Hollywood’s job is to tell an awesome story and there’s nothing better than losing yourself in a 90-minute long flight of fantasy, especially if there’s a ludicrous and fantastical car in there for good measure.
Movie cars aren’t constrained by production costs, NHTSA crash tests or even the laws of physics. They can do anything, go anywhere and get wherever they need to go just in the nick of time. They’re awesome and we really do want these cars in the real world.
The really interesting thing is that some of this stuff is actually filtering through and we’re getting the technical breakthroughs that were the stuff of silver screen dreams not so long ago.
So what are the best movie EVs, hybrids and, well, others that seem powered by hopes and dreams that we wish we could have on the road? Well here’s our selection, but we think this one is going to generate some heat and you’re going to have your own very different list. So feel free to let fly in the comments.
1. Spinner – Blade Runner 1982
Spinner was the fictional manufacturer of a flying car that made such an impression that it is arguably the most famous sci-fi car in the world. It went on to make a cameo appearance in Star Wars prequel trilogy, The Fifth Element and even Back to the Future II.
The Spinner was an early hybrid, but it’s petrol and anti-gravity rather than the set-ups we’ve become accustomed to. It operates like a normal car, but it can conveniently take off on command and hit the skies. In severe gridlock, we’ve all dreamed of this car.
A humble Volkswagen Beetle lies at the heart of the actual cars, but futurist Syd Mead went to work on a machine that was, theoretically at least, capable of vertical take-off and hovering. Essentially it replaced a car and a helicopter.
The producers commissioned 25 working examples from legendary custom car manufacturer Gene Winfield. But items like the hydraulic Lambo Style Doors, an aftermarket item you can buy for a modern-day Golf off eBay, decimated the $800,000 budget. Just two full size cars were finished and one of them still sits in the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle.
2. Aptera – Star Trek – 2009
The Aptera was going to be a new dawn in fuel consumption and the company promised us 330mpg at 65mpg all the way back in 2005 thanks to a hybrid powerplant and a streamlined shape to reduce drag.
The end result was a three-wheeled car that looked like a cross between a helicopter, an open-wheel racing car and a light aircraft. Indeed, the name means ‘wingless flight’. It was really heading for production, as long as the US government would fund the program to the tune of $184 million.
Well, the US said no. So in 2011 the company declared bankruptcy, but not before the car made a guest appearance in Star Trek. It was a fleeting showing, but we just love the faux science fiction look of a car that was actually intended for the public road.
So this was a movie car that we just didn’t get right? Well yes and no. ZAP bought the technology and brought it to market in their own way, but it’s nowhere near as cool as the original Aptera.
3. Bugatti – Elysium – 2013
This stretched the very definition of a car and it really is more of a spaceship if we’re honest. But then, it does have a Bugatti logo on the front and this is the chosen form of transport for the super-rich that populate the gated community they call Elysium. It even comes with robot bodyguards.
Isn’t it weird that Elon Musk is now proposing a community on Mars for those that have 100K each and more to spend on the ticket? Just a thought.
It was interesting marketing on Bugatti’s part, too, because this was literally embracing the elitist view that some people are just better than others and the Bugatti-driving Elysium residents really didn’t come out of this whole affair looking good.
It comes with quad-ion power and it’s a surface flying machine. We don’t really know what that means either, but then the car isn’t technically on sale until 2154 so we have time work out the details.
Until then we can just enjoy the trademark Bugatti two-tone colorscheme, the insane performance and we’ll just gloss over the fact that it might not be a car at all.
4. Citroen DS Cabriolet – Gattaca – 1997
The genetically inferior Ethan Hawke gets to go to space by buying Jude Law’s genes and then things get really messed up. They drive futuristic turbine cars, but they’re all based on 1960s models and the unlikely Rover P6 is the most popular car.
Now do we really want a turbine-powered Rover P6? Well probably not, but there’s a certain perverse appeal about old-school cars converted with modern electric technology. We much prefer the Citroen DS, which has become a cult car on its own merit thanks to its high-tech approach for the era.
The original DS was a total benchmark for ride quality, it was the first car with disc brakes and it’s a nailed on classic right now. The cabriolet is seriously rare and we love the idea of them being fitted with electric motors and staying on the road forever.
5. Minority Report – Lexus 2054
The Lexus featured in this 2002 blockbuster starring Tom Cruise and we do think it looks stunning.
It looks better than any Lexus we’ve seen in recent times, although it looks like the front should probably be the back from certain angles. It runs on hydrogen fuel cells that powers a 500kW electric engine and came with a mass of safety features that include a crashproof structure, biometric security and then there were some other intriguing features.
