Batman's wheels are almost as iconic as he is. But which of his Batmobiles is the finest?

Feature

Dan Cooper

Feb 5, 2018

Robin: “I want a car. Chicks dig the car.”

Batman: “This is why Superman works alone.”

Man, how we marvelled at the Dark Knight as he responded to Robin’s whining about wanting wheels of his own in 1997’s Batman & Robin. Yes it was the opening scene of the movie and true, we’d already experienced a higher latex-clad buttocks to screen time ratio than in your average imported specialist German exotica but still, that line… it hinted at the beginnings of a shared universe where Batman and Superman might one day occupy the same screen, sending us into raptures of possibility-flavored wonderment.

Looking back at the garish daftness that followed, that first minute of the film was probably the best bit. We’d wait another 19 years, of course, for Batman and Superman to finally unite on screen and like Batman & Robin, that was a bit of an anti-climax as well. That said, almost 20 years later, the Boy Wonder’s point still stands: chicks do dig the car. It isn’t just baby hens and comic book geeks that enjoy the stylings of Batman’s most recognizable mode of transport either; since its first appearance in the 1940s, the Caped Crusader’s ride has become the most iconic vehicle in all of popular culture.

Unlike Back To The Future’s DeLorean which was purposefully designed to be at least a little bit unsightly, or K.I.T.T., Knight Rider’s robot car that wouldn’t last five minutes in this hack-filled Mr. Robot world, the Batmobile has always represented the perfect blend of vehicular form and function.

Well, mostly perfect anyway. Batman hasn’t always got it right down the years, the Batmobile in the aforementioned Batman & Robin being an example. With its unshielded, open cockpit, Bats’ ride not only left his head horribly exposed to snipers, debris and terrible Arnold Schwarzenegger jokes, but the fuselage vents exposing the neon-shaded engine components made it look like the kind of car that Ozzy Osbourne might roll up in if he was making an appearance on a Fast And The Furious-themed episode of Wacky Races.

Let’s give Batman a break though. After all, he’s a busy guy. Let’s stick to the positives and examine the six greatest Batmobiles to have graced both page and screen.

6. The BatQuitely

So it was inevitable, right? This list had to feature at least one flying Batmobile. I can already hear the howls of indignation that the Batman Beyond iteration isn’t featured here instead but honestly, that flying car was so advanced (Mach Three, anyone?) that it wasn’t really a car anymore. This one however (in spite of its flight capability), very much is. It also features on here as it’s also the only Batmobile on this list to be built by a child (and yet it isn’t colored like a rainbow, festooned with unicorn horns and made entirely out of chocolate).

In Bruce Wayne’s absence from Gotham following the events of Batman R.I.P. – the mantle of the Bat is taken up by Dick Grayson with Bruce’s son, Damian as the Boy Wonder. Damian uses his father’s plans to construct a Batmobile that reflects the uneven nature of the new Dynamic Duo: it lacked the muscular, aggressive styling of previous incarnations but proved itself more than able in the heat of battle on several occasions. It also raised the question of why Chris O’Donnell didn’t just build a car for himself in Batman & Robin if he was so enamoured by Batman’s wheels.

O’Donnell was 27 when he played the ‘Boy’ Wonder; the character of Damian Wayne was around ten when he built his first Batmobile. And it could fly. Frankly, if O’Donnell represented the calibre of sidekick in Schumacher’s Bat-verse, it was little wonder that Superman chose to work alone.

Scoring extra points for its Bat-shaped cockpit and for continuing a cool comic book tradition of red internal cockpit lighting, this was a unique aesthetic take on the Batmobile for what proved to be a very unique partnership. Boasting homing missiles and transforming fins that locked into flight position (like something out of M.A.S.K.) this car was certainly an different spin on the classic design. Did I mention it was built by a ten year old?

5. The BatBreyfogle

The ’90s were a strange time in comics. The boom/bust period hit its peak as Marvel and DC killed off and resurrected their A-list heroes in a market-destroying cycle of rampant commercialism. Mullets were cool (even Superman had one for a while) and there were pouches… endless amounts of pouches. Of course you couldn’t really stick pouches and a ridiculous haircut on a Batmobile, and yet this comic book incarnation was still very much a product of its era.

