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Movie Week: The evolution of the Batmobile


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Movie Week: The evolution of the Batmobile

Evolution of the Batmobile

Evolution of the Batmobile

Bat-finned, black, and powered by a single jet engine, the Batmobile is the most iconic vehicle ever to grace our screens. But despite its unique styling, the Dark Knight's ride has seen a utility belt's worth of variations over the years. What started as little more than a standard Cadillac convertible has transformed into a formidable tank, packing a billionaire's ransom in gadgets and firepower.

With every version boasting a unique array of weapons, functions, and impracticalities, we're analysing the evolution of Batman's wheels, from its first cinematic appearance back in 1943 to the Batfleck-mobile, set to make its debut in next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The Batman (1943)

Batmobile 1943

Batman's first cinematic outing wasn't exactly a big budget affair. Sadly, what limited funding there was couldn't stretch far enough to include the really important things, like bat-wing detailing and an afterburner for the Caped Crusader's wheels.

Instead, Bats stalked the streets of Gotham in a 1939 Cadillac convertible with the roof up, while Bruce Wayne could be seen cruising around in an identical 1939 Cadillac convertible with the roof down. Coincidence?

Fortunately Batman's smarts in relation to protecting his secret identity improved dramatically in later cinematic incarnations.

Batman and Robin (1949)

Batmobile 1949

Ticking even less of the boxes required to pass for a decent Batmobile, Batman's ride from this 1949 serial wasn't even black.

A maroon Mercury convertible, Bats took the same lacklustre approach to protecting his secret identity this time around, simply dropping the top after returning from a night of crime fighting – as far as we can tell he didn't even go to the trouble of masking his licence plates.

While the Mercury was certainly a powerful car, its considerable weight meant cornering was a problem. As a result, the "Batmobile" was frequently wrecked, and the production made its way through six of them by the time shooting was completed.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batmobile 1966

Now this is more like it. Arguably the first proper Batmobile, the 1966 incarnation is instantly recognisable, and for many it remains unsurpassed in terms of sheer cool.

Built around a rejected 1955 Lincoln Futura prototype, the car that raced onto screens with Adam West behind the wheel was so perfectly realised – bubble canopies, long fins, and an added afterburner – you'd be forgiven for thinking it was custom-built from the ground up.

Throughout the movie – and the TV series that followed – the Batmobile demonstrated an impressive arsenal of bat-gadgets, including a chain slicer built into the nose, an array of lasers and rockets, and a dashboard monitor and rear camera that were way ahead of their time. It also featured a telephone with the compulsory bat-motif styling, although that made it look unnecessarily awkward to hold.

The car's atomic turbine engine (actually a Ford V8) and afterburner made sure acceleration was always a big event, and a pair of rear-mounted parachutes helped the car perform a 180-degree spin whenever a villain took an unexpected turn.

Batman (1989)

Batmobile 89

If you thought Ben Affleck's recent casting as everyone's favourite vigilante was controversial, clearly you don't remember the public's response to the news that funnyman Michael Keaton would be donning the cape and cowl for Tim Burton's bat-movie.

All that changed when the film's first trailer was released, revealing a dark tone, foreboding Gotham City, and the most kick-ass Batmobile anyone had ever seen.

Long and sleek with a pair of bat fins at the rear, this was a new breed of Batmobile: intimidating, powerful, and black from tip to tail.

Keaton's ride was crammed with gadgets and weapons, many of which were deadly – much to the chagrin of Batman purists everywhere. Twin machine guns popped out of the bonnet, the hubcaps contained grenades powerful enough to destroy the Joker's entire Smilex factory, and a system of shutters encased the car in a cocoon of protective armour while the world brooding champion was off prowling rooftops.

The car could also navigate streets autonomously, use a grappling hook to perform particularly tight turns, and we're sure it had a killer sound system worthy of Danny Elfman's score, too.

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns Batmobile

When the world's most maladjusted billionaire returned, his car came, too, packing some impressive new tricks.

As we're sure Alfred heard Batman complain many a time, the trouble with driving a vehicle as big as the Batmobile is that its turning circle is rubbish – a Fiat 500 it ain't. Batman solved this problem with a clever new piece of tech.

The installation of a retractable rotating platform in the base of the car enabled Batman to get out of any tight corner or dead end without making a 1,000-point turn. Activating the platform saw the Batmobile lift off the ground and turn on the spot. Handy for Bats, but unfortunate for any goon suddenly face-to-face with the Batmobile's fiery exhaust.

Batman Returns also introduced a trick that would later be adopted in Christopher Nolan's films: an ejectable escape vehicle. Called the Batmissile, it required the Batmobile to jettison panels and parts that don't make up the central fuselage. The wheels then shifted into place in a single file, creating a narrower, more rocket-like form.

Sadly, while it certainly helped ol' pointy ears to evade the police, it also made it harder for Mr Money Can't Buy Happiness to deny he was compensating for something.

Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever

After two gothic outings with Tim Burton at the helm, incoming director Joel Schumacher clearly felt that the world of Batman – and the Batmobile in particular – had been missing a key ingredient: neon.

