

Performed By: A nightclub magician, but really all eyes are on Roberta.

How Did They Do That? A false compartment in the bottom of the box lets Roberta hide the middle of her body for the big reveal. It still sounds uncomfortable enough to be impressive.

Next (2007)

“Every once in a while, what we think is magic is the real deal hiding behind a $50 trick.”

The Movie Illusion: A paper flower suddenly catches fire and transforms into a real rose.

Performed By: A thoroughly unconvincing Nicolas Cage.

How Did They Do That? The real flower is hidden within the fake one, which is made out of flash paper (a prop that burns instantly with a bright flash and leaves no trace behind). Then it’s just a case of secretly lighting it.

Casino Royale (1967)

“An illusion taught to me by an ancient vegetarian.”

The Movie Illusion: A woman is sent into a trance, laid on a casino table, covered in a sheet and is then levitated into the air. Then, with a flick of the sheet, she disappears.

Performed By: Orson Welles’ charismatic villain Le Chiffre.

How Did They Do That? We suspect camera edits and wires, which is a shame considering Welles was an accomplished magician. Still, asking him to achieve this illusion for real might have been a big ask.

Pretty Woman (1990)

“No matter what they say, it’s all about money.”

The Movie Illusion: A magician makes a number of coins disappear in the palms of his volunteers, before changing them up into one big coin, which appears from nowhere.

Performed By: A hired magician at a party shown performing this trick over the opening credits.

How Did They Do That? All sleight of hand, obviously. Not to mention previously acquiring a big fake coin.

Dante’s Peak (1997)

“Show us one more trick.”

The Movie Illusion: An imaginary needle and thread are put through one corner of a handkerchief, and it moves and bends with every pretend tug.

Performed By: Pierce Brosnan’s Volcanologist Harry Dalton

How Did They Do That? We’re stumped on this one. Is the imaginary needle and thread a real needle and thread? Is the whole thing a double bluff?

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

“I got some new items you might be interested in…”

The Movie Illusion: With a click of his fingers, the magician creates a flash of smoke and disappears.

Performed By: Mario, owner of the Magic Shop frequented by Pee-Wee Herman.

How Did They Do That? Simple trick smoke bombs, as evidenced by the fact that Mario appears from behind a backroom curtain seconds later as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Night At The Museum (2006)

“A little birdie told me somebody likes magic”

The Movie Illusion: Making a handkerchief completely disappear.

Performed By: Ben Stiller’s Larry, trying to appease an angry Attila The Hun.

How Did They Do That? In this case, the illusion is revealed immediately, as Attila spots a corner of the hanky poking out of Larry’s fake thumb.

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