The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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Credit: MGM

The best shoes in genre movies

Contributed by
Nov 12, 2019

Shoes can tell you a lot about a person — including wealth, style, and how physical they are. As with any garment of clothing on screen, the function often extends beyond something to wear. A fierce debate can rage if the "wrong" shoes are chosen, as best demonstrated by the discussion generated by Bryce Dallas Howard's impractical heels in Jurassic World (2015). The sequel didn't repeat this costume choice, and it was no coincidence that Howard’s boot-clad foot was shown in close-up. In the recent Ready or Not, Grace (Samara Weaving) switches her strappy bridal sandals for yellow Converse high-tops. It is a practical move for both the character and actress, but also delivers a memorable image of a bride in Chucks.

Sneakers and genre go hand-in-hand, and this year alone has seen collaborations between Adidas and Game of Thrones as well as Nike and Stranger Things. Of course, you are not going to see characters in Westeros donning sports apparel (though considering water bottles and coffee cups have made it into frame, so you never know), but certain designs have taken off as a result of the movie they are associated with.

Whether it's sneakers, pumps, or boots, shoes help tell a story. Below are some of the most recognizable and defining shoes in genre from the 1930s to the present day.

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The Wizard of Oz slippers

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz has a number of defining costumes, but none more so than Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. Not only do they have an important narrative function, but the sequined shoes (as designed by Adrian) are one of the most valuable pieces of movie memorabilia. Five pairs are known to exist, having survived 80 years in various collections. One set is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC, while another was recently recovered after a theft (a reward of $1 million was offered for their return), and they have been referred to as "the Holy Grail of Hollywood memorabilia." Long after Dorothy found her way home, they are a symbol of hope, magic, and Old Hollywood glamor. No other shoes have the power and instant recognizability of the sparkling slippers

From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love (1963)

James Bond isn't the only one who gets to play with gadgets, as Colonel Rosa Klebb has a deadly pair of shoes in Sean Connery's second outing as 007. Poison-tipped knife shoes are a good backup for when your weapon gets knocked out of your hand, but unlike the Rosa of Ian Fleming's novel, she doesn't make contact in this fight to the death. Poison-tipped objects were used by real-life assassins (including umbrellas), but Rosa's knife shoes have so far stayed confined to fiction (as far as we know). The Dark Knight, The Kingsman, and Salt have all been inspired by Rosa's weapon. Meanwhile, Get Smart sticks to footwear as a telecommunications device. Spies really do think of everything. 

The Goonies

The Goonies (1985)

It isn't just top secret agents who transform their wardrobe into a form of defense. In The Goonies, Data has a number of inventions, which don't always work according to his plan but do prove to be useful as they attempt to stay one step ahead of the Fratellis. At a quick glance, Data's Nike Sky Force sneakers look like any other shoe. Don't let appearances fool you; a concealed heel compartment contains oil, making the journey a little more treacherous for those giving chase.

Aliens sneakers

Aliens (1986)

Sometimes a movie taps up a brand to design a shoe for a specific outfit and scene, which is how Reebok came to birth the Alien Stomper. A basic model of a basketball shoe provided the foundation for the sneaker that was worn by those operating the yellow Power Loader. A close-up reveals the Reebok logo in a moment of product placement. The sneaker saves Ripley in the climatic airlock sequence; which informed how the shoe was constructed, as designer Tuan Le explains — it needed to slip off with ease. On the 40th anniversary of Aliens, Reebok released a limited run of this iconic model.

Back to the Future Part II sneakers

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

We still don’t have hoverboards, but thanks to Nike, a version of power laces became a reality. Marty McFly Jr. has all the desirable gadgets in the Back to the Future sequel including a pair of Nike Air Mags. The sneaker brand has released a limited number of the self-tying laces since 2011 (with proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research). As with Dorothy’s ruby slippers, this is one of the defining movie shoes that have collectors and fans coveting them in equal measures. Last summer, a single sneaker as worn by Fox in Back to the Future Part II went for a whopping $92,000.

The Matrix

The Matrix Trilogy (1999/2003)

Kym Barrett's costume design on The Matrix has impacted fashion in a number of ways, from leather trench coats to tiny sunglasses. The boots that were worn by Trinity and Neo are just as important; this is a full head-to-toe look. It is hard to tell where the boots end and the pants begin, as there is a fluidity to the whole ensemble. Unlike Ripley or Marty McFly's sneakers, branding was something to be avoided, as Barrett explained they didn't want logos in the bullet-time shots. Practicality on a movie this physical is important, which is why everyone gets flats.

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

In a nod to Bruce Lee's yellow Onitsuka Tigers, Beatrix Kiddo wears the Tai Chi LE style of Lee's Mexico 66 model in Kill Bill. The Japanese team wore a version of these sneakers at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games, but the yellow and black variety as worn by Thurman has a specific "F*** U" message on the sole, which can be seen as she prepares to face O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). Yes, there are even tutorials telling you how to make your own soles.

Cinderella

Cinderella (2015)

Losing one shoe is annoying, but in the fairy tale Cinderella, it is also the key to escaping a life of servitude and torment. For a shoe as legendary as the glass slipper, Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell teamed up with Swarovski to craft a shoe that would sparkle. Eight pairs were made, but in true movie magic star, Lily James did not wear any of these creations. Instead, her wearable shoes were replaced digitally to reveal the enchanting style.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron kicks ass as covert agent Lorraine Broughton in a range of sartorial delights. One particularly tough skirmish sees her face off against numerous assailants while wearing a mini-skirt, over-the-knee boots, and visible garters in a key sequence. Earlier in the movie, she shows she has Jason Bourne-levels of resourcefulness when she uses a crimson patent Dior pump as a weapon. Who needs poisoned-tip knife shoes when you can just pound someone with your footwear?

Black Panther (2018)

Nakia also uses her footwear as a weapon during the glamorous and James Bond-inspired casino sequence in Black Panther. Academy-Award winner Ruth E. Carter fuses past, present, and future throughout, which is best highlighted in a conversation between T'Challa and Shuri's as she unveils her new creations. This scene is incredibly charming, emphasizing the ease these siblings have with one another, which has not been impacted by her brother's lofty new title. She makes fun of his old school royal sandals asking "What are those?!" before unveiling the pun-tastic "sneakers" she has designed. There is a nod to another on this list as she explains they are "fully automated like the old American movie Baba used to watch." It might be a little longer before shoes like these hit stores.

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