With the arrival of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice next month comes not only a new take on Batman (by Ben Affleck), but also the next iteration of what has proven, over the past 70+ years, to be one of the most iconic vehicles in cinematic history: the Batmobile.
Given this new vehicle’s design and the role it’s already played in the film’s teasers and trailers, it seems only natural to take a look back at the various filmic Batmobiles that have graced either the screen (big or small), to help get a sense of the latest version’s aesthetic lineage and, quite simply, to celebrate the car’s long and varied history. There’s been so many incarnations across so many different productions, it’s advantageous to put them all (well, nearly all) side-by-side and see what shakes out. It turns out there are quite a few surprises hidden in there as well, and even more visual delights.
So, without further ado, here is our Ranking of Every Batmobile.
12 Batman and Robin (1997)
This hulking monstrosity is simultaneously one of the largest and one of the most ridiculous interpretations of Batman’s faithful ride – and that’s saying a lot, given the vehicle’s extensive history. The design choices that comprise this particular incarnation of the Batmobile are nothing short of asinine, from the open cockpit and the singular seat, to the pair of gigantic fins and the bright, attention-grabbing colors that literally swirl through the car. The impracticality inherent in this design is simply staggering; not only can Batman never transport a passenger in a pinch, he has absolutely no protection when cruising around Gotham City – which is doubly a problem, given the fact that the neon-bright blues that dominate the car make hiding in the shadows a near-impossibility. It’s obvious that this was designed primarily as a toy, with absolutely no consideration going into the reality of its narrative, though it should be noted that the vehicle, at the very least, is perfectly at home in the film in which in exists.
There is some real-world basis for Batman and Robin’s travesty of a ride, however; production designer Barbara Ling said that she was disappointed by the lack of screen presence from the previous movie’s Batmobile, and she wanted something “larger than life” for the follow-up, turning specifically to older racing roadsters, such as the Jaguar D Type. Now if only we could find an explanation for that ridiculous transparent engine...
11 Batman Forever (1995)
Although Batman Forever is a (slightly) more serious film than its successor, its variation on the Batmobile is arguably even more cartoony than Batman and Robin’s; indeed, many of the design elements on display with the later movie’s car are just as fully present here, from the grand infusion of bright lights, the ridiculously giant fin (which can split in two), and the Bat-symbol-emblazoned tires. But director Joel Schumacher and production designer Barbara Ling outdid themselves by throwing in a few extra (neon-soaked) flashes, such as the jets on the car’s bottom that allows it to go diagonal (in order to shoot Bat-grappling ropes) and the fact that the brightly lit hubcaps never rotate, ensuring that the Bat symbol is always prominently displayed in an upright fashion. Finally, there’s also the vehicle’s “ribs,” which house the neon-blue innards within, the by-product of Ling’s desire to make Batman’s famous ride look more “organic.” Seriously.
So, if the Forever Batmobile is actually even more cartoony than Batman and Robin’s, why does it rank higher than its replacement? The answer is easy: though ridiculously outlandish, this car still uses previous models as its basis, allowing one to believe that it would be far more feasible in the never-ending battle against crime – even if one has to believe really, really hard.
10 Batman (1943)
Though now generally lost to the annals of time, Batman’s career on the silver screen started all the way back during World War II, just four short years after his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, in a 15-part serial titled simply, Batman. It is this production, along with its follow-up, Batman and Robin , that planted the nostalgic seeds for Batman’s rebirth as a modern television series in 1966.
Thanks to its trailblazing nature and comparative lack of funding, this inaugural Batman outing relied on stock sets and wardrobes in order to be produced, a practice that extended down to its car: this version of the Batmobile was just a black 1939 Cadillac (even though in the comics at the time, the Batmobile was already something of a lavish affair, featuring a giant fin and a massive Bat-mask/shield on the front). Even better, Bruce Wayne (Lewis Wilson) drove the car during the day, as well, with the convertible top being the audience’s only clue as to which version of the car they were currently seeing. If it were down, it was in Batmobile-mode (even though Alfred Pennyworth was still behind the wheel). Despite its lack of any unique Bat-elements, however, the fact remains that the ’39 Cadillac is a car of style, elegance, and, well, practicality.
Ironically enough, this plain-Jane approach to the Bat-mythos of utilizing real locations or other production assets would see a resurgence in the early 21st century, with director Christopher Nolan’s megahit The Dark Knight (2008) – another reason to rank the ’43 Batmobile higher than either of Joel Schumacher’s offerings.