With its ultra-sleek design, accentuated by the canopy’s seamless integration into the dynamic lines of the hood, the vehicle was somewhat reminiscent of the Lamborghini Countach, a design aesthetic further emphasised by the boxy, side-mounted air intakes at the cockpit’s rear. Looks aside, from a practical standpoint, this was an excellent vehicle to fight crime with too: the fully-housed wheels meant nobody was shooting out your tires whilst the wraparound cockpit offered excellent visibility. Also, this Batmobile’s relatively compact styling meant that parking in a multi-stories wouldn’t be an issue, although generally, in spite of what it must have added to his insurance premium, Batman tended to stick with moodily-lit alleys because of his unhealthy obsession with all things shadowy.

The eye-shaped headlights and rear fins made the whole ensemble look like a demonic bat had mated with a vehicle from Tron. As designs go, it was pretty much flawless, as evidenced by the fact that when Jean Paul Valley took the Mantle of the Bat from Bruce Wayne in the epic Knightfall saga, he developed virtually every aspect of the Batsuit, but Breyogle’s Batmobile? He didn’t touch a single wheel nut.

4. The BatBarris

The Batmobile has always been emblematic of the time of its construction. If 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns’ tank was a symbol of a paranoid America bunkering itself away against a possible nuclear conflict with the then-USSR, then the iconic ’66 Batmobile, a born cruiser with its open roof and fetching looks was a car for a simpler, sunnier time. Designed by John Barris on just a few week’s notice for the hit TV show, this car was more than just a looker too: with its on-board phone and integrated computer, dash-mounted screen and rear-facing camera the vehicle was actually a pretty accurate approximation of what cars would look like fifty years in the future… apart from the atomic engine of course, which pretty much made the car a mobile-nuke-in-waiting.

Despite being a continent-wide extinction-level event on wheels, everyone seemed pretty pleased when the Batmobile rolled by, in part due to what a great looking ride it was. Like any car from Batman’s fleet, the Barrismobile was also capable of a trick or two: quick-turning mechanisms, anti-pursuit measures, a battering ram, the list goes on. While not quite the Tumbler in the aggression stakes, this car was certainly no slouch and more than a match for the foes of its day. If looks alone were the sole arbiter of this list then the ’66 Batmobile would finish first by a clear nose. However, with the atomic engine being something of a danger to the entire Western seaboard and another example of the clearly-irresponsible open cockpit design, one of Bats’ best looking rides can only race home in fourth.

3. The BatTimm

If we were giving out awards for style then this Batmobile from The Animated Series would surely be top of the heap. In the wake of Batman’s success on the silver screen (thanks to Tim Burton and his early ’90s gothic reimagining of the Dark Knight), Bruce Timm, Paul Dino and the rest of the creative team behind this much beloved show were awarded creative license to give Batman a makeover. While The Animated Series retained some of the gothic stylings of the movies and the anachronistic period dress, in came a grand, sweeping art deco style, reflected in the architecture, the aesthetic… and the Batmobile.

Like other elements of the series (such as Catwoman having blonde hair in a little nod to Michelle Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle), the show took cues from the movies before adding its own dash of inimitable style. The Batmobile was no exception either. It was long, lean and built around a turbine engine much like the car from Burton’s movies; with a sleek, streamlined hood that seemed to go on forever and the front axle placed even closer to the car’s grille than its cinematic counterpart, this Batmobile’s wheelbase was absurdly long.

And yet it worked beautifully. Owning the road like no other car on this list, The Animated Series‘ Batmobile looked like the kind of wheels a head of state should be cruising the roads of his city in, if that head of state had a fixation on bats and vigilante justice, which of course, Batman does. This Batmobile had it going on underneath that long, long hood as well. Not having to worry too much about real-world physics, the car’s designers crammed it full of cool Bat-technology: reversible jet exhausts, missile launchers, grappling hooks and all sorts of anti-pursuit toys made this iteration of Bats’ ride a force to be reckoned with. It even got an episode centered around it too: The Mechanic explored how the Batmobile came to be, answering that age old question: Where does he get those wonderful toys?

2. The Tumbler

No Batmobile in the title here because as you’re no doubt aware, this beast of a vehicle was never actually christened with such a title. Avoiding anything even remotely hokey from this vehicle’s design (including the name ‘Batmobile’), the Tumbler is the one entry this list that sacrifices eye-pleasing form in the sole pursuit of function.

Ironically enough, it was this focused design principle that has made the vehicle so popular to Batmobile buffs. Lacking rear fins, grille-mounted bat heads or any of the other aesthetic accoutrements that we’ve become used to down the years, the Tumbler was all mean: a 5.7 litre Chevy engine boasting over 400 bhp; a propane-fuelled jet engine that allowed it to make rampless jumps and enough armor plating to cruise this old jalopy through South Central L.A. draped in gang colors and not even sweat it. Black was the order of the day here though, (the only real concession to the Batmobiles of Batman’s past) although it did come in a nifty camouflage flavour too as we saw in Rises when Bane commandeered one for himself.

