Think of the most iconic vehicles in live-action movies and TV, from KITT in Knight Rider to the Ghostbuster’s Ectomobile or even the BurgerMobile from Good Burger, and I bet that the one you have dreamed of getting behind the wheel of the most is the Batmobile. The finest ride in Gotham has seen quite a transformative evolution on film, from the 1940s theatrical serials to the recently unveiled car to be driven by Robert Pattinson in The Batman.
For the same reason that I love Batman’s enduring quality to evolve over time, I enjoy the fact that we have several variations of his famous mode of transportation to compare to. The question is, of its cinematic designs, which Batmobile is best?
As a lifelong Batfan with a few opinions on the matter, and in the wake of glimpsing the Batmobile to be featured in The Batman, I have taken up the challenge of taking a deeper look under the hood of all the live-action designs and ranking them in ascending order to determine which Batmobile rules the road. Buckle up.
7. Batman (1943)
This Batmobile might not even be worth counting, for a couple of reasons. For one, the 1943 Batman serials starring Lewis Wilson as the Caped Crusader have been long forgotten by most and rarely referenced in comparison to more modern cinematic entries and the simple fact this this “Batmobile” is nothing more than a 1939 Cadillac Series 61 convertible without even a batsymbol merely glued to the front grill. At least it was black, which counts for something.
6. Batman & Robin (1997)
Usually toy companies will try to recreate the appearance of a vehicle designed for a movie into a smaller model, but it appears that process was done in reverse with this flashy (literally, the motor is a big spinning light at the front) art installation on wheels that was just one of many ridiculously cartoonish vehicles that made the infamous Batman & Robin one long toy commercial. I will give it points for its sleek, somewhat traditional body design and getting rid of a certain feature from the Batmobile in Joel Schumacher’s last Batman movie that I will get to soon, but I take away just as many points for making this vehicle a one-seater with an unsealable open top that makes George Clooney’s Batman susceptible to gunfire, a crushed head if it flips over, or bugs in his teeth. If you want to make the Batmobile the ultimate toy, at least make it a real car first.
5. Batman Forever (1995)
I have always believed there should be a rule that any Batmobile should, in some capacity, look “batty” (and, yes I do have my arguments in favor of the Tumbler and Robert Pattinson’s muscle car), but sometimes the designer might take the “batty” part too far without enough consideration that it should also look like a practical vehicle, such as what Val Kilmer’s Caped Crusader drove in Joel Schumacher’s first time behind the camera of a Batman movie. The bright, blue light emitting from the translucent ribbing pattern of the body and wheels would be repeated in Batman & Robin (and with red added, too), but at least that Batmobile got rid of the comically large and unnecessary third wing sticking out from the center rear, which would not come in handy under low overpasses. This is yet another Batmobile that suffers from putting style over substance and a misunderstanding of its purpose for crimefighting and transportation, not winning prizes at the local car show.
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016), Justice League (2017)
I may have said earlier that a Batmobile can be too “batty,” but I still firmly believe that element is of some importance, symbolically at least. For some reason, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne chose to ignore any resemblance to the nocturnal creature of his alter ego’s namesake when designing (or even buying for all we know) what is essentially the Blade Runner universe’s idea of a military grade combat vehicle which, despite its impressive built-in arsenal, has nothing memorable to offer in comparison to previous Batmobiles. Even when Frank Miller’s Batman drove a tank in The Dark Knight Returns, he had the thought to give it ears.
3. Batman: The Movie (1966)
The very first true live-action Batmobile made its cinematic debut in 1966 in the theatrical counterpart to the hit TV series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his young ward, Robin. Modeled after a 1955 Lincoln Futura, the jet black paint job with red trim, sleek “wing-like” body, and the mandatory rocket blaster in the back, this thing is a beauty (hell, I even dig the Jetsons-style dome windows, even if they should be closed). Now, this is what I was talking about when I said your ideal toy car should look like a car first.
2. Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008)
Now, I am aware that I have been slightly critical of less-than-batty, military-grade vehicles passing off as Batmobiles in this list and there a few Batfans who do not favor the less-than batty, military-grade vehicle that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) buys from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins for that reason. However, in 2005, the Tumbler was an exciting moment in Batmobile history for being more unique and suited for mobile crimefighting that we had seen before with reinforced armor, the ability to jump bridges, an amazing built-in arsenal. Also, anyone who doubts the Tumbler’s battiness should take a better look at the wings in the back and how closely the body design resembles a bat’s face
1. Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)
Based on the criteria I have presented for what a Batmobile must possess, there is only one that meets every detail. The unmistakable wings emitting from the rear, the sleek body with built-in, voice-activated shields, the intimidating turbine engine in the front, and a refreshing combination of clear practicality and breathtaking design, Michael Keaton’s Batman got the ultimate ride. I cannot think of another Batmobile in history that can hold a candle to the one in Tim Burton’s films, with the ‘90s animated series’ vehicle coming closest.
Too Soon To Call: The Batman (2021)
I must say, I am a little surprised by the amount of controversy surrounding the Batmobile that Robert Pattinson will be cruising through Gotham with in The Batman, with some saying it looks like a suped-up hot rod more fitting for Dominic Toretto or Max Rocktansky than Batman. Now, while it may be too early to judge this new iteration since we still have yet to see it in action, I still cannot help but perceive this sneak peak admirably for a more realistic homemade approach, the decision to veer away from the tank design for the first time in a while, and, especially, that badass rocket blaster. Besides, it even has some “battiness” to it, if you look close enough.