The best driverless cars in movie history
The future is now. Though self-driving cars were once the reserve of science fiction, you can now buy a Tesla electric car with an advanced autopilot mode, or head to Pittsburgh and hail a driverless Uber taxi.
Admittedly, these are still the early days of the driverless car revolution, however quickly it's accelerating towards us. Those Uber cabs still need a human driver on hand should any problems arise, and Tesla's cars were involved in a tragic and fatal accident which has seen them revise their assisted driving experience.
And so we turn back then to the fictional influences to these modern marvels. Hollywood has long been obsessed with driverless vehicles - if only to show the folly of investing too much trust in them. But we can't help but get excited by the promise those sci-fi visions showed. Read on for our favorite driverless cars from the silver screen.
Jurassic Park Explorer
For a film about extinct animals, it's quite fitting that our list kicks off with the most primitive of the driverless cars on this list. The Jurassic Park Explorer has a killer paint-job (and some really early touchscreen tech with its onboard computer), but is limited to an on-rails track, controlled by a remote computer.
Which, incidentally, is its ultimate downfall. When the park systems fail and the central computer connection goes offline, the cars are essentially left stranded, turning them into tin cans full of human-shaped food for the T-Rex.
Total Recall's Johnny Cab
You may not have noticed it upon first viewing, but Total Recall is essentially Uber's business plan in movie form. Get a fleet of cars, bung a robot chauffeur into them, bundle Arnold Schwarzenegger in the back and then...take over the world?
OK, so it's not quite a match. But with Uber starting to roll out its own driverless cabs, we're hoping that there's some sort of Johnny Bot up front so we can still have an awkward chat during the ride home. Arnie is optional.
It's not Arnie's only run in with driverless tech, either. In the twilight days of his initial acting career, he was arguing the legal ownership of cookies with a cloned version of himself and jumping into the back of an AI-driven car in The Sixth Day.
Minority Report's Lexus 2054
The first car on this list that you might actually want to be seen driving to the shops in, director Steven Spielberg was inspired to get Lexus on board for Minority Report given the love he had for his own manually-driven Lexus.
It's the year 2054 in the film, and the aptly-named Lexus 2054 is part of a networked transit system that encompasses all cars on the road. With a color-changing paint job, the Lexus features a manual-override - which allows Tom Cruise to show off his mad skillz on the road when on the run from the thought police.
Knight Rider's Kitt
No, you didn't see it, but yes, there was a Knight Rider film. Knight Rider 2000 came out in 1991, making it eligible for this list, with David "Michael Knight" Hasselhoff taking on the bad dudes of the millennial future.
Worth the hassle, 'Hoff? It was terrible, but Kitt, Knight Rider's optionally-driverless car, remains the high watermark for many future-car fans. Kitt could do everything from sniff out bombs to analyze vocal stress, equipped with a medical scanner, flamethrower, tear gas launcher and the kind of computer-voiced quips that Siri could only dream of.
Will Smith's take on [INSERT PRODUCT PLACEMENT HERE] Isaac Asimov's rules of robotics, I Robot [INSERT PRODUCT PLACEMENT HERE] saw the Fresh Prince [INSERT PRODUCT PLACEMENT HERE] cruising the futuristic streets in a [INSERT PRODUCT PLACEMENT HERE] souped-up, AI aided Audi. With a manual driving mode, it's one of the closest to the current realities of driverless cars.
That's if you could see it through all the blatant product placement throughout the film, that is.
Demolition Man's driverless car is perfect for anyone who suffers from bouts of road rage. In a dystopian "utopia" where all naughty stuff (read: "fun stuff") is banned, even swearing can get you in trouble with your AI car.
With an "Auto Mode" that let Sandra Bullock speak to the car to issue commands, the vehicle was otherwise a little bit boring - just like the fictional society that spawned it. Wesley Snipe's blonde mohawk was on hand to keep energy levels up though.
The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element gains double points for featuring not only driverless cars, but flying driverless cars! And they look great too - with a pinch of Blade Runner thrown in, production designer (and lauded comic book artist) Moebius created vehicles full of personality.
...which Bruce Willis unceremoniously trashes. Though there's an auto-pilot mode onboard, Willis insists on driving through the sky lanes in manual mode. As you can tell, there's a trend emerging here - though driverless cars are seen as futuristically cool by filmmakers, there's still a little skepticism surrounding their abilities. We'd still rather see our heroes behind the wheel, pulling off hairpin turns in the sky, than watch an AI clinically compute its way through a car chase.
You've had the sci-fi take on driverless cars. Now here's the Disney version. No AI ultra-computer running the show with Herbie - just a sprinkling of magic fairy dust. A regular fixture on the big screen since 1968, Herbie's sentient soul makes him a very capable race car driver.
Sentience is often bandied about in relation to AI, and it's particularly pertinent in potentially-dangerous car tech. If faced with an unavoidable crash with one of two separate children, which should an AI car steer towards? These ethical questions plague driverless car manufacturers, but even Herbie couldn't save Lindsay Lohan's self-destructing car-crash of a career.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit's Benny the Cab
Who said the cars had to physically exist? If Uber could make Who Framed Roger Rabbit's animated Benny the Cab a reality, I'd chuck my bus pass in for sure. An anthropomorphized taxi cab that looks a little like a Volkswagen Beetle, its shape-shifting abilities would make mincemeat of a traffic jam, while we wait for the smart connected car network to banish them for good.
Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of iMore.com. Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.
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