The car has always occupied pride of place in our collective unconscious, representing freedom, power, mobility, the unknowable future and the familiar past, and many fictional incarnations of the humble automobile have captured our imaginations. Fictional TV and movie cars often feature capabilities and designs that surpass anything available in the real world, and they do so with dramatic effect. Here are three of our favorite fictional cars from the silver screen.
The Blade Runner Spinner: Ridley Scott's 1982 scifi masterpiece Blade Runner starred Harrison Ford as retired police replicant hunter and prominently featured flying cars known as Spinners. The Spinners were designed by the production's Visual Futurist Syd Mead who was reportedly inspired by to create a Vertical Take Off/Landing (VTOL) car by Harrier fighter jets. The fighter jet inspiration is also apparent in Mead's inclusion of a Heads Up Display in the concept for the Spinners.
The Spinner was also significant in its use of a twist-wrist steering mechanism, which seemed to presage Saab's ill-considered joy stick-steered 9000 by a full 11 years (that's where the similarities end, however; the joy-stick controlled 9000 was apparently quite problematic to drive).
The Spinners for the movie were based off the drive-train and layout of a Volkswagen and featured scissor doors, putting it in such rarified stylistic company as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Countach. Ultimately, the Blade Runner Spinner has become one of the most iconic and captivating fictional cars ever produced, and it remains an impressive flight of imagination.
The Magic School Bus: Adults of a certain age and parents with children in the mid-1990s will remember the daring-do and, frankly, incredible powers of The Magic School Bus with warm familiarity. While the loveable yellow bus from the eponymous PBS kids show does not have the science fiction cred of our other two entries, its capabilities greatly surpass them. In various episodes The Magic School Bus, piloted under the expert hand of Ms. Valerie Felicity Frizzle, became at various points in time a space ship, submarine, frog, airplane, time machine, and a salmon, among other things.
In the show, produced by Scholastic Studios and based off the series of children's books by Joanna Cole, Ms. Frizzle led her elementary school class on madcap adventures using the powers of her magical school bus. Each episode explored a scientific concept and the ingenuity of the children was usually required to get the class out of some kind of tight spot. Even now, the episodes are surprisingly engaging.
The Jet Car from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!: The 1984 cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! starred acting greats Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd, and made very little sense. Suffice it to say it involves a race of aliens reptiles known as Red Lectroids running a defense company called Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems as a front to take over the world. And there's a modified Ford-E Series van with a jet engine and an oscillation overthruster capable of breaking the sound barrier and passing through solid matter.
The movie is actually a great deal of fun, and the van is truly spectacular. Loaded with jets and capable of driving through a solid mountain wall, the actual functioning of the car is never explained; rather, the viewer is left with the somewhat vague impression that the car allows Banzai to travel between dimensions, and that the events of the film never would have happened without the incredible Ford van.