The car weighs just 2300lb thanks to a carbon-fiber and titanium composite monocoque, something Pagani made real just a few years later.
It has self-driving technology, music that automatically changes to suit the passenger’s mood and voice-activated commands that include sending your dinner order to the oven at home. It also boasts a heads-up display, laser guided cruise control, gesture recognition, cameras to cover the rear view and not mirrors, sonar parking assist and an accident avoidance system.
We’re really not that far away from all of this. 14 years ago it was sci-fi madness, now you can order a lot of this.
6. Johnny Cab – Total Recall – 1990
Remember the vaguely electric sounding cab that Arnold Schwarzenegger woke up in? This bizarre 1990 sci-fi romp had an autonomous taxi that just happened to have a physical representation of the car’s brain that combined Autopilot and Siri.
It’s a pretty rough looking car, but then this is an old film, but it’s fascinating to see how we imagined autonomous cars would look like more than 25 years ago. The android driver just isn’t necessary. We know that now. Maybe they knew it then, but a talking car might not have had the same cinematic appeal.
But look at what’s happening. An autonomous fleet of minivan taxis roaming the city. Again, Elon Musk keeps talking about something very similar with the minibus based on the Model X platform. Maybe the Tesla boss watched too many movies…
7. Iron Man 3 – Audi R8 etron – 2013
We almost excluded this car out of pure spite. It was meant to be in the showrooms by now and the only place we’ve actually seen it is on the big screen with Robert Downey Jr at the wheel.
There’s nothing especially advanced about this car, which is why we liked it so much. It was real, and it was coming, and it was simply sexy technology. The Audi R8 is a seriously good car. It’s basically the Lamborghini Huracan with a better fit and finish. So an electric version was a nailed on hit.
The project as off, on, off, on again and now we’re starting to wonder if we’re ever going to see the car with 456bhp and 679lb/ft of torque. The car was good for 280 miles on a single charge and could hit 62mph in 3.9s, although you have to assume it could go faster if Audi had another go at the battery and inverter.
With Audi’s recent push towards electric then logic dictates that the car is coming, but we’re starting to hear rumors to the contrary. Audi really might kill this electric car before it really gets going. What should have been a triumphant silver screen debut for a smash hit EV has actually become an annoying reminder that Audi teased us, then denied us. Also, Iron Man 3 was awful.
8. Flying Taxi – Fifth Element
OK, this one doesn’t really relate to the real world, at all, but we still love Luc Besson’s colorful adventure. In hindsight, there’s way too much McDonald’s product placement in the chase scene, though.
As for the flying taxi with Bruce Willis at the wheel, it can be more or less whatever you want it to be. This 23rd Century vehicle obviously borrows heavily from a New York Yellow Cab and the police cars are based on NYPD cars, too. But that’s about as far as reality gets.
The car has hints of the 1930s, there are some art deco touches there and a massive grille, despite the fact it cannot serve any purpose. It’s another fun and spectacular car that really doesn’t need a scientific explanation, just revel in the madness and Milla Jovovich in ‘that’ costume.
9. Light Runner – Tron Legacy 2010
Tron Legacy is unlikely to trouble the likes of Blade Runner when it comes to the greatest films we’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that the Light Runner doesn’t deserve its place here.
The film was a special effects extravaganza and the Light Runner really looks the part. It’s loaded with weapons, including the trademark light ribbons, a missile launcher, mine launchers at the rear and more.
It was also designed to be the Tron equivalent of a Jeep Wrangler crossed with a Ferrari and has neat design touches like the suspension traveling round the wheels. It actually looks more like an Ariel Nomad crossed with a 1960s Formula One car.
This is a car that works on the grid and it has small studs that punch out of the wheels for rougher terrain. It’s pretty awesome in its own way.
10. DeLorean – Back to the Future 2
This just had to happen didn’t it? The creaky DeLorean got a massive makeover for the second film and took to the air.
Now you can ask about the power source, but this is a car with a Flux Capacitor that runs on everything from Plutonium to garden waste. The Doc even tries to use whiskey in one ill-fated attempt. It really doesn’t matter what makes it fly, but it is kind of amusing that the producers thought we’d have flying cars by 2015. If they really thought about it at all.
The DeLorean was an inspired choice for the film and the car is every bit as famous as the actors. If you don’t know the story about John DeLorean ending in a massive FBI sting and a room full of Cocaine, then look it up.
For those that do, there’s an entire subtext to this happy family caper with a flying car and Michael J Fox in his prime.
We’ve all seen these films too many times now, but the flying DeLorean remains an all-time move car classic and when it ran on garden waste it was the ultimate clean machine too.