Legacy of Rube Goldberg's Machines

Rube Goldberg machines are awesome. They look complicated and, in many ways, intimidating. Rube Goldberg’s machines had left a statement as contraptions that complicate simple tasks had become synonymous to his name. Not only do many competitions make use of the premise, i.e. “Design the most interesting or most original and effective machines out there based on Rube Goldberg machines”, but there are also several films that make use of the Rube Goldberg machine concept. These films are proofs that Rube Goldberg had really made a lasting multimedia impact.

You may have not heard of Rube Goldberg before but chances are you have already encountered some of the machines in some of your beloved movies. These machines had never failed to lend a degree of awe, horror or fun in films, depending on the genre they find themselves in.

Rube Goldberg machines are not even limited to fantasy films. You can also find variations in horror, adventure and comedy. Whenever there is a need for hilarity or awe, you will find a Rube Goldberg machine. Here are some of the popular films where you can find some Rube Goldberg machines:


In worlds of fantasy and adventure, you can sometimes find Rube Goldberg machines. These machines provide the sense of wonder in short bursts. Instead of letting something do its job in just one turn, a Rube Goldberg machine lets the function finish after a chain of events has elapsed. This way, the viewer has to hold his breath to see if the protagonists are going to get the bad guy or going to achieve the goal.

I - Robots in Edward Scissorhands

You probably remember more of the landscaping in Edward Scissorhands. After all, the title character did a lot of cutting, trimming and shaping of the hedges to create a fantastical world of his making. In the same film, there is a sort of factory that makes use of tiny robots. These robots press the dough into thin slices with their feet. The dough goes through a series of pulley systems. There is also a part of the robot machine system that breaks the egg for the mix. Then, the dough gets cut into different shapes. One of the shapes is a heart that is set on one of the robots. Apparently, this is the robot that becomes Edward Scissorhands, the titular character that looks like a boy and has the heart of one.

The whole setup is that of a Rube Goldberg machine because humans could easily press the dough and carve the shapes. Instead, Edward Scissorhands decided to go with a complicated invention, which is appropriate for the awe-inspiring creation of the robot-boy protagonist. There is that added sense of fantasy.

II- The Goonies’ Contraptions

You most likely have heard about the cult favorite, The Goonies. The movie’s main leads are kids who are about to set into the adventure of their lives. The movie is also part comedy because of all the scrapes that the kids find themselves in and the strange and wacky characters that they encounter. The whole premise is interesting, with adventures galore for the children who are looking for lost treasure promised by a map. The Rube Goldberg machine shows itself at the very beginning of the film at the gate of the Walshes.

The setup starts working as soon as Mikey pulls on a string. This action raises a bucket that releases a bowling ball. The ball rolls down, following a track that has been built. It will then fall into a bucket below. This bucket pumps some bellows that inflate a balloon. The balloon pops, scaring a chicken as a result. The chicken lays an egg when it gets scared. The egg will fall onto a crank, thus triggering it to kick a ball. This ball will hit a target, which in turn activates a hose. The hose will make the sprinkler move. The sprinkler will then spool a string, which will open the front gate of the Walshes.

This is one of the best examples of a Rube Goldberg machine captured on film. There is a continuous chain of actions and reactions and a chicken is even involved. Rube Goldberg is known to design inventions that involve animals and humans, whose reactions can only be guessed and anticipated.

III – Chain of Events in the City of Lost Children

If a continuous chain of events, not part of one machine, can be considered a Rube Goldberg concoction, then the events in the cult movie, City of Lost Children will suffice as an example. At least its director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, had specifically mentioned having been inspired by the inventions of Rube Goldberg.

In the City of Lost Children, the young ones are being abducted with the purpose of stealing their dreams. A man working for a carnival, accompanied by a young girl named Miette, goes on a search rescue for his young brother.

In one sequence in the movie, Miette finds herself being strangled. A tear from her cheek lands on a spider web. The drop awakens a bird. Then comes a sequence of awakenings, from the bird to the sleeping dog to the sleeping wino. The wino then throws a bottle, in effect startling a seagull. The seagull then poops on a passing car’s windshield. This distracts the driver, thus causing the car to crash against a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant then oozes water out into the sewer. This causes the rats to float towards the inside of a burlesque house. Naked ladies had to rush out because of the rat invasion, thus distracting a lineman who ends up short-circuiting the area’s electricity. Even the lighthouse had lost its light, thereby not being able to guide a passing ship that end up crashing into the docks. The whole sequence of events goes full circle because Miette is being strangled in those same docks. The crash of the ship thus dumps the Hypnotized One, who is doing the strangling. In effect, Miette has been saved by her own tear.

There is no invention here. However, the chain of events follows the same reliance on chance. To make it work, the objects, people and animals involved must react according to expectations to make the process successful. There is a life that needs to be saved, after all.

IV- Back to the Future

Of course, a film with a title like Back to the Future should have something to impress the viewers by. After all, the movie is a science fiction that deals with travel. It must be able to fascinate or at least hold the viewers’ attention, enough to showcase what time travel can offer.

The machine closest to the ideals of Rube Goldberg inventions is not even one machine but rather a series of machines, each performing a different task. Still, it was undoubtedly inspired by the works of the cartoonist-engineer.

A chain of alarm clocks go off, causing a coffeemaker to brew though there is no coffee pot. A clock starts off a mechanical arm, which turns the television on. The toaster pops out some burnt toast in another machine. Then, a mechanical arm grabs a can of dog food, which is taken to an electric can opener. It swings back to dump the dog food into an already filled bowl.

Despite the fact that there are separate machines involved, the Back to the future chain of events can still be attributed to Rube Goldberg. The viewers are held in awe and wait what is about to happen in the end. Of course, there are better examples of Rube Goldberg machine in film.

V- Inventions in Honey I Shrunk the Kids

Do you remember any of the inventions that Wayne Szalinski manages to produce in Honey I Shrunk the Kids? It seems that the guy has been inspired by Rube Goldberg, as well.


There are other science-fiction and adventure films out there that make use of Rube Goldberg designs. Well, Rube Goldberg was an engineer before he gave his life to full-time cartooning. He was able to design his own inventions based on what he knew about physics. Of course, it can also be argued that many of his inventions would not have worked out in real-life. Where, for example, can you find a Lilliputian goat that has a penchant for eating hair? Rube Goldberg machines are easily incorporated into fantastical or adventurous worlds because they have that sense of unreality and awesomeness. One other example of a film that is set in a different landscape featuring a Rube Goldberg type of machine is The Cat from Outer Space. Continue to next page.