Science fiction movies aren’t only about space, time travel and kooky ideas, they’re also about cool equipment. Granted, not all forms of transportation in sci-fi flicks are cool; some of them can be a little lame. But there are certain vehicles that have been etched in the sci-fi canon and stand above the rest. Some of them literally. Here’s a list of sweet rides we feel deserve a mention. Some fly, some roll and some walk, but they all rock.
1. Millennium Falcon – Star Wars
Honestly, we could have chosen only vehicles found far, far away within the Star Wars universe due to their sci-fi paradigm-shifting designs (Star Wars completely changed the way people perceived the sci-fi genre), but we had to spread the love around. However, if there's one ship that stands above the rest, it’s the Millennium Falcon.
The Corellian freighter, acquired by Han Solo during a card game with Lando Calrissian, isn't traditionally pleasing to the eye. In fact, part of the genius of Star Wars and director/creator George Lucas is that no character within the movie franchise (aside from Han, Lando and maybe Chewbacca and now Rey) seems to think the Falcon is a nice looking ship. Most often referred to as a piece of junk, this Empire-rebelling smugglers’ vessel is a sleeper if ever there was one. Capable of completing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (which doesn’t even make sense: parsecs are a unit of distance, not time) and outrunning Imperial Star Destroyers, this unassuming spaceship is cemented as one of the most iconic and deceivingly battle-ready people-movers of the big screen.
2. Gipsy Danger Mark III Jaeger – Pacific Rim
Not what you were expecting, right? Well, the Jaegers that put their giant feet down in Guillermo Del Toro’s campy-yet-exhilarating monster movie were not just people-movers, they were super-duper-mega enhanced cyber suits. Adapted from the mechs of Japanese anime, these giant human-controlled robots are as tall as a skyscraper and have a weapon assortment ranging from plasma guns to ginormous magnetically extending swords. Oh, and they can fly or fully submerge underwater too.
Gipsy Danger, the Jaeger piloted by main characters Raleigh and Mako, is a nuclear-powered Kaiju killing machine. Mutually controlled by Raleigh and Mako, the duo must 'drift' (link minds using one brain hemisphere each) in order to properly command Gipsy Danger’s fantastically complex inner workings. When the times come to battle trans-dimensional mega monsters, a Jaeger really tends to come in handy.
3. Aratech 74-Z Speeder Bike – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
OK, you knew there was going to another Star Wars vehicle in this list, but maybe you thought it would be an X-Wing Fighter or AT-AT, but those are just too obvious. Plus, if you never dreamed of riding a flying motorcycle, then either you didn’t grow up in the ‘80s, or you’re an android.
Although often considered the weakest of the original Star Wars trilogy by nerds and movie aficionados alike, Return of the Jedi is also undoubtedly the most action-packed. One of the most iconic scenes takes place among the giant pines of Endor (aka, Cheatham redwood grove in Northern California), and is easily one of the most innovative chase scenes ever filmed.
The 74-Z Speeder Bike is kind of like riding a turbine-powered, laser-cannon equipped motorcycle that also happens to fly. Fast, manoeuvrable and fairly quiet, a speeder bike is an excellent way to sneak around the enemy while navigating the labyrinthine paths of a giant forest planet. Bonus if you happen to befriend some local living and breathing teddy bears while out on a joy ride.
4. Gunstar – The Last Star Fighter
Kid grows up in blue-collar mountain town. Kid is bored and dreams of escape. Kid becomes obsessed with spaceship arcade game that was actually planted there by an alien searching for anyone in the universe who can help save a dying race from a ceaseless scourge that threatens to destroy countless peace-loving extraterrestrial species. Kid turns out to have the right stuff and is unwittingly recruited by aforementioned alien to the other side of the galaxy to lead a final offensive against the evil foe.
Classic? Yes. Well-known? No, but The Last Star Fighter was one of the first movies to use CGI in place of models and Alex Rogen’s Gunstar was a badass and beautifully rendered Ko-Dan Armada-defeating spaceship. An insane weapons assortment was topped off with the Death Blossom, which pretty much used the windmill approach to defend: shoot in every direction and hope that does the trick. If Earth ever comes under attack by an alien race, it would be nice to have a Gunstar at our disposal.