9 Batman and Robin (1949)
Fortunately for the original 1943 Batman, it was popular enough to warrant a sequel serial, even if it did take some six years for it to arrive in theaters. Unfortunately, Batman and Robin would still be plagued by a tiny budget – this time thanks to its producer, Sam Katzman, who was notorious for taking money-saving shortcuts, even if it undercut the quality of the production, and the penny-pinching showed up onscreen. While a perfect example of this comes in the form of Johnny Duncan, who played Robin, having to don pink tights in order to make his hairy legs look prepubescent, it affected the Batmobile by having a repeat of the 1943 serial: a normal, stock car – this time, a 1949 Mercury Convertible – featuring no special Bat-overlay was used, with the convertible top once again signifying whether it was Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Lowery) or Batman’s ride.
At least millionaire playboy Master Bruce got to have a brand-new car this go-round, as opposed to being forced to use a four-year-old model.
8 Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008)
Just as the Dark Knight was getting darker on the big screen, Cartoon Network decided to take the character in a decidedly lighter tone on the small screen. Based loosely on the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold (which originally ran from 1955 to 1983), the animated series of the same name would see a more playful rendition of Bruce Wayne (voiced by Diedrich Bader) partnering with another superhero in order to conquer all sorts of episodic (as opposed to serialized) challenges.
Such a throwback required a similarly nostalgic Batmobile, of course, and that’s precisely what the show’s producers unleashed on viewers. Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s rendition, actually, can best be described as an amalgam of nearly every filmic vehicle beforehand: it possesses the original comic Batmobile’s front mask and large roof fin; the 1966 TV show’s “double bubble” canopy and black and red pinstriping; and the basic body shape of the 1989 movie and 1992 animated series. The resulting effect is, in some ways, just as ostentatious as Joel Schumacher’s caricatures – and certainly as cartoony – but simultaneously sleeker and more refined.
As an added bonus, the Brave and the Bold Batmobile is something of a transformer, morphing itself into an airplane or submarine. Holy Bat-shapeshifting, Robin!
7 The Batman (2004)
An entirely different take on the Batmobile for what was designed to be a whole different take on the Batman animated mythology, the 2004 series The Batman provided a vehicle that was a dramatic departure from the elongated bodies of the Joel Schumacher films or the retro Brave and the Bold: small and compact, though still powerful and deadly. This is a vehicle that looks like it could sit just as comfortably on the racetrack as in some darkened Gotham alley.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t feature some holdover design elements from previous iterations or decades: fins are still present, as are the Bat symbols on the hubcaps, and, even, Schumacher’s telltale blue coloring, though all are more muted and sleeker in design. It is this balance of the old and the new, all while still wrapping the vehicle in a veneer of plausibility, that earns The Batman’s car a higher rank on this list.
6 Batman (1966)
Arguably the most famous Batmobile in the Caped Crusader’s cinematic adventures – and possibly one of the most famous cars in automobile history – the vehicle created for the 1966 live-action television series (and subsequent film) also has the most interesting history of any of Batman’s various on-screen rides.
Much as with the ‘40s serials, the basis for the ’66 rendition was a real-world car: the Lincoln Futura concept car, which was built in 1955 after its designer, Bill Schmidt, came across a shark while scuba diving. Thanks to its strikingly odd design and exorbitant price tag (it would cost $2.2 million in today’s money), it never got off the ground. That was until the ABC TV series was fast-tracked in production, leaving very little time for a Batmobile to be constructed. Car builder George Barris, who already possessed the Futura, decided to make it the basis of the first modern cinematic Batmobile – to legendary effect.
The sleek design and color palette combine to help make this look like the fastest of the Batmobiles to date – a muscle car plastered with Bat symbols, ready to take off to battle against whatever extravagantly-colored foe happened to threaten Gotham City that week.
5 Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
Largely inspired by Tim Burton’s 1989 film reboot, Batman: The Animated Series – which, incidentally, premiered just three months after Burton’s last Bat-adventure, Batman Returns – featured a Batmobile that, unsurprisingly, bears more than a striking resemble to that movie’s dramatically designed car (including its shield mode, which it would be locked into when the Dark Knight had to run off to fight crime on foot).
