They say that a good hero is only as good as their villain. But while movie and TV heroes and villains are iconic by definition, behind (and beneath) every one of them often sits a piece of furniture worthy of just as much adoration – or terror. It might sound ridiculous to claim that a piece of furniture can be just as memorable as a line of dialogue or an actor’s performance, but our list begs to differ.
Whether they were the seat of power sought after by would-be rulers, the seat from which kingdoms are built or torn asunder, or simply a set dresser who accidentally made a quick decision an immortal one, our list of the 10 Greatest Movie & TV Chairs proves that a performer doesn’t need to speak a word to work their way into audiences’ hearts.
10. Egg Chair, Men in Black (1997)
Since the 1960s, the decade’s European, art-deco furniture and decor have made a lasting impression on filmmakers everywhere. One of the most iconic pieces of said furniture has to be the ‘Egg Chair,’ seen in many variations and styles in too many films and TV shows to count. But few made it as much of a centerpiece as Men in Black. The first ‘test scene’ played the chair’s unorthodox structure for laughs, but the odd throwback/retro attitude became such a trademark of the MiB as a whole, it even became the franchise’s most iconic piece of marketing.
9. Hover Chairs, Wall-E (2008)
It may have seemed difficult to believe that the future human beings of Pixar’s WALL-E could actually allow Earth to be turned into one massive garbage dump, but once the humans were revealed, it was clear that littering was the least of their problems. Forced(?) into lethargy and obesity by the Auto-pilot entrusted to protect them, humans spend their lives drinking, eating, and moving without leaving the comfort of their many hover chairs. An early death and blindness to a malevolent A.I. are admitted drawbacks – but talking to a friend without having to move your neck? We could get used to that.
8. Chairy, Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991)
It may be the only entry on our list that actively creeps us out in adulthood, but for the younger (or young at heart) viewers who grew up with Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the concept of a chair that could offer hugs as well as a soft seat was as good as it got. True, the show’s creators may not have given Chairy the most inspired name or backstory, but that doesn’t lessen the treasured place it holds in our hearts.
7. Xerxes’ Throne, 300 (2006)
There was certainly no more surprising character in Zack Snyder’s 300 than the larger than life – literally – Xerxes, king of the Persians (Rodrigo Santoro). As impressive as the man’s size was, it was overshadowed by the throne he sat upon. It might actually be inaccurate to call it a throne, since it contains two massive sculptures, a set of stairs, and is carried around by a small army of servants. Since intimidation is fairly important to the god-king’s reputation, a throne that inspires such awe has its uses. But as massive an army as he may have at his back, we’re more impressed by the lumbar support that he doesn’t (backless chairs are a god-king thing, apparently).
6. Throne of Gondor, Lord of the Rings (2003)
In television, film, or literature of any kind, few images convey as universal a meaning as an empty throne. In bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to life, director Peter Jackson took the image and ran with it, bringing Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor to life with a sense of scale and beauty that awed audiences everywhere. Nothing captured the glory or sadness of the old world of Men like Gondor’s throne room, but the presence of two chairs told a compelling story.
Seated well below the king’s throne sat the chair reserved for the Steward of Gondor, Denethor II (John Noble). The small, black, hunched seat of the overseer of Gondor was less impressive to behold, and audiences knew everything they need to about the character’s mental state the first time Gandalf strode into the Citadel. The kingdom may be his responsbility, but he would never receive the fame and glory of the empty throne hanging over his head.
5. Odin’s Throne, Thor (2011)
Marvel made it clear early on that the residents of Asgard – specifically, its ruling class – tend to take themselves quite seriously. The first Thor began with the titular god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth) making his march to accept the throne from his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The ceremony was interrupted by invading Frost Giants, but even their incineration at the hands of Asgard’s Destroyer couldn’t distract from the real star of the sequence: Odin’s throne.
Looking more like a gold-plated starship command console than a chair, the throne of Asgard remained a focal point in the sequel Thor: The Dark World as well. The speed with which Asgard’s sculptors recreated the throne after its run-in with an antimatter grenade makes us wonder if they’ve considered mass-producing them. Even if they fail to include the pair of ravens perched on either side.
4. The Iron Throne, Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin swung for the fences when he concocted the seat of power in his political fantasy, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Meant to symbolize the challenge of uniting the Seven Kingdoms in the first place, the Iron Throne is forged from over 1,000 swords, surrendered by the defeated enemies of the first king, Aegon the Conqueror. The symbolism of the throne is more apparent than most thrones in general, but its meaning goes far deeper.
The version of the Iron Throne used in the HBO series gets the basic point across, but it is a far more comfortable and manageable size than what Martin envisioned (a throne so wild and pointed that those sitting in it would constantly risk a blade in the back – get it?). So far the chair has proven as deadly as the men who have sat upon it, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t still jump at the chance to sit in it.
3. Red Leather Wingback, The Matrix (1999)
Science fiction or fantasy films are obvioulsy more likely to be distilled down to a single object, weapon, piece of clothing, or furniture. But The Matrix deserves special credit for making an immortal symbol out of something that can likely be found in every wood-paneled library or smoking room in the world. The first time Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) sat down in a pair of red leather wingback armchairs to ask the age old question (what is The Matrix?) their choice of furniture seemed irrelevant.
But that armchair would go on to become not just Morpheus’ trademark (we can only assume it was really, really comfortable), but embody the film’s fiction more than any one object or prop actually could. The chair itself is nothing spectacular, but The Wachowskis made it a sci-fi icon.
2. Captain’s Chair, Star Trek (1966-1969)
With a following going strong for nearly sixty years, Star Trek remains one of the most legendary science fiction franchises of the last century. The star of the franchise might arguably be the USS Enterprise as much as any cast member, but only a select few have ever called the Command Chair their own. While most spaceships in the Trek universe sport a command chair in one way or another, it’s that of the Enterprise which has earned the most fame.
Reserved for the commanding officer of the Enteprise, the chair itself has become so powerful in its implications, using the term ‘the chair’ has come to mean not just the acting authority, but all the responsibilities that come with commanding a Starfleet vessel. The chair itself has seen several changes over the years, but it’s the version seen in The Original Series that we would have to name as the most beloved.
1. Emperor’s Throne, Star Wars (1980-1983)
The Imperial Throne held by Emperor Palpatine in the original Star Wars trilogy is somewhat unique in our list, since there were actually several spread throughout the Empire’s power centers. The most iconic would have to be the one found in the Emperor’s Throne Room on the second Death Star, since that’s the one shown most clearly in the actual films.
Even with his Force powers, intimidation was a key part of Palpatine’s strategy. His stark throne room sat atop a 100-story tower, stark but for his throne and the massive viewports. And what kind of throne would he concoct for such a powerful set? A piece of furniture that would seem more at home connected to an Atari game console, or stuck in the background of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Despite its unimpressive size and style – or perhaps because of it – the Emperor’s Throne captures the character perfectly: we suppose we should be afraid, but it all seems silly now, in the best possible way.
That’s just a small sample of the chairs that have become far more than just a seating apparatus for the men and women who sat upon them. Hopefully those who are quick to dismiss the notion that a chair is nothing but background detail in film and TV will realize their folly; in some of these cases, the chairs heroes and villains sat upon were infinitely more interesting than those who filled them. Be sure to name your own favorites in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.