The History of the Batmobile

The redesigned Batmobile for 2022's 'The Batman' is pretty cool - but let's take a look at the iconic vehicle through the years.
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Few cars are as iconic as the Batmobile.

The vehicle driven by Batman is one of his most utilized assets against crime in Gotham City. The Dark Knight uses it for pursuit, prisoner transportation, warfare, and even as a mobile crime lab. Where would Batman be without his trusty Batmobile?!

20th Century Fox Television via GIPHY

Related: Which Batman Villain Are You According to Your Zodiac Sign?

And yet, the Batmobile has changed so much over the years. It seems like the vehicle has looked different in every comic series, film, and TV show. Between them all, I’m not even sure just how many variations there have been over the years. I read that there are more than 250 designs!

Although it wasn’t officially called the Batmobile until later, Batman’s wheels first showed up in 1939, with Detective Comics #27. The car wasn’t exactly what I would call stealthy. The first on-screen appearances of the car weren’t all that remarkable, either.

It wasn’t until the campy 1966 TV series Batman that we started seeing modifications and gadgets to the on-screen Batmobile, following a few special features being added in the comics. This is also probably one of the most recognizable of all the on-screen Batmobiles, with its slick black and red paint job, the futuristic bubble canopy, and the impressive array of bat-gadgets.

From there, the Batmobile has continued to evolve along with Batman himself. And as technologies continue to progress, so do the technological advances of this fictional car.

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous incarnations of the Batmobile. I don’t know that it would be possible to go through the hundreds of designs from the last eight decades, but I will include the very first car from Batman’s first comic book appearance since it’s where it all began!

Detective Comics #27 (1939)

Batman in Detective Comics #27 from 1939
DC Comics, Warner Bros.

In Detective Comics #27, Batman made his debut. And while it wasn’t called the “Batmobile” by name, this comic shows Batman driving a red car that looks like a 30s Studebaker. Yep, it’s red. Seems pretty eye-catching for a guy who relies on stealth and frequently clashes with both villains and police. Quite the sneaky getaway vehicle.

Other than being a bright color, it’s otherwise a pretty ordinary-looking car, especially in comparison with some of the Batmobile’s later designs. There are no cool bat-motifs, big wing-like fenders, or awesome gadgets.

Batman (1943)

Batman/Bruce Wayne's car from the 1943 Batman serial
Columbia Pictures

In 1943, Columbia Pictures gave Batman his first on-screen appearance. Consisting of 15 chapters, the Dark Knight had his trusty Batmobile here. And while it was no longer the flashy, eye-catching red car introduced in Detective Comics, it still wasn’t quite the slick Batmobile we’ve become accustomed to.

This first on-screen Batmobile ever is probably the most simple of them all. The weekly serial used a 1939 Cadillac Series 75 with very few modifications or gadgets. It also doubled as both Batman’s vehicle and the personal car of Bruce Wayne. The series utilized the convertible to differentiate between the two. When the top was up, it was the Batmobile. When the top was down, it was Bruce Wayne cruising around town.

Batman and Robin (1949)

Batman's car in 1949's Batman and Robin serial
Columbia Pictures

Batman got another serial in 1949, and with it came a new Batmobile. Just like before, this was a regular car that came straight from a factory. It was a 1949 Mercury convertible this time, and this one didn’t have any modifications. And again, the only difference between the Batmobile and Bruce Wayne’s personal car was whether the top was up or down.

Apparently, the car wasn’t sporty enough for Batman and Robin. It was heavy and didn’t handle corners very well, resulting in a few wrecks. Johnny Duncan, the actor who played Robin, said that they went through six different cars. After smashing up a car, they’d just swap it out and continue filming.

Batman (1966)

With the campy Batman of the 1960s came an equally campy Batmobile. This was the first onscreen Batmobile to feature plenty of gadgets and modifications. Only the best for the best Batman, Adam West!

This now-iconic version of the Batmobile was actually not as heavily modified as you might think to achieve the retro-futuristic look. The original car was actually a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car that never made it to the public. Those big bubbles and long fins were already part of the design! The car was painted black with red trim, and of course, all the Batman logos were added. Parachutes were installed, plus a whole other host of bat-upgrades, such as rockets, a computer, and a phone. But really, the basic car was already there and ready for Batman!

If you want to see what the concept car looked like before its bat-makeover, it was also used in the 1959 film It Started With a Kiss.

Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)

Batman didn’t make his on-screen return until 1989. Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. This time around, he ditched the camp for a much more serious demeanor. The Batmobile got a pretty serious makeover, too.

Gone were the bright red logos and trim. In its place was a sleek, all-black sports car that was built for speed. The bold new Batmobile also featured machine guns, disc launchers, self-driving capabilities, and even the ability to lift up and turn 180 degrees on a dime.

Although the Batmobile that