There have been a number of notable sneaker moments in cinematic history – ranging from elements that had a direct impact on the plot – to more subdued instances that many have only registered for those dedicated to the world of sneaker collecting. We rounded up our 11 favorite.

The clothes that are chosen for characters inhabiting fictitious but grandiose worlds often speak to the unspoken qualities that filmmakers and screenwriters alike want to express about them without having to vocalize the attributes. While there have been a number of notable instances in the past where sneakers radiated on the silver screen, 11 jumped out at us – more so because they were a part of a memorable scene rather than just savvy product placement. From the feet of those in coming-of-age classics, to tools for retribution from the mind of Quentin Tarantino, here are our favorites.

Benny the Jet Pickles “The Beast”

Movie: The Sandlot
Sneaker: PF Flyer

The Sandlot is much more than just a baseball movie. It shows the power of friendship, and how “guts” can get you a long way in this world – whether that’s smooching the lifeguard at the local pool, or taking on the urban legend of “The Beast.”

When Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez decided to hop over that fence, his friends thought he was crazy. The narrator of the film remarks “we were worried– real worried– even when Benny brought out the secret weapon: shoes guaranteed to make a kid run faster and jump higher, P.F. Flyers.”

Ultimately, it was what Benny had inside that counted, but his need to slip those black and green shoes on his feet for a bit of added courage spoke to PF Flyers’ brand strategy at the time which relied on telling consumers that the shoes enabled them to overcome danger.

Your Jordans are Fucked Up!

Movie: Do the Right Thing
Sneaker: Air Jordan IV

Filmmaker Spike Lee used the excessive heatwave in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn as a way to take already simmering racial tensions and up the temperature so that they were at a rolling boil.

When Buggin Out’s brand new Air Jordan IV’s are stepped on – by a white guy wearing a Larry Bird jersey – it’s easy to understand that Lee was taking a shot at gentrification using cultural artifacts like Michael Jordan’s shoes and the signature green jersey from the Celtics legend.

In speaking about the film on the 25th anniversary, Lee said, “I just find it funny that when gentrifiers move to a neighborhood, all of a sudden, services get better and better. Better sanitation, better public schools, more police presence. And the thing that people never really talk about is where do people go in historically neighborhoods of color when the landlord has raised the rent? They get pushed out. It’s not just a problem for people of color. New York City has just gotten so expensive: I don’t care who you are, there’s not enough affordable living. And it’s a detriment to the city if only people who have money can live here. That’s going to make New York City a very boring place.”

Boody Twaps

Movie: The Goonies
Sneaker: Nike Sky Force Hi

“The Goonies” all had their own special talent. For Data, it was his seemingly endless arsenal of tricks that he had up his sleeves. As the Fratellis closed in on them, he chose to employ his secret weapon: slick shoes, which had been crafted out of a pair of Nike Sky Force Hi’s. In order to achieve the gag, the visual effects department took a pair of regular shoes, slit the heels, hallowed that area out, and put in a spring and a latch on the back.

Run, Forrest, Run

Movie: Forrest Gump
Sneaker: Nike Air Cortez

The Nike Air Cortez was created by legendary Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman. In February of this year, it was re-released and saw the value of the shoe triple in resale value on eBay. Many attribute the surge in popularity to the 1994 film, Forrest Gump. With running a prominent theme in the film, Nike saw a natural fit with the “can-do” attitude of Forrest Gump. “That’s the essence of `Just do it,”‘ said Judy Smith, Nike public relations manager at the time.

Kyle Reese Goes Shopping

Movie: The Terminator
Nike Vandal

When Kyle Reese shows up in 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, he needed to look the part of someone from that era. Heading to the local department store, he picks out a pair of Nike Vandals as the cops close in on him.

With the recent reboot of franchise in the form of Terminator Genisyswhich finds the Kyle Reese character being reintroduced to the time travel narrative – producers on the film were keen to have him stepping back into the exact same shoes as his predecessor. However, Nike wanted the film to use a shoe with a Air Force One base.

Costume designer Susan Matheson wasn’t happy with how that small continuity error could throw everything off. In speaking with io9, she said, “No. I’m not going to do that. I need you (Nike) to make me the real sneaker… Everybody watching this movie is going to know if it’s the real sneaker or the non-real sneaker. Anyone who is a fan of Terminator knows that sequence and knows the photo booth, and knows him grabbing the jacket, and knows that he’s taken the pants off the bum in the alley. We all know this, because I’ve watched this movie in slow motion frame by frame over and over and over. This is the entire reason I went into moviemaking, was a combination between Terminator and Mad Max. Those two movies made me decide that I wanted to do costumes. So for me, if I can’t give you the real sneaker, then I might as well not do the movie, right?”

