What the heck is a Rube Goldberg contraption, you ask? I made it up, you say? Bullocks! Rube Goldberg was a popular American cartoonist who especially liked to illustrate elaborate machines that performed simple, often insignificant tasks. Catalogued here, you will find my 5 favourite crazy convoluted contraptions constructed to do something disproportionately simple.
I’m sure there are those of you who might expect to find one of the Saw death machines in here. Well, forget about it. Saw lacks the kind of whimsical nature that Goldberg’s devices are supposed to embody.
BTW: I looked everywhere for a video of the opening credit sequence of Back to the Future, but it’s just not out there…
5. Back to the Future (1985) – Doc Brown’s Good Morning Machine
My recollection of this one was of a machine much more complicated than it wound up being after revisiting the scene, so for purely nostalgic reasons I suppose, it makes it into the number 5 spot on this list. This barely passes the smell test when it comes to the criteria, as it’s more of a series of machines doing separate tasks, which was why I the cookie machine from Edward Scissorhands didn’t make the list.
The chain of events: As a series of alarm clocks begin to go off, a coffee maker starts brewing into an absent coffee pot, a clock triggers a mechanical arm that turns on a television, burnt toast pops out of a toaster and on a separate machine, a can of dog food slides down a chute, is grabbed by a mechanical arm, swung around to an electric can opener, the arm then swoops back out and dumps the food into an overflowing bowl.
4. Toy Story (1995) – “Falling with style”
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but I think that’s one of the reasons I like it. Since it only involves inanimate objects, essentially all this so-called machine does is place a toy back in the same place it started from – with the added benefit of making it look like said toy can fly.
The chain of events: Buzz jumps off the bed, bounces off a ball, landing on a toy car which then rolls down a track, around a loop, then launches off a jump, sending Buzz through the air where he latches onto a hanging model plane, which starts flying in circles while tethered to the ceiling until Buzz breaks free and lands back on the bed to much applause.
3. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – The Breakfast Maker
This particular gizmo is probably what immediately comes to mind when you picture a Rube Goldberg machine, but it’s also mostly a collection of machines doing individual tasks. Pee-wee doesn’t even appear to actually eat the breakfast that it makes anyway – and the breakfast that he does eat, he just covers in Mr. T cereal.
The chain of events: Pee-wee turns on a fan that turns the pinwheels, he then lights a candle that burns a rope, that drops an anvil, which starts a motor, which turns a ferris wheel and other gears, which then sends an egg down a tube that is then grabbed by a set of suction cups so a chicken can break the egg in a bowl – meanwhile a pterodactyl carries toast into a toaster – while a doll pours batter into a pan – while a dinosaur squeezes an orange into a jug – while something pours food for Speck – while a manequin of Abe Lincoln flips a pancake up to the ceiling, a bell dings and toast flies out of the toaster to be caught on Pee-wee’s plate as he passes by.
2. City of Lost Children (1995) – The tears shall set you free!
Not so much a machine as it is a chain of events, but it’s a favourite of mine nonetheless, and the reason I got into the concept of the Rube Goldberg machine in the first place. It was even admitted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet as having been inspired by Goldberg’s work.
The chain of events: While Miette is being strangled by the hypnotized One, a tear flies from her cheek to a nearby spiderweb that wakes a sleeping bird that wakes a sleeping dog that wakes a sleeping wino, who throws a bottle that startles a passing seagull who poops on the windshield of a passing car, which crashes into a fire hydrant, whose water rushes into the sewer and sends rats floating into a burlesque house which sends naked ladies out into the street, which distracts a lineman, who shorts out all the electricity in the area including the lighthouse, which causes a passing ship to crash into the docks where Miette is being strangled, which dumps One into the water where he is roused from his murderous trance.
1. The Goonies (1985) – The Walsh’s Front Gate
There are plenty of great contraptions (aka booby traps) in The Goonies, but the most elaborate one is revealed early in the movie. Certainly the most complete Rube Goldberg contraption I’ve found in my favourite feature films; it’s an actual series of machines dedicated to a single purpose. It also has the added benefit of being heralded by Chunk’s truffle shuffle.
The chain of events: Mikey pulls down on a string that raises a bucket, which releases the bowling ball that rolls down a track and falls into a bucket that pumps a set of bellows as it falls; the balloon inflated by the bellows pops, scaring a chicken that lays an egg that falls to trigger a crank that kicks a ball that hits a target that turns on a hose, which turns a sprinkler that spools a string that unlocks the fence’s front gate.