Rube Goldberg machines in the movies
August 17, 2015 4:09 PM   Subscribe

"Why simply turn on a light switch when you could light a candle which burns a string, which releases a bowling ball, which lands on a bag of air, which blows over some dominoes, which knock an action figure into a pot, which onto a piece of metal, which startles a chicken, which lays an egg, which rolls down a ramp and breaks open on a brick, then drains into a cup which weighs down a board which flips the light on?" -- Atlas Obscura takes a surprisingly uncomplicated look at Rube Goldberg machines in movies.
posted by Room 641-A (20 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
They left out the mostly-people-based contrivance in Ink, which also has the virtue of the director trying to get everything -- people walking, cars driving, etc to match the same beat.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:14 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this really counts, but this functionally similar sequence from near the end of The City Of Lost Children is incredible.
posted by dng at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ink was the first one I was going to mention: "Something's gotta stop the flow." NOTE: Spoilers.

Delicatessen is mentioned, but not the one in City of Lost Children which involves an ocean-going steamer? NOTE: Spoilers! and 2 seconds of bare breasts, so NSFW.
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:29 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

dng: Great minds think alike.
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:30 PM on August 17, 2015

Came for Ernest Goes to Jail, was not disappointed.

(It's an underappreciated classic.)
posted by lumensimus at 4:43 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was super happy to see the Pee-Wee Herman Mr. T. cereal breakfast machine in there. Rube Goldberg machines are probably one of my favorites ever things (out of all the possible things). If you also love them, and you find yourself near Wisconsin, you should probably visit The House On the Rock.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:27 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ready, Gromit?
posted by Wolfdog at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2015 [9 favorites]

Wouldn't Chitty Chitty Bang Bang technically have a Heath Robinson machine?

My previous comment about humorous causal device internationalization.
posted by zamboni at 5:36 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Way of the Things is one of my favourite ever things!!! This is only the third time I've seen it. The other two were pre-YouTube days, once in Berlin, once in Hobart, both in art galleries, and I sat and watched the whole thing through, knowing that I may never see it again. And now, I can spam all my friends with it. I love the Internet!
posted by kjs4 at 6:13 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Off topic - In 1965, elves created four plastic models for home construction based on the masters' ideas. You can pick them up on ebay if you've a mind for it.
posted by BWA at 6:45 PM on August 17, 2015

Oh man now I'm trying to remember the name of this one movie...
Basically it's about an underground city where humanity is waiting out the recovery of the surface world from some undescribed calamity. In the 100ish years they've been stuck down there the method for getting everyone back to the surface has been forgotten and the power elite are not at all interested in giving up their control of the city. As it turns out the protocol to start the huge evacuation machine is to turn a single wheel in the maintenance crew locker room 1/4 to the right. In a room full of lockers that open by turning an identical wheel the same amount. I found it kind of infuriating in the movie and now I'm infuriated I can't remember the name of it...
posted by 3urypteris at 7:16 PM on August 17, 2015

3urypteris: it wasn't City of Ember by any chance, was it?
posted by happyroach at 7:19 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yep that's the one happyroach, thank you.
posted by 3urypteris at 7:31 PM on August 17, 2015

I thought Pee Wee's contraption had to be inspired by Chitty Chitty's. Also another Tim Burton film has one, Ed Scissorhands.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:33 PM on August 17, 2015

From 2003, Honda's "The Cog" commercial: YoutubeWikiSnopes
posted by not_on_display at 10:56 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love Rube Goldberg machines. Also, every time I hear the term it reminds me of something my husband said about fundamentalist Christianity: "If God is all-powerful and he wants to save you, why doesn't he just do it? Instead he comes up with this crazy plan that requires sending his son to earth, killing him on the cross, sending someone to share the Gospel with you, then you have to say some magic words about believing and THEN you will be saved. It's like the Rube Goldberg plan of salvation."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:47 AM on August 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wouldn't Chitty Chitty Bang Bang technically have a Heath Robinson machine?

Yes, I think so - and it is interesting that the Rube Goldberg page offers 10 other national variants on the expression:
Bruce Petty in Australia, Franz Gsellmann in Germany, Kjell Aukrust in Norway, and so on (even more than the 3 others you cite in your comment).

A special international shout out, too, to the film Der Lauf der Dingen - "The Way Things Go" from 1987.
posted by rongorongo at 3:27 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK Go, "This Too Shall Pass" (interactive floor map)
posted by kirkaracha at 7:23 AM on August 18, 2015

Omg I showed my niece and nephews (ages 4, 7, and 8) Pee Wee's Big Adventure this weekend and they were obsessed with the breakfast scene. I can't wait to show them the rest of these!!
posted by elvissa at 9:14 AM on August 18, 2015

Outside of movies, if you want to see them in real life, MIT hosts a machine of machines the Friday after (US) Thanksgiving. Participants sign up and create their own contraption that fits on a 2x8' table and starts and ends with the pull of a string with the force of a mousetrap. The results are fun to watch, and they have some videos of past years.

Which is to say that you don't actually need a kit.
posted by old gray mare at 7:10 PM on August 18, 2015

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