The 8 Best Auction Scenes in Hollywood Films
From Sex and the City to North by Northwest.
While auctions have their sexy moments and millions get dropped these days like so much chump change, they live on in film and television as sites of serious glamour, drama, sex, and intrigue filled with characters who say things like, “You’ve got balls, but you’re going to need more than that if you want to play with the big boys” (see the recently-released trailer for the upcoming cable series The Art of More). Here, we take a look at that more enchanting side of the auction world in a survey of the best auction scenes in Hollywood films.
1. First Wives Club (1996)
This 1996 film starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton is a hilarious “single white female” classic. Three friends reunite after the death of a fellow college friend, only to find that their husbands have left them for younger women. Sarah Jessica Parker plays one such husband-stealer and social climber who tries to buy her way into New York high society at a Christie’s sale and is tricked into purchasing a Japanese plate for $145,000. Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn’s characters play fake bidders that drive up the auction sale price to ensure Parker’s character pays way more than she should.
2. The Best Offer (2013)
In this Italian romance thriller, Virgil Oldman, played by Geoffrey Rush, is a seasoned and esteemed managing director of an auction house. Oldman is hired by a reclusive young heiress to appraise the collection that her parents left behind. The two begin to develop an unlikely relationship and Oldman reveals to her his secret collection of master paintings, only to come home one day to find it missing.
3. North by Northwest (1959)
In this Hitchcock film, Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, is an advertising executive mistaken for a foreign spy. As he embarks on a journey to clear his name, Thornhill encounters his nemesis in a confrontation at an auction of antique furniture. Back in 1959, $450 was a lot to pay for a unique antique; today, that barely covers your new IKEA bed.
4. Sex and the City (2008)
In the feature film of this wildly popular television Show, Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, and her three girlfriends, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, head to an auction at Christie’s of jewelry of the ex-girlfriend of an unnamed New York billionaire. Samantha’s character, who is dating a Hollywood actor, says to her friends, “Let’s go spend some of my hard-earned Hollywood money”—pun, as always, intended.
5. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
In the opening scene of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s film version of his musical Phantom of the Opera, the characters are in Paris in 1919. An old, but once grand, theater is the setting of a public auction of old trinkets found in the theater. Of course, these include the monkey wind-up box and the massive chandelier that jolts the whole movie into action, taking the viewer back in time to 1870.
6. The Magic Christian (1969)
This British comedy gets auction humor right. Starring John Cleese, Peter Sellers, and Ringo Starr, with appearances by Christopher Lee, Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski, The Magic Christian is a film about a wealthy eccentric billionaire (Peter Sellers), who adopts a homeless orphan (Ringo Starr), whom he encounters in the park. They then proceed to see if anything and everything can be bought with money. In the film’s auction house scene, the obnoxious pair are seen bidding on a painting of two dogs, using strange hand signals, a flashlight, a bullhorn, and a harmonica.
7. Batman & Robin (1997)
If you’re a child of the 1990s, the auction scene in this film is held near and dear to your heart. Who doesn’t like a Batman movie starring Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone, and George Clooney? At the Botanical Party auction scene, we witness Batman, played by Clooney, and his sidekick Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell, try to one-up each other in a bid (that get’s up to $7 million) for Poison Ivy’s affection. Obviously, our man Bruce Wayne wins when he whips out his Batman credit card, expiration date: never.
8. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1960)
No re-make (not even one with Johnny Depp) will ever replace this classic film take on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. In the film, everyone in the world is on the hunt for a winning Wonka chocolate bar that includes a golden ticket into his elusive and magical factory. So much so that auction houses begin to auction off boxes of Wonka bars. In the scene above, the auctioneer asks if “Your majesty?” wanted to bid more. Even the Queen of England had stars in her eyes.
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