Every now and then, when pondering about potential lists, I think of an unlikely topic and say, “Surely there aren’t ten or twelve examples, enough to make up a list.” Yet, in this case, I thought of another one and then another and another; the examples kept coming, and thus, this list of movie pens was born! The lowly pen is both a handy household item and an essential tool for writers through centuries, one we very often take for granted. I, for one, am extremely glad that the quill pen and ink bottle went the way of the dodo since compact ballpoint pens are so much more convenient and have made for some memorable movie moments over the years. Thus, here are my Top Twelve pens used in movies (with one pencil thrown in as a cheat).
- The Conversation (1974)
In the subtle world of surveillance where Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul is a legend, even something as simple as a pen can trip up the master. Planted by a competitor as a gift, Caul soon learns to his embarrassment that it was a recording device all along.
- Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
As mythical weapons go, a pen is certainly the most inconspicuous. When the uninitiated demigod of the title is given a pen for protection, I always get a kick out of his incredulous reaction.
- Awakenings (1991)
In an otherwise dramatic film, I do love this little moment of levity where a mental patient reveals to Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams) an irrational fear of pens.
- The Naked Gun (1988)
In this hilarious scene, Ricardo Montalban’s villain makes the mistake of showing Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) two priceless items, including a samurai pen impervious to everything but water…and then turns his back. Who’s the stupid one here?
- TIE: Never Say Never Again (1983) and Goldeneye (1995)
James Bond movies got a little over-the-top in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and pens are a great hidden gadget for such spy films. I love how these pen scenes were skewered a bit in Skyfall, when Q tells Bond, “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
From the first film of the franchise, we saw how Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) could make any household item lethal. A knife might have been better, but a pen will do.
This one’s not higher only because it’s so brief. As Marcus Brody and Henry Jones, Sr., grapple with Nazis in a tank, a pen becomes Marcus’s secret weapon. Don’t you see, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” And all the literature fans groaned….
- The Dark Knight (2008)
Cheat time to allow a pencil into the mix! If the opening scenes weren’t enough, Heath Ledger’s Joker shows just how deadly and unpredictable he is with this sudden and violent “magic trick.”
- Liar Liar (1997)
After his son’s birthday wish makes him incapable of lying, Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) tests his hilarious handicap on the color of a pen. It’s Jim Carrey doing what Jim Carrey did best. (Language warning for the end of the video.)
- Zootopia (aka Zootropolis) (2016)
A carrot pen actually becomes the tool that brings Nick and Judy together to solve their missing persons case, thanks to its handy secondary use as a tape recorder. It even proves invaluable at the end.
- Say Anything (1989)
The pen-ultimate place can be summed up with one line: “I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.” You’ve got to feel sorry for John Cusack after his girlfriend, pressured by her father, gives him a pen as she breaks up with him. As parting gifts go, it’s pretty cold. Interesting note: Cusack must have been traumatized by that pen because he actually kills someone with a pen in Grosse Pointe Blank. Both are in the video, but again a language/violence warning.
- A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Pens serve as the emotional high point of A Beautiful Mind. After seeing the pens ceremony honoring esteemed faculty members years earlier, John Nash is bestowed with the same distinction. The ceremony itself may be completely made up for the movie, but its poignancy is exceptional, all because of pens.
Here are some runner-up pens and pencils for the road, in alphabetical order. Can you think of any others I missed?
Captain America: Civil War – Tony Stark offers Cap a special pen to sign the Sokovia Accords.
Casino – Don’t give Joe Pesci a pen…ever.
The Empire of Corpses – A pen serves as a sign to John Watson that there’s hope for his zombified friend.
Ernest Goes to Jail – This is why you shouldn’t gnaw the end of your pen.
The Expendables 2 – Even the pens in these movies are tough-looking, in this case a Montegrappa Chaos pen, designed by Sylvester Stallone himself.
Girl, Interrupted – Angelina Jolie threatens herself with a pen to the neck.
Grosse Point Blank – Another pen stabbing, as mentioned above.
Groundhog Day – Bill Murray breaks a pencil to test what’s going on and wakes up the next day to find it whole again.
Johnny English – Don’t give Rowan Atkinson a tranquilizer pen…ever.
Lethal Weapon 2 – Riggs discusses how a gold pen helped him through his wife’s death.
The Martian – Donald Glover’s explanation for saving Mark Watney involves a pen in place of the Taiyang Shen supply rocket.
Music and Lyrics – Drew Barrymore has a nervous habit of clicking her pen while writing.
The Peanuts Movie – Charlie Brown saves the pencil of the Little Red-Haired Girl as he tries to work up the courage to talk to her.
Red Eye – Yet another pen stabbing. Why are those things so sharp?
The Running Man – Schwarzenegger signs a contract on someone’s back only to pin it to said back with the pen.
The Theory of Everything – At the end, Stephen Hawking dreams of standing up to hand someone a fallen pen.
The Wolf of Wall Street – Psych! Despite the picture at the top, I’ve actually never seen Wolf of Wall Street (and don’t plan to) so it couldn’t be on the list. I do like the “Sell me this pen” scenes, though.
Your Name – A pen falls when Taki and Mitsuha’s meeting is cut short.