The cinematic future might not always be riding on four wheels, but there are a fair number of sci-fi movies that offer their best — or worst — guess at what cars might look like further down the timestream.
Sometimes you end up with an iconic design that reverberates through the eons and surpasses its role as fictional transportation, but almost as often you get a jumbled mess of incomprehensibly ugly styling cues and eyebrow-raising “functionality” that makes you wonder if the producers had ever even seen a modern automobile.
This list has both. Read on for our take on the impressive, and forgettable, futuristic sci-fi cars we’ve ever seen.
5 Best Cars in Sci-Fi Pop Culture:
Mad Max Interceptor
The V8 Interceptor. The Pursuit Special. The last beacon of hope on the sandy wastelands of a post-oil crash Australia. This blacked-out Road Warrior has surprisingly simple roots, being at its core a ’73 Ford Falcon XB GT sporting a massive blower, sidepipes, a fiberglass nose job, fender flares, and a spoiler. With a shoestring budget to not only buy the cars needed for the film, but also keep them functional for the duration of the shoot, the producers of Mad Max turned a lack of cash into creative strength with this unforgettable future crime-fighter.
Aliens M577 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)
Featuring a bonded titanium chassis, the ability to clear half a meter of ground clearance, if necessary, twin 20-mm cannons, and a 6-megawatt plasma laser, the M577 APC that we saw in the movie Aliens was pretty damn badass — but still not hard enough to resist attack from creatures with acid for blood and a definite predilection for human flesh. Still, this 4×4 troop carrier is probably the coolest version of an airport plane-towing tractor you’ll ever see: the Hunslet Engine Company Model ATT77 tug it was based on weighed close to 72 tons in its original form and was whittled down to a still monstrous 28 tons for filming.
The Wraith’s Turbo Interceptor
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but The Wraith is a movie about a murdered street racer who gets reincarnated as an unstoppable supercar…I guess? It’s really not clear how or why the titular Wraith appears in small-town Arizona to wreak havoc on the crew of ne’er-do-wells who did its once-human(?) soul in, but there’s no doubt that this super-’80s vehicle is a dead ringer for the Dodge M4S supercar concept built in 1986. Capable of 200 mph and sporting 440 horsepower from a 2.2-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder engine, the Wraith/Dodge M4S is an almost completely forgotten glimpse into a glorious past/supernatural future that Mopar inexplicably walked away from.
Spaceballs Eagle 5
It’s a Winnebago that also flies through space. Do we really need to say more? It also has a kitchenette. Nothing else on this list can make that claim.
Blade Runner Spinner
Forgetting for the moment the recent sequel, the Spinners that appeared in the original 1982 version of Blade Runner have remained indelibly burned into the brains of sci-fi fans. With the ability to hover, roll, and effortlessly fly through the air, the stylish and imposing Spinners gave birth to an entire virtual industry of forward-looking future rides that would be sampled and resampled by Hollywood for decades to come. 25 functional (read: able to move under their own power) Spinners were built for the movie by famed Californian vehicle master Gene Winfield, and several survive in museums and private collections today.
5 Worst Sci-Fi Cars:
RoboCop Ford Taurus
What could be more exciting than riding shotgun in a bone-stock ’80s-era Ford Taurus painted flat black and outfitted with a light bar? Probably the least imaginative sci-fi police vehicle ever conceived, the Taurus would star in the first three RoboCop movies after a purpose-built cop car commissioned by original director Paul Verhoeven came out looking “too silly” and was laughed off of the set by the crew.
Star Trek: Nemesis Argo Buggy
In a universe where transporters, shuttlecraft, and warp-capable starships are standard issue, why the hell did the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise feel the need to deploy perhaps the least-safe, doorless dune buggy ever driven by a Starfleet captain while racing to escape a gang of murderous alien thugs? The short answer? It’s because Patrick Stewart (aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard) is really, really into driving, and by the time this lackluster final entry in the Star Trek: The Next Generation film franchise lurched into theaters it was pretty much the Picard and Data show anyway, so they just let him do whatever he wanted to. This included rewriting the script to include an absurd chase across a desert planet.
Every Car In Timecop
Why would cars in 2004 need windows? Or any kind of discernible body shape? Or headlights? Timecop might be JCVD’s highest-grossing movie, but it also contains a few of the ugliest cars you’ll ever see autonomously driving themselves from point A to point B across a near-future landscape. Making them even more bizarre is that they were designed by the same guy – Syd Mead – responsible for penning Blade Runner‘s Spinners. Then again, maybe we’re expecting too much from a movie where time travel is only possible by way of a rocket sled that slams into a concrete wall before dumping you into a river from 20 feet up in the air.
Back To The Future’s DeLorean DMC-12
Flamesuit on here, but the only reason anyone thinks that the DeLorean DMC-12 is cool is because it appeared in the Back to the Future franchise and had gullwing doors. Everything else about this built-by-committee, Peugeot-Renault-Volvo powered ode to automotive failure is utterly forgettable and stands as a solemn testament to what happens when you compromise your vision after running out of cash to build the car you really wanted to sell. It’s cars like the DMC-12 that make me wonder if the Pontiac Aztek is merely one Fast and Furious appearance away from achieving legendary status of its own.
Total Recall’s Johnny Cab
Imagine a future in which all autonomous cars are piloted by a digital representation of the most annoying person you’ll ever meet. You’re welcome.
Images sourced from Internet Movie Car Database