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.
"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.
Dantes 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.
"Seriously, how are they doing this?"
The Movie Illusion: A boy with recently developed superpowers performs a talent show act in which he performs all sorts of tricks, from making a spilled pack of cards float into his hand, to stopping balls in the air mid-juggle. Of course, the real illusion is making all of this seem like it could just be a magician’s trick.
Performed By: The increasingly unstable Andrew Detmer (Dane Dehaan)
How Did They Do That? Well, obviously it is all achieved with Andrew’s growing telekinetic skills, but the illusion – that it’s all fake – is sold thanks to him deliberately starting off slow and clumsy. And by not doing anything too unrealistic on stage like, oh we don’t know, crushing a car without touching it.
Fright Night (2011)
"Peter Vincent: A magical tour de force."
The Movie Illusion: A magician appears in a puff of smoke to thwart a levitating vampire with fire shooting from his hands.
Performed By: Russell Br… oh, we mean David Tennant’s stage magician Peter Vincent.
How Did They Do That? It’s all smoke and mirrors. And pyrotechnics. And harnesses. And tight leather trousers.
"A good magician never reveals his secrets."
The Movie Illusion: A person takes an actual bite out of a US quarter.
Performed By: Adam Sandler
How Did They Do That? In what is the least-exciting explanation ever, it’s a trick coin. That’s it. A trick coin.
"Don’t you mind that I chopped my last assistant’s head off?"
The Movie Illusion: In a climactic guillotine trick, a magician appears to decapitate his partner… only for it to just be part of the show as he appears alive and well.
Performed By: Harry & Karl (A.K.A. Mitchell & Webb)
How Did They Do That? Usually, with guillotine tricks, there are two blades. A real one for the pre-trick demonstration, and a fake one. In this case, a fake Robert Webb head and some concealed compartments were also added to the illusion.
Red Lights (2012)
"Are you questioning my power?"
The Movie Illusion: A person demonstrates telepathy by being able to tell the symbol on each double blind card held away from them.
Performed By: Well, it is reported by Toby Jones’ paranormal researcher Paul.
How Did They Do That? As Sigourney Weaver’s Matheson gladly debunks, for all of the controls put in place in the room, Paul neglected to think about the reflection in his glasses…
The Movie Illusion: Pulling a reluctant and hungry rabbit out of a hat.
Performed By: Presto DiGiatagione and fluffy friend Alex Azam.
How Did They Do That? Remarkably, the hat on stage seems to contain a magic portal to a hat backstage, from which the magician can grab whatever is nearby. So the answer is... real magic?
"I'll show you a little trick now."
The Movie Illusion: After a volunteer chooses a card from the pack and puts it in her bag, she tells the audience that it was a six of hearts. The magician then pulls the ‘same’ six of hearts from his jacket pocket.
Performed By: Woody Allen’s terrible magician Sydney Waterman.
How Did They Do That? Well, the volunteer proceeds to pull out her original card and exclaims “it’s amazing” while Sydney is still holding his, so the real illusion is convincing his audience that this is any kind of trick at all.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
"We need some sort of grand illusion."
The Movie Illusion: The Disappearing Audience. Sending the audience to sleep, only to have them wake up outside.
Performed By: Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton
How Did They Do That? Sadly, sleeping gas. And then by carrying each member outside and seating them in the same position.
Bright Young Things (2003)
"Reader be glad that you have nothing to do with this world. Its glamour is a delusion."
The Movie Illusion: While running hands over four coins on a table, they seem to swap and switch places.
Performed By: Adam Fenwick-Symes, a posho if ever we've heard one.
How Did They Do That? A secret fifth coin is kept in one hand, which replaces the coin palmed by the other hand. You just need to be very quick...
The Mad Magician (1954)
"Only a man who dreams up illusions would think of such a thing."
The Movie Illusion: An elaborate crematorium trick, which sees the magician in a box on a conveyor belt, travelling toward a 3500-degree heat.
Performed By: Vincent Price's magician-gone-mad Gallico.
