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Like any good art, much of cinema is full of bizarre and unique fictional inventions, from whole languages and worlds to small but fascinating details such as salutes and hand signs. In sci-fi and fantasy, in particular, additions such as these can make all the difference when it comes to creating the right atmosphere and an overall believable and memorable fictional world. So, let’s go over some of the most famous hand signs used in movies and what they mean.
7 Famous Hand Signs Used In Movies
Going over all the popular hand signs and gestures from movies would be a lost cause, especially considering how far back movie history goes. This is even more so if we consider foreign cinema. There are some signs that stand the test of time, however, and are easily recognizable even decades after they first hit the big screen.
Vulcan hand salute from Star Trek
There is hardly a more recognizable fictional hand gesture in all of movie history and sci-fi in general than the Vulcan salute from Star Trek. Usually accompanied by the iconic phrase “Live long and prosper”, the salute does have a very clear-cut and simple meaning behind it – it’s a greeting and/or farewell sign, wishing the other person to live long and prosper.
The exact in-universe origin or any deeper meaning of the salute isn’t known but we do know that actor Lenard Nimoy came up with it in real life. According to him, the Vulcan salute came up as a combination of a Jewish hand salute he had seen as a child and Winston Churchill’s peace sign.
The Atreides blade salute from Dune
The 2021 Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune came with a lot of surprises. Many people were astonished at how well and closely the movie managed to follow the first book of the series while others were shocked by some of the changes made by the adaptation.
One of the curious examples is the famous hand and blade salute of House Atreides. In the books, it’s described as members of House Atreides touching their foreheads with their blades. Most readers seem to have imagined this as something similar to the classic fencing salute.
Yet, in the movie, the salute is shown a bit differently – with the characters first putting their blade-holding fist in front of their hearts and then lifting it above their heads, lifting the blade horizontally above the forehead.
Is this really a major change or is this what Herbert actually envisioned? Even if it isn’t, there’s no doubt that the movie’s version also looks epic and fits very well with the tone and atmosphere of Dune’s world.
The “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” Jedi mind trick gesture from Star Wars
Not really a sign, a greeting, or a salute, this is rather just a gesture used by the Jedi Force users in the Star Wars franchise. Used to slightly manipulate the target’s memories and behavior, this gesture was first used by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s original actor Alec Guinness in 1977’s Star Wars.
Since then, the Jedi mind trick was used in various other installments of the Star Wars franchise such as The Phantom Menace in 1999 when Qui-Gon Jinn played by Liam Neeson tried and failed to mind trick the Toydarian Watto. More than that, the hand sign has also been widely used by fans of the franchise as both a greeting and a meme.
The Hail Skroob salute from Spaceballs
For a salute full of some irreverent humor, there are few betters places to go to than Spaceballs. This masterful satire of Star Wars and other popular flicks managed to craft the perfect two-part salute for its genre – first, the universal F-you sign and then a dainty finger wave. Do we need to look for some extra meaning in this classic Mel Brooks joke? Certainly not.
The 3-finger “District 12” sign from Hunger Games
The famous hand salute from the Hunger Games franchise is easily recognizable but it’s not actually original. Anyone who’s ever been in the scouts knows that this sign comes from there, not from the Hunger Games books or movies.
The sign in the young adult franchise does come with a bit of flair, however. First, it starts with a kiss on those same three fingers before they are raised in the air. Secondly, the sign is also often accompanied by the famous Hunger Games whistle.
What’s more, the sign is also full of in-universe symbolism. In the story, it starts off as a funeral gesture but it quickly evolves into a symbol of District 12 as well as of the broader revolution, while the protagonist Katniss Everdeen starts using it in the Hunger Games tournament. Fans of the series also use the sign in real life to this day to signify their part in the fandom.
The Zoltan sign from Dude, Where’s My Car?
Onto another classic satire, the 2000 Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott comedy Dude, Where’s My Car? had one of the simplest and most iconic hand signs in movie history – the Zoltan sign.
A simple Z formed by touching the thumbs of both hands and spreading the fingers in different directions, this symbol didn’t really have a deeper meaning in the movie, other than poking fun at the cult leader of a ridiculous group of UFO worshippers.
Curiously enough, however, the symbol was later adopted by a US baseball team. The Pittsburgh Pirates jokingly used the sign after one successful game 12 years after the movie had come out. The players appear to have done it as a joke but the fans caught on immediately and turned the Zoltan sign into a new symbol for the team going forward.
Let’s end things on a famous fictional salute that maybe tried to be serious but still looks kind of funny regardless. Coming straight from Marvel Comics and into the MCU in 2011, the Hail Hydra salute is a play on the famous Hail Hitler salute of Nazi Germany.
Only in this case, it’s both arms instead of just one and with closed fists instead of a flat hand. Does it make a bit of sense? Sure. Does it have any deeper meaning? Not really.
All in all, these are just a few of the many famous hand signs used in movies and popular culture. If we are to extend a wider look into TV shows, animation, and video game franchises we’d find dozens and hundreds more, each more unique than the next. Some have deeper meanings, others are straightforward but still iconic, and quite a few are just jokes and memes. Yet, they are all quite memorable and fascinating nevertheless.