With a more organic design reminiscent of something H.R. Giger might concoct, the new Batmobile was certainly visually impressive. Glowing neon blue at its core, the car was encased in a black ribcage-like structure. Naturally, the new look didn't get in the way of some impressively improbable tech.

Prior to its untimely demise at the hands of the Riddler, Batman Forever's Batmobile had shown off a new technique for avoiding incoming RPG fire. Locking its wheels perpendicular to the chassis, the Batmobile was able to strafe out of the way of incoming projectiles – much like the Arkham Knight incarnation – leaving pursuing gang members to deal with the rocket's explosive repercussions.

More impressively, the Schumacher-mobile was able to drive up the side of buildings. Rolling back on its rear wheels while still in motion, the car fired grappling cables onto nearby buildings, which it would then use to support itself as it continued to drive at full speed, except, y'know, vertically.

Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman and Robin Batmobile

The Batmobile was arguably the only halfway decent thing about the film that almost killed the Batman franchise.

Making the neon-tinged Batman Forever incarnation appear positively subtle, Joel Schumacher's second stab had a nose that looked like a hurricane made of Christmas lights. Fiery orange side panels appeared to house a raging inferno, while a neon Batman logo sat behind the driver's head just in case the giant wings bringing up the rear weren't a dead giveaway as to whose car it was.

A single-seat affair this time around – keeping Chris O'Donnell's excruciatingly whiny Robin trailing on his motorbike – the car had a distinctly retro shape, taking inspiration from vintage racers like the Jaguar D Type and Delahaye 165.

Fewer Batmobile gadgets were utilised during Batman & Robin's runtime. The cockpit featured a two-way video call function – keep your eyes on the road, Bats – and Batman could also kill the engine of Robin's motorbike with the flick of a switch – cueing yet another bout of self-indulgent sulking from the Boy Wonder.

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins Tumbler

And now for something completely different...

When Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise in 2005, there was a conspicuous absence of neon and bat-related detailing. What we got instead was a tank. A 9 by 15-foot tank with an afterburner bringing up the rear. This entry took Batman's wheels to a whole new level.

Called the Tumbler (no one in the movie ever referred to it as the Batmobile), the car was designed by Wayne Enterprises as a military bridging vehicle that used its jet engine to launch over rivers with cables in tow – a function later employed to launch the car across rooftops.

In reality, the Tumbler was built by movie car engineers Chris Corbould and Andy Smith, who aimed to make it as practical as possible. Weighing in at 2.5 tons and powered by a 500hp Chevy 350 V8, the batty behemoth boasted four 44-inch Super Swamper tires and could hit speeds up to 177km/h. It could also make the dash from zero to 100km/h in under six seconds, which is impressive given its size and weight.

There was no room for cheesy gadgets this time around, but the Tumbler's new "attack" mode was quite nifty. It saw the driver's seat shift from the left side of the car to the centre, repositioning the gravel-voiced guardian in a face-down position between the front wheels.

Lying prone protected Batman with more armour plating during a firefight, and reduced the forces placed on him (or whichever stuntman was behind the wheel at the time) during extreme manoeuvres. It also helped with aiming the guns mounted at the front of the vehicle – always non-lethally, of course.

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight Batpod

The Tumbler remained unchanged for its second outing, but Batman had clearly put the car through its paces since Batman Begins, and demonstrated a firmer grasp of exactly what it was capable of.

Operating the car remotely, everyone's favourite bad-guy batterer was now able to navigate the Tumbler and fire its weapons, distracting his opponents. Using pre-programmed routines such as "loiter" and "intimidate", he could appear as if he was behind the wheel, giving him an opening to move unseen to a more favourable vantage point.

Unfortunately, the heavily-armoured ride met its match in the form of a Joker-fired RPG, which sent the Tumbler, er, tumbling end-over-end through brick-walls and barricades. But just when it looked like it was all over for the Bat-tank and its pointy-eared occupant, shifting plates on the front of the vehicle suddenly burst open, as Batman shot from the wreckage atop the Batpod.

Like Batman Returns' Batmissile, the Batpod provided Mr My Parents Are Dead with a means of escape from a doomed Batmobile, and it continued as his primary form of transport for the remainder of the film. More than a mere bike, the Batpod packed machine guns, cannons, and grappling hooks, and its wheels could spin sideways, resulting in an impressive level of manoeuvrability.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman Batmobile

While we're yet to see Batfleck's wheels in action, they look as if someone welded pieces of the Tumbler onto the frame of Burton's '89 edition.

With looks only a black-obsessed vigilante could love, we wouldn't describe this as the most attractive ride Batman's ever had. But when you're going up against the Man of Steel, it's fair to say that a car with clean lines isn't going to be a priority.

Anyone who's seen the movie's trailer will know that the new Batmobile's canopy isn't Superman-proof, but hopefully we'll get to see what it's capable of before Kal-El turns it into a tin can.

  • TechRadar's Movie Week is our celebration of the art of cinema, and the technology that makes it all possible.





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