11 of the Most Iconic Cars from Classic Movies

PUBLISHED ON May 10, 2019

This past week, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the nation’s premier institutional showcase for cars and car culture, opened a new exhibition that features more than 50 custom vehicles from some of the most famous action and speculative fiction epics of the past half century. These cars resonate in our memories not only for their cool and iconic features—the ability to roar, fly, talk, shoot, tumble, follow directions, and come to the rescue—but also for the profound levels of imagination and joy that designers put into creating and customizing them.

When they appear on-screen, they are not just props but full-fledged movie stars in their own right. AD perused the exhibit and selected 11 of our favorites. Some are obvious, some are obscure, but all are well worth knowing, and demonstrate that Hollywood casting entails more than just choosing the right actor.

1955 Lincoln Futura—Batman

There have been literally dozens of Batmobiles in the hundreds of Batman shows, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, and movies. But legendary car customizer George Barris designed what is indisputably the most iconic of them all when he blacked out an aging Lincoln concept, gave it a turbine motor, and rimmed the whole thing in cerise lipstick. (Designer: George Barris)

1966 AMT Piranha—The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Automotive polymer supplier Marbon Chemicals wanted to demonstrate how versatile their core product could be, so they designed a handful of vehicles constructed mainly of plastic. One of these—lengthened to fit more secret-agent doodads—became the chariot of choice for this highly regarded 1960s NBC spy TV show. (Designer: Gene Winfield)

1966 Chrysler Imperial—The Green Hornet

It would be difficult to find a more imperious representation of midcentury American automotive dominance than Chrysler’s top-of-the-line Imperial. Decked out in black paint with signature green trim, it makes the perfect ride for a vigilante crimefighter and his martial artist chauffeur/sidekick, Kato, played by Bruce Lee. (Designer: Dean Jeffries)

1967 VW Beetle—Bumblebee

The Transformers aren’t just robots in disguise, they’re robots in disguise as cars, buses, and vans—making the franchise one of the few movies in which vehicles are the literal stars of the movie. And what better disguise than an innocent, and previously ubiquitous, VW Beetle? (Designer: Hasbro)

1969 M-505 Adams Brothers Probe 16—A Clockwork Orange

This swoopy, futuristic car won a conceptual design award at the London Motor Show, making it an ideal choice for Alex and his band of predatory Droogs in Stanley Kubrick’s nihilistic vision of a dystopian near-future England.(Designer: Dennis & Peter Adams)

1972 VW Beetle—Blade Runner

This bounty hunter-mobile is known as “Deckard’s Sedan,” named for the star character played by Harrison Ford. Just a lowly VW Bug underneath, it was transformed by renowned neofuturistic designer Syd Mead (Aliens, Tron, Strange Days) into this ruin masterpiece, a descriptor that could be applied to everything in this beautifully sad cult film. (Designer: Syd Mead)

1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe—Mad Max Fury Road

The original Mel Gibson Mad Max movies were set in a postapocalyptic Australia, where this unique (and customized) home-market version of the Falcon was produced. Though the Tom Hardy/Charlize Theron reboot had a different plot, the use of this same vehicle was a heritage callback that links the films. (Designer: Peter Pound)

1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme—Robocop

Padded, disguised, and given a lavish interior makeover that included reclining rear seats, this domestic ’70s land yacht was transformed into the 2043 Omni Consumer Products 6000 SUX. The car is a wretched commentary on overconsumption, ideal for fat-cat targets in Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant, darkly violent satire. (Designer: Gene Winfield)

1981 DeLorean—Back to the Future

The DeLorean was the failed vanity project of superstar auto executive and playboy John DeLorean. But it found its greatest fame in the Back to the Future trilogy, where it transported Marty and Doc through a century—and beyond—as a time machine. (Designer: Ron Cobb & Andrew Probert)

1992 Ford Explorer XLT—Jurrasic Park

Long before the 21st-century revival of the electric car, the evil geneticists at this dinosaur clone amusement park thought it would be cool for visitors to tour around their not-at-all dangerous island in battery-powered SUVs. (Designer: Universal Studios.)

2002 Cadillac Cien—The Island

In this futuristic thriller, Ewan McGregor is happy, until he discovers that his real reason for existing is to act as an organ farm for the ultrawealthy man who cloned him. When the cloned twins plot their escape, they do so in this radical ultra-potent V12 Cadillac, designed to celebrate the brand’s 100th anniversary. (Designer: Simon Cox)

Source: Architectural Digest