Even in the future, people have to get around somehow, and that usually means some sort of futuristic spin on the car. Example: For Elysium, the dystopian sci-fi thriller, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp and company needed a vehicle worthy of a future privileged class living on a giant space station. Of course, they went with a Bugatti (below). One that can fly.
Elysium’s Bugatti is the latest in a long line of science fiction cars. Some are built from scratch, others are normal cars in costumes, but they all look great on the big (or small) screen. Here are 10 of the best sci-fi cars.
The I, Robot film had little to do with Isaac Asimov’s original collection of stories (although there were many robots in it) but at least its main automotive attraction was rooted in the real world.
Unlike most sci-fi cars, the RSQ foretold an actual production car: the R8 supercar. Since the RSQ is supposed to show what Audis will look like in 2035, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The RSQ’s method of propulsion probably won’t catch on. Even computer mice have evolved beyond rolling around on rubber balls.
This one crosses into comic book territory, but the Batmobile is just too awesome not to include on this list.
The Batmobile has had many incarnations over the years, from the 1966 TV series car, to the winged wonder that starred in Tim Burton’s Batman film (pictured above), to the tank-like Tumbler from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. There were also dozens of designs that never left the comic book page.
Each version has been very different: The 1960s television car was actually a concept car called the Lincoln Futura, altered by customizing legend George Barris, the 1990s movie car was based on a Chevy Impala, and the Tumbler was built from scratch.
However, like the Cape Crusader himself, the Batmobile has remained consistently recognizable through all of the changes. Because he has no real superpowers, Batman will always need a cool car to get from place to place. How he avoids traffic jams is still a mystery.
The “spinner” police car (Blade Runner)
Blade Runner’s flying police car is the coolest of its type because it seems the most realistic. Whereas other flying cars seem as easy to drive as a Honda Civic, the patrol cars in Blade Runner require a lengthy takeoff procedure before rising slowly and majestically into the air in a cloud of smoke. Sharp-eyed viewers (or those who have seen the movie 60 times) will notice the car even has a brand-name badge on it reading “Spinner.”
That sounds about right for a car that is also an airplane and, like everything else in this futuristic drama of humans. high-technology and “replicant” maybe-humans, it looked amazing.
With vast societal changes like global warming and the emergence of human-like robots called Mecha occurring, how could cars stay the same? The designers working on A.I. dreamed up the Cricket, a small three-wheeled vehicle with a pod-like passenger cabin. The front wheels are shrouded, making it look like a bullet with a kickstand. Judging from the audio in the movie, it’s definitely an electric car.
The Cricket could be an evolved version of teardrop-shaped eco-cars like the Volkswagen XL1; the shape might marginalize passenger space, but it does reduce drag. The car’s exposed rear wheel might create a little turbulence, though, and kick up a lot of mud. It would also be very easy to park, but in key scenes it was mostly driving away from terrible things.
Because if you’re going to build a time machine out of a car… well, you know the rest. Back to the Future came out just as the actual DeLorean Motor Company finished crumbling into oblivion, but that doesn’t make this classic movie car any less memorable.
Underneath its gull wing doors and stainless steel skin, the DeLorean was a bit of a dud. Former Pontiac executive John DeLorean’s sports car of the future had an anemic 130 hp 2.8-liter V6, making 88 mph a tall order. But it looked amazing (for the time). Tacking on a flux capacitor, some huge cooling vents and later, a Mr. Fusion, just upped its game.
Without the help of Doc Brown, the DeLorean DMC-12 would have joined the Bricklin SV-1 and Tucker Torpedo in automotive obscurity. Instead, it became a movie star.
The Durango 95 featured in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the “ultra-violent” A Clockwork Orange looks like it was dreamed up by a Hollywood prop designer. At a mere 34 inches tall, it’s so low to the ground that the driver has to enter through the roof. It’s short but memorable scene in the classic film was telling as the main character, Alex, and his clutch of three (!) marauding droogs clearly barely fit into the tiny car at all.
However, the Durango was a real car. Actually called the Probe 16, it was designed by Dennis and Peter Adams, formerly of British sports car maker Marcos. It was powered by a modified four-cylinder engine from an Austin 1800 mounted in the middle of the chassis. Its fiberglass bodywork rode on tiny 10-inch front wheels and 13-inch rears.
Not surprisingly, the Probe 16 never became a mass-market item. Only three were reportedly built.
KITT, otherwise known as Knight Industries Two-Thousand, was a self-driving car with a personality. He didn’t just obediently shuttle people around who had their eyes glued to their smartphones. He was snarky, and would never allow someone to put a spinning sensor dish on his roof.
None of Google’s self-driving cars have “Tri-Helical Plasteel 1000 MBS” armor plating, a rocket-powered Turbo Boost, or a flamethrower, either. Today, all of those features would come in handy on the morning commute.
How do you press home the fact that your sci-fi/action movie takes place in the future? Have the main character drive a Lexus that looks like this one. The sleek red sports car that got built around Tom Cruise in one memorable scene is a long way from today’s ES 350. Not even the real Lexus super car, the super-fast, super-exlcusive LFA, looks this radical. It could very well be the silver lining if Philip K. Dick’s vision of all-seeing “pre-crime” police units ever comes true.
The styling had to do all of the talking, because Lexus didn’t provide much information about what was under the hood (wherever that happens to be) of this car of the future. But we’re guessing it will eventually be built – by robots.
To find a car of the future for his dystopian sci-fi debut, noted car guy George Lucas looked to the recent past.
The film’s chase scenes feature Lola T70s, purpose-built racecars that were fixtures on the grids of endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 24 Hours of Daytona in 1960s.
When filming for THX 1138 began in 1969, however, the T70s had been rendered uncompetitive by newer cars like the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512. Unlike today, used racers were basically worthless at the time, hence the T70s’ second life as movie props.
So what would today be considered incredibly valuable collectibles were dressed up with fake turbine engines and then one of the two cars was smashed hard into a concrete wall. That’s show biz.
In a galaxy far, far away, if you want to avoid Imperial entanglements, or just zip into Mos Eisley for some droid parts, a landspeeder is the way to go.
The SoroSuub X-34 included some unique tech. Its repulsorlift engine cancelled out the effects of gravity, allowing the speeder to hover one meter above the ground. Three turbine engines provided forward thrust, allowing the X-34 to cruise at 250 kph (155 mph).
Luke’s speeder wasn’t even considered top-of-the-line; he purchased it used for a mere 2,400 credits. Imagine if a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla could levitate like that…
Clunker or not, the well-worn X-34 captured the imaginations of millions of moviegoers when it first streaked across screens in 1977, ferrying young Skywalker on a small part of his journey to save the galaxy.
After 30 years, three live action movies and countless toys, the Leader of the Autobots still stands tall.
Optimus started out as a a generic cab-over truck, and was transformed (no pun intended) into a Peterbilt 379 for the explosion-laden Michael Bay film series. The change was reportedly part of an effort to make the Transformers more realistic: Optimus’ Peterbilt guise was longer than the original cab-over, equating to a taller robot.
Optimus is getting another disguise, a blinged-out Western Star, for the next Transformers movie. Maybe this time he’ll finally defeat the Decepticons. But who knows, really.