Ultimately, Matheson got her way. Nike ended up making exact original replicas of the Vandals.

MJ Takes the Court Against the Monstars

Movie: Space Jam
Sneakers: Air Jordan XI

Playing off the real world retirement of Michael Jordan. Space Jam holds the distinction of being the highest-grossing film ever made about basketball with profits over $90 million USD. In the film, Jordan takes to the court – flanked by teammates like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck – in a pair of shoes that hadn’t yet been game worn: the “Space Jam” Air Jordan 11. It wouldn’t be until the 1995 Eastern Conferene Semifinals when Jordan debuted the shoes in a non-cinematic context.

For those with eagle-eye vision, you’ll also notice that Bill Murray wears a pair of Air Jordan 2s in the actual Space Jam game.


Movie: Back to the Future Part II
Sneaker: Nike Air MAG

If there’s one piece of movie magic that people have been pining for in real life, it’s Marty McFly’s Nike-assisted Power Laces. For anyone familiar with the film, Marty’s futuristic romp finds him traveling to 2015 – swapping out his Nike Bruins for something more “of the period.”

Tinker Hatfield has acknowledged that he hopes to make Power Laces a reality the same year Marty McFly used then. In speaking at Agenda’s Emerge conference in Long Beach in January of this year, Hatfield cracked, “11 and two-thirds months left in 2015.”

When it came time to achieve the Power Laces effect back when the film was being shot, there was actually a prop man under the street who was pulling the laces together.

The Bride vs. The Crazy 88s

Movie: Kill Bill Volume 1
Sneaker: Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi LE

Quentin Tarantino likes to pay homage to past cinematic moments and characters. In Kill Bill Volume 1, The Bride’s iconic yellow jumpsuit and yellow Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi LE’s are a tribute to Bruce Lee’s similar ensemble from Game of Death in which the martial arts legend dons a pair of Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66s.

However, there is one other major difference. If you look closely, the words “Fuck U” are inscribed across the soles of Uma Thurman’s shoes.

Lemmon Quaaludes

Movie: The Wolf of Wall Street
Sneaker: Nike Air Cortez

What makes Leonardo Dicaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort so memorizing is that it’s unclear if you’re supposed to laugh at his antics, or shield your eyes from his self-destructive behavior. At the precise moment that he needs to be the sharpest, the drugs take hold of him. Reduced to nothing but limbs he couldn’t control – especially the Nike Cortez’s on his feet – and a high-performance sports car – it’s one of the most outrageous scenes in a film chock full of debauchery.

The Piano

Movie: Big
Nike Air Force II

Big proved to be a notable film for a number of reasons. It was the first Oscar nomination for Tom Hanks. Penny Marshall also became the first female director to make a film that grossed more than $100 million. Yet, the “piano” scene is undoutebly what audiences will remember for years to come.

For a shoe company, having an entire scene based around the movement of a character’s feet is a dream come true. But the sequence wasn’t without its fair share of problems. “The piano that was in the store didn’t play any notes,” Marshall told Yahoo Movies. “I called the inventor. I said, ‘Okay, I need this many octaves, and I need it practical, so it lights up when they hit the right note.’ So the inventor, Remo Saraceni, made a better model, the one you see in the film.”

As for Nike, they had the perfect showcase for their Air Force II.

I’m So Wasted!

Movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Vans Checkerboard Slip-On

Vans made their big screen debut on the feet of Jeff Spicoli – a stoner who will certainly live on in cinematic lore. According to Fast Times at Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling, as told in the book, Vans: Off the Wall: Stories of Sole from Vans Originals, Sean Penn was instrumental in establishing his character’s look. “In those days, a lot of actors could decide what they wanted as their costume,” Heckerling says. “I grew up in Bronx, New York, and when I came on to direct the movie, I wasn’t really familiar with Southern California culture. When Sean showed me the shoes for his costume, I trusted his judgment. The assistant cameraman, who was the son of our director of photography and a cool southern California kid, also wore blue Vans with a black palm tree pattern…so I knew the brand was cool.”

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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