And what of gadgets? No self-respecting Batmobile could hope to feature so high on this list without holding a few aces up its sleeve and the Tumbler didn’t disappoint: auto cannons, rocket launcher, the aforementioned rampless jump system, a super-cool ‘stealth’ mode that Batman used to great effect to evade the police in Begins and of course a concealed getaway vehicle in the case of catastrophic damage as we saw in The Dark Knight. It’s been said before that Nolan’s films are a post-9/11 reimagining of the Caped Crusader, and the no-frills Tumbler was the clearest representation of a Batman that was all about getting business done in a world without rules.

It wasn’t the first time that the World’s Greatest Detective had modified a tank for his purposes: Arkham Knight is a key example as is 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns (although he kind of negated its purpose by getting out to fight the mutant leader face to face,) although the Tumbler was certainly the best in-class when it came to armoured transport. As such, this iconic ride wins the award for best repurposed military technology and places high on this list.

1. The BatFurst

The only Batmobile on the list to have won an Oscar races home in pole position, winning by a beautifully-sculpted nose. The long, sleek lines on this gothic hellhound were designed by Anton Furst, who scooped the Academy Award for his art production on Tim Burton’s dark and fantastical Batman. He sadly passed away in 1991 but prior to that he was unable to work on the series’ second instalment due to contractual obligations. It’s pretty telling that despite something of a redesign for the city itself (at the request of the studio, Gotham was subtly altered in Batman Returns to make it seem less oppressive), Bo Welch, the lead designer on the sequel left the Batmobile well alone. Yes, a redesign might have sold more toys (as evidenced by stylistic decisions in the subsequent movies) but toys do not a good Batmobile make. Go look at Batman Forever and Batman & Robin if you doubt the truthfulness of that statement.

Furst described his Batmobile as “a knight in armor”, and as a crime-fighting ‘war machine’ it made for one hell of a steed. Practical it wasn’t, but when you have a car which is essentially bodywork housed atop an aviation jet turbine, who really cares? “Pure expressionism” was another way in which Furst described his creation and with its impractical length, ridiculously lowered suspension and insane propulsion system he was right. This Batmobile was as much a part of the gothic hellscape, whose streets it snarled along as the Batman himself. With Browning machine guns, plastic explosive, grappling-hook turn systems and a tamper-proof cocoon system, it had the necessary gadgets to survive the mean streets of Gotham. As such, it represents the prefect blend of form and function and takes its place atop the podium as the greatest Batmobile of all time.

I just wish I could find one on Auto Trader.

The Best of the Rest:

So, with the champagne sufficiently sprayed and the garlanded winners herded off to a media suite to face a series of banal questions, which of Bats’ legendary rides were left to sob, alone in the abandoned pit lane, and more importantly, why?

Truth be told, I flipped-flopped on Synder’s Batmobile so many times throughout the writing of this article that taking it out once more makes me feel like I’m in some Ouspenky-style time loop like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. It’s a cool amalgamation of past Batmobiles while being something new entirely: put it on the list! It’s a mobile murder machine that undermines everything that the Batman character is supposed to be: take it off the list! It looks kind of cool, if not in a slightly try-hard way: put it back on the list! The Batmobile from the Arkham games is way better: take it off the list!

Ultimately, I took it off the list permanently for similar reasons to the Arkham Batmobile. Although I might be in the minority at Den of Geek on this one, the car-to-tank conversion in that game felt just a little bit too much like a Transformers game and the wanton death and destruction that Snyder and Rocksteady dealt out with their Batmobiles strayed too far from the character’s core. In the case of Arkham Knight, the rock ‘em, sock ‘em Batmobile also created an imbalance in the game, negating the stealth and wits approach of the first two Arkham titles and ultimately hurting the game’s character as well as the gameplay balance too.

Others that almost made the grade were the aforementioned Batman Beyond iteration of the Batmobile, The Brave And The Bold’s sleek, multi-era hybrid and the New 52 ride from Court Of Owls which is a beautiful-looking car. Finally, Neal Adam’s understated design deserves an honorable mention. The plainest-looking Batmobile of the bunch still had it where it counted but allowed the Dark Knight to operate without fanfare in the grittier, more realistic climes of seventies-era Gotham. Beyond the sparse, concealed gadgets though, the car looked like a fairly stock Corvette. Which of course, begs the question: Why didn’t Chris O’Donnell just build himself one of those?