In a standout scene from Back to the Future II, time-traveling hero Marty McFly jumps onto a Mattel Hoverboard to escape a gang led by archnemesis Biff Tannen. Premiering the day before Thanksgiving in 1989, the film rocketed the fictional toy onto Christmas lists across the country. But it would be years before a working version of the levitating device finally found its way under the tree.
The movie prop that inspired viewers’ visions of floating around on a wheelless skateboard sold at auction last week for $501,200, reports Mike Hanlon for New Atlas. An unidentified buyer purchased the (non-hovering) hoverboard from the Prop Store, an entertainment memorabilia vendor with locations in London and Los Angeles.
The auction’s winning bid was considerably higher than the Prop Store’s estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. In fact, notes New Atlas, the final selling price easily eclipsed the amounts paid for other hoverboards used in filming Back to the Future II. One prop sold for around $30,000 in 2014, while another went under the hammer for about $100,000 in 2018.
In addition to the Mattel Hoverboard, the November memorabilia sale featured such pop culture gems as Wilson, Tom Hanks’ volleyball friend in Cast Away (2000); Russell Crowe’s helmet from Gladiator (2000); and a miniature model of an X-Wing space fighter from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983).
“We’ve seen some record-breaking prices for some incredibly iconic lots, including Marty’s hoverboard … and Buddy’s costume from Elf,” Prop Store founder Stephen Lane tells James Beal of the Sun.
According to Ed Cullinane and Alan Johnson of My London, the elf outfit worn by Will Ferrell in the 2003 film fetched nearly $300,000. The Wilson volleyball brought in more than $385,000, while the gladiatorial helmet rang in at almost $300,000. The Star Wars fighter sold for almost $320,000.
The Mattel Hoverboard’s higher-than-expected price may have been the result of two added features: autographs by actors Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson, who portrayed Marty and Biff, respectively, in all three movies in the Back to the Future franchise. The pair signed the bottom of the movie prop on its magnetic pads.
Hoverboards became a pop culture phenomenon not long after the second movie’s release, in large part due to some clever communications by director Robert Zemeckis. In a behind-the-scenes clip, he stated that the device was real—a claim which was, of course, false, as David Mikkelson writes in a debunker for Snopes.
“They’ve been around for years,” said Zemeckis in the video. “It’s just that parent groups have not let the toy manufacturers make them. We got our hands on some and put them in the movie.”
Mattel actually tried to market a real hoverboard in 2012, but it was a flop—mainly because it didn’t work like the toy company said it would. Sam Biddle of Gizmodo labeled it the year’s “worst toy,” writing, “It doesn’t hover.”
The fantasy finally came true (at least to an extent) in the mid-2010s, when Hendo developed a working prototype that is still in development today. In a video, skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk proclaimed, “This is real, folks,” as he hovered on a hoverboard. As Marty’s friend Doc Brown, a.k.a. Christopher Lloyd, says in all of the Back to the Future movies, “Great Scott!”
Despite Hendo’s success, obstacles to hoverboards’ widespread implementation remain. Per Cassidy Ward of Syfy, the company’s hoverboards only work on surfaces made out of certain materials, like copper and aluminum.
“The Hendo hoverboard, and other devices like it, can only work in specially crafted locales with the appropriately reactive surfaces,” Syfy notes. “Devices like these can’t work on sidewalks, or over land or water. They could, however, enjoy success at dedicated spaces like hover rinks or hover parks.”