5. Caterpillar P-5000 Power Loader – Aliens
As if regular xenomorphs weren’t scary enough, imagine going toe to giant creepy toe with the queen alien herself. Now imagine you’re all out of guns and the only chance you have of avoiding an acidic kiss of death from her highness is by hopping into a futuristic forklift. Better suit up!
Although it was designed to lug around crates, Ripley did a superb job of turning the P-5000 into one helluva mech warrior. When push came to shove, the Loader really had the latter part down, enough to shove the mother of all aliens out through an air lock and into the vast vacuum of space. Caterpillar may not have intended this machine for extraterrestrial warfare, but sometimes the most potent weapons come in the most surprising packages.
6. Doc Brown’s DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine – Back to the Future
There are plenty of time-travelling devices out there. Some are giant lightning-throwing contraptions while others look like violin cases (Predestination), but none do it with the style of Doctor Emmett Brown’s DeLorean.
Sure it may require plutonium, 1.21 gigawatts of electricity and a minimum of 88mph (or about 140 kph if you prefer), but for all of its necessities, the cobbled together time machine makes defying the laws of physics look like a whole lot of fun. Plus, once you’re able to travel to the future and get some upgrades (your standard Mr Fusion and anti-gravity wheels), getting the flux capacitor fluxing becomes much less of a chore. If we could travel to any point in time, a good starting place might be 1980 in order to tell John DeLorean to start making better business decisions so that there could be more than one iteration of the beautiful DMC-12.
7. Light Cycle – Tron: Legacy
There are actually two different versions of the light-spewing motorcycles that had two-wheel geeks gawking in the 2010 Tron sequel. The first generation Light Cycle that debuted in the original 1982 film was followed by the second gen Light Cycle in Tron: Legacy. Remaining with an enclosed cockpit, the Gen 2 is still distinctly ‘80s. The fifth generation Light Cycle (designed by Daniel Simon), with its sleek lines, black overtones and glowing highlights gets the heart pumping.
When you’re being hunted down by an evil, digitally generated version of your own father, having a baton in your back pocket that instantly turns into the coolest motorcycle you’ve ever seen is very convenient.
The great thing about this particular sci-fi machine is that it had enough adoring fans for it to become reality. Parker Brothers Concepts has been building a limited number of the Light Cycle, dubbed the NEUTRON, for the past few years. If you have an extra US$65,000 (around €55,000) kicking around, perhaps it’s time to make your sci-fi dreams come true.
8. Spinner – Blade Runner
Admit it: you haven’t seen Blade Runner. Either it's been on your 'must watch' list for the past 10 years or perhaps you viewed some of it, but couldn’t get all the way through.
Well, we can’t blame you. While Ridley Scott’s film is cemented in the pantheon of innovative movie making, it also greatly detracts from the action-packed adventure films that its star, Harrison Ford, had become associated with by 1982, when this particular flick hit the big screen. Futuristic? Very. But a cinematic joyride Blade Runner is not. Instead, this sci-fi drama paints a grim (although hauntingly feasible) picture of where the obsession with technology and perfection may eventually take humanity. Fortunately, one of those possible outcomes is super-cool flying cars.
The police Spinner used by Dekard and his mysterious partner Gaff (played by Edward James Olmos of more recent Battlestar Galactica fame) is mostly used as a patrol vehicle throughout the film, yet its looks were original enough to have inspired many silver-screen rides since (the flying police cars in Back to the Future II and The Fifth Element; car-type vehicles in Star Wars: Episode III). When AI has become so sophisticated that the line between robots and human beings is completely blurred, it sure will be nice to have a flying car to just get away from all of the mind-bending stress of daily life.
With Blade Runner 2049 set to hit cinemas soon, we'll get to see a new take on the original spinner. However, just like the first Blade Runner, whether it’s being piloted by a human or a replicant will undoubtedly be left up for eternal debate.