How Did They Do That? We never fully find out, although it is dangerous enough to cause Gallico's own death at the end of the film. Maybe next time, stick to rabbits and hats, eh?
Leap Of Faith (1992)
"It's a lot of smoke and noise and it's strictly for the suckers."
The Movie Illusion: A preacher reads the minds of members of his audience and reveals personal and intimate details about them.
Performed By: Steve Martin’s fake faith healer Jonas Nightingale
How Did They Do That? He is ably assisted by Jane, who picks up these details from the crowd and transmits them to Jonas via an in-ear radio. Apparently, this trick was based on real-life televangelist Peter Popoff. The big cheat.
The Magician (1958)
"You represent what I detest most of all: the unexplainable."
The Movie Illusion: Following a hypnotism-gone-wrong, the magician is killed and placed in a coffin, but he rises again to torment the cynical doctor that questioned his abilities.
Performed By: Max Von Sydow's practically mute magician Vogler.
How Did They Do That? Plain and simple acting. Or was it? (It probably was)
The Vanishing Lady (1896)
The Movie Illusion: A woman sits in a chair, is covered with a sheet and, when it is lifted again, she disappears. When trying to bring her back, only a skeleton reappears but then, on the next attempt, the woman returns in full.
Performed By: Cinematic magician Georges Méliès
How Did They Do That? It's Méliès experimenting playfully with camera edits, almost for the first time ever. And, even though this footage is over 100 years old, it's still pretty difficult to see the joins.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (2002)
"You wanna buy some death sticks?"
The Movie Illusion: An illegal trader in a bar on Coruscant tries to sell Obi-Wan Kenobi some death sticks by magically twirling one into existence in his hand.
Performed By: The Star Wars Wiki lists this character as Elan Sel’Sabagno, who is “also known as Elan Sleazebaggano”. Those Coruscant playgrounds can be cruel.
How Did They Do That? The twirling can be achieved with simple practice, and then it's just a case of secretly sleeving the object. But, knowing Lucas, it was probably easier just to CGI the trick rather than train the guy who played Mouse in The Matrix to do it.
Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)
"You’re capable of more than you know."
The Movie Illusion: A female volunteer from the audience is put into a trance, covered in a sheet and levitated in the air. When the audience spots the wires holding her up, these are dramatically cut with a sword and then the sheet is whisked away to reveal nothing but air.
Performed By: Oz the good and fairly talented.
How Did They Do That? Well, it helps that the volunteer is planted in the audience and is working with the magician. Then it's a case of quickly swapping her out for something shaped like her (usually transparent mesh). And the cut wires? Um... we're guessing that there are more wires?
The Last Exorcism (2010)
"What I want to do is expose exorcism for the scam that it really is."
The Movie Illusion: A supposed real-life exorcism.
Performed By: Reverend Cotton Marcus, finally coming clean after a career spent faking exorcisms.
How Did They Do That? A variety of props - a smoking cross, shaky bed, bubbling water and some eerie noises to boot.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
"This world that we live in is full of enchantment for those with eyes to see it."
The Movie Illusion: When Heath Ledger's Tony tries to reclaim his small tube (for use in another trick) from friend Anton, it vanishes from his hands.
Performed By: A mischievous Andrew Garfield
How Did They Do That? Lots of sleight-of-hand coaching from magician Simon Drake, who called Garfield the best student he has ever had on all the films he's worked on.
Lord Of Illusions (1995)
"Death itself is an illusion."
The Movie Illusion: An escape artist is killed by falling swords but is found to have risen again.
Performed By: Suspicious magician Philip Swann.
How Did They Do That? It seems like it could have all been an unexplained conjurer's trick - which you realise is the real illusion once Swann starts displaying genuine supernatural abilities.
"I was mucking cards since before you were born."
The Movie Illusion: Five fanned out cards in the hand magically turn into a royal flush after just running a finger over the corners.
Performed By: A pair of anonymous hands as part of the film's title credits.
How Did They Do That? Fake edges, so unfortunately it's not a trick you can easily employ in a high stakes poker game.