But the inaugural animated car was infused with its own distinct sense of aesthetics, combining the show’s ‘30s and ‘40s retro design sensibility with the exaggerations that the cartoon format allows, producing a vehicle that is long, striking, and simultaneously curvy and boxy. (There are those brave souls who have created a real-life version of The Animated Series’ Batmobile, and it is both comical and awe-inspiring to see, a combination of cool and ridiculous.)
Put simply, this is the way that cartoony Batmobiles should be done. Joel Schumacher, take note.
4 Batman Beyond (1999)
The concept of Batman Beyond, the third animated Bat-series, was a total departure from all its cartoon brethren from before and after: Bruce Wayne (played by legendary voice actor Kevin Conroy) is forced to retire due to old age, but he passes the (next-generation) cape and cowl on to a young successor, who carries on the never-ending battle in a futuristic, techno punk Gotham City.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Beyond’s car would similarly be a completely different beast, bearing very little resemblance to any of the other Batmobiles that came before it. Its solid-black coloring (with strategically placed red highlights), rounded sides, and sharp angles make it look more like a Babylon 5 starship than Batman’s traditional ride – an effect reinforced by the complete lack of visible Bat paraphernalia. The only tire-less Bat-ride to date, Terry McGinnis' Batmobile was as much a plane as it was a car.
Such uniqueness – and the sheer risk its design posed for Beyond’s producers and artists – earns this out-of-this-world Batmobile a top spot on our list.
3 Batman Begins (2005)
Initially hesitant to include the Batmobile – a concept which he concluded was rather outlandish – in Batman Begins, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan relented when Warner Bros. executives said they missed having such an iconic part of the Bat-mythos in the film. He still vowed to not only make the car distinctly his own, but to also intimately tie it into the movie’s desire to paint a more realistic approach to Batman, his suit, and his gadgets.
The result is the Tumbler, a vehicle which looks more like a massive battle tank than a futuristic concept car. Its armor plating provides the Dark Knight with as much protection as he'd ever need (well, except from missiles, as the Joker proved all too well in the sequel, The Dark Knight), and its jumping feature – explained away in the movie as part of its original bridge-making functionality for the military – would allow him to literally fly across rooftops.
Although it may appear, on first blush, to not hold particularly closely to the Batmobile’s design lineage, the Tumbler does have some basis in the comic source material, most notably the massive tank design featured in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It also has played no small part in influencing the creation of the current Batmobile, seen in Batman v Superman.
2 The New Batman Adventures (1997)
When Batman: The Animated Series morphed into The New Batman Adventures after a three-year run, the visual design was similarly transformed, and this is perhaps nowhere better witnessed than with the Batmobile. What makes this particular iteration stand out so strikingly is its balance between old and new. On the one hand, it is very much the continuation of both Tim Burton’s 1989 and its cartoon predecessor’s vehicles, updated to look the sleekest it ever possibly could – call this the stealth bomber Batmobile.
On the other hand, it has some deft homages to earlier designs, most evident in its front, which subtly works in the classic Bat-mask shield design. The fact that it’s barely noticeable in most angles stands testament to the fact that less is often more with the Batmobile, and that not even the real cartoons need – or, even, want – several-foot-tall giant fins adorning them.
1 Batman (1989)
When Tim Burton was hired to direct the first modern Batman film – that is to say, a standalone movie that had no ties to any pre-existing property (like 1966’s movie adaptation of the television series) and wasn’t part of a larger, multi-part continuation (like the ‘40s serials) – the director decided he wanted to take the character, his city, and, yes, his car in an entirely different direction from what had ever been realized on-screen before. The results were both riveting and revolutionary, most especially in how the Batmobile turned out.
Production designer Anton Furst took this challenge and easily exceeded it, vowing to not utilize any design element from any previous production. He removed a number of telltale flourishes (the Bat-mask) while retaining others (the fins), but then molded everything around a brand-new design model: a large jet turbine, which dominates the front and ends in the rear with giant bursts of flame. The car not only looks sleek and fast, like ‘66’s incarnation, but also lethal – the perfect description of Burton’s interpretation overall, and one that has remained at the very foundation of the character’s visual existence ever since.
For its uniqueness, cinematic presence, and lasting legacy, the 1989 Batmobile easily stands as the best of the best and, thus, at the very top of our list.
Disagree with our rankings? Where will Zack Snyder's new design rank when Batman v Superman comes out next month? How do you think the comic book versions stand up to their cinematic brethren? Let us all know in the comments below.