Terror Train (1980)
"I never knew you liked magic."
The Movie Illusion: A rose appears from behind Jamie Lee Curtis' back and is then levitated in mid-air.
Performed By: A young and creepy David Copperfield
How Did They Do That? Let’s be honest, it’s all just sleight-of-hand and invisible thread, but David Copperfield’s steely gaze here will have you convinced that dark forces are at work.
A Bugs Life (1998)
"Yet again it is up to me to rescue the performance."
The Movie Illusion: The Chinese Cabinet Of Metamorphosis (an old Chinese takeaway box in which a volunteer steps and is transformed in a beautiful moth).
Performed By: Manny, a great and mysterious magician of the PT Flea Circus Troupe. Also a praying mantis.
How Did They Do That? The volunteer is switched with Manny’s assistant (and wife) Gypsy. You’d think, after a while, people would start to recognise the pattern on her wings.
The Great Buck Howard (2008)
"Magician is kind of a dirty word around here."
The Movie Illusion: Putting an audience of ‘hundreds’ (read: a few dozen) to sleep.
Performed By: The Great Buck Howard, a renowned ‘mentalist’ (played by John Malkovich, also a renowned mentalist)
How Did They Do That? By using hypnotism and the powers of his mind. There really is no other explanation we can think of. He must be the real deal, like Derren Brown. And Paul Daniels.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
"What am I supposed to say? I went to magic camp?"
The Movie Illusion: Pulling a coin from the ear of your girlfriend’s unimpressed daughter.
Performed By: Steve Carell’s sexual novice Andy.
How Did They Do That? Sleight of hand, obviously. Why he thought it would be a good idea, however, is a different question entirely.
The Illusionist (2010)
"There are no magicians."
The Movie Illusion: The classic pulling a rabbit out of a hat trick.
Performed By: The disillusioned illusionist himself, Tatischeff.
How Did They Do That? Do you really need a better explanation other than simply ‘it was drawn that way’? It's the animation that makes the trick seem do wonderful though.
"Magic is the bloodstream of the universe."
The Movie Illusion: The Disappearing Pig Trick, in which a pig is covered with a sheet, held up in the air and, after saying the magic words, disappears with a flick of the sheet.
Performed By: Warwick Davies’ wannabe-sorcerer Willow.
How Did They Do That? Given the magic apparent in the rest of the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Willow’s magic words “Wupity bairn deru deru” have some enchanted power to them. But no – this is all sleight of hand and trap doors.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
"His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick."
The Movie Illusion: A card is shown, turned away from the audience (in this case Ralph Macchio's Bill) and when turned back again, it is a completely different card.
Performed By: Bill's cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci)
How Did They Do That? Most likely explanation is that Pesci has two cards in his hand to begin with and ditches the first one when his hand drops just below the table for a split second. It helps that Pesci is generally a distracting a person anyway.
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
"I'm like a bad penny, I always turn up."
The Movie Illusion: A person takes a 'leap of faith' and steps out across an open chasm, only to somehow be held in mid-air.
Performed By: Indiana Jones (A.K.A. Junior)
How Did They Do That? A thin path already exists there, camouflaged against the opposite rock face and unseen until the camera swings to one side. It’s just a good thing that Indy stepped off where he did.
"Come and dream with me."
The Movie Illusion: A single card floats up out of the middle of the deck, as watched by young Hugo.
Performed By: Ben Kingsley’s curious Georges Méliès.
How Did They Do That? He's obviously pushing the card up with his finger but it’s very well hidden. A simple yet impressive trick and certainly enough to enthral the young Hugo.
"Everything you have seen here has been an illusion."
The Movie Illusion: An orange tree grows from a bud in a pot in front of a live audience.
Performed By: Edward Norton's master magician Eisenheim.
How Did They Do That? A glimpse of a book at the end of the film reveals a design with hidden gears in the pot, but how was it really achieved for the movie? Blatant non-marvellous CGI.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
"Magic will lead the way."
The Movie Illusion: A criminal is hanged and confirmed dead, only to be resurrected in order to continue his nefarious plans.
Performed By: Supposed master of black magic Lord Blackwood
How Did They Do That? As Holmes eventually deduces, a hidden hook was attached to the execution rope that distributed Blackwood's weight to his waist rather than his neck. He was able to reduce his pulse using a substance found in rhododendrons. Warning: If you try to eat rhododendrons to achieve the same effect, you might end up dying for real.
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
"The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat."
The Movie Illusion: A pack of cards is shuffled and split into four piles. The top card of each pile is revealed to be the four ace cards, which are then put back into the deck at random, shuffled again and somehow rise to the top of the pack.
Performed By: Rachel Weisz's fascinating heiress Penelope.
How Did They Do That? A month's worth of practice and around 11 takes apparently.
"Let me see your tongue."
The Movie Illusion: A female passenger develops an alarming symptom: producing a constant stream of eggs out of her mouth.
Performed By: Leslie Nielsen's Dr. Rumack. Don’t call him... oh you didn’t. As you were.
How Did They Do That? The eggs are quite obviously palmed by Nielsen each time while the passenger just keeps the same egg in her mouth, but how can you criticise a bit that ends with the lines "This woman has to be gotten to a hospital." "A hospital? What is it?" "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now."
Mission: Impossible (1996)
"Try any sleight of hand with my money and I'll cut your throat."
The Movie Illusion: A computer disc vanishes into thin air during a cocky bravado showdown.
Performed By: IMF's point man Ethan Hunt
How Did They Do That? Taught by magician Alan Shaxon, Tom Cruise sleeves the disc expertly (if you look very carefully, you can even see the outline of the disc on his right arm shortly after it disappears).
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
"Dreamers often lie."
The Movie Illusion: A pendant of a heart with an arrow through it disappears into thin air.
Performed By: Mercutio, close friend of Romeo.
How Did They Do That? Sleight-of-hand amid a distracting Queen Mab speech.
The Grifters (1990)
"I'm strictly short con. It's nothing but small time stuff."
The Movie Illusion: Making easy money by paying with a $20 bill, which becomes a $10 bill at the last second.
Performed By: John Cusack's small-time con-man Roy Dillon.
How Did They Do That? An apparently effective sleight-of-hand con trick. Just don't try it in the same place twice.
"It'll be the most dangerous thing I've ever done."
The Movie Illusion: A glamorous assistant is placed in a tied sack and locked in a trunk, only to somehow swap places with the stage magician during a brief time hidden from the audience.
Performed By: The great Harry Houdini himself. Or rather Tony Curtis playing him.
How Did They Do That? Well Houdini WAS an escape artist so locks and ties were hardly a problem. Add in a false side to the trunk, and you suddenly have all of the wonder and mystery sucked out of life.
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
"How about a magic trick?"
The Movie Illusion: Making a pencil um... disappear.
Performed By: The Joker, making an unforgettable entrance.
How Did They Do That? Using a simple sleight-of- head technique.
The Sting (1973)
"You just worry about your end, kid."
The Movie Illusion: Shuffling through a pack of cards, intermittently turning over the top one to reveal the ace of spades each time.
Performed By: Con-man Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman... supposedly.
How Did They Do That? Magician and expert card manipulator John Scarne doubled for Paul Newman's arms in this scene. So we're guessing the secret to this trick is years and years and years of practice.
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."
The Movie Illusion: The wizard appears as a giant head created from fire and smoke.
Performed By: The not-so-wonderful-and-actually-quite-scary Wizard of Oz.
How Did They Do That? A projection and a series of levers, cunningly concealed by a flimsy curtain.
“Are you watching closely?”
The Movie Illusion: The Real Transported Man, in which our stage magician steps into a machine and disappears, only to appear again at the back of the theatre.
Performed By: Angier. And every version of Angier after him.
How Did They Do That? Who knows how it works? It's real magic powered by Tesla's techno-wizardry and a redefined sense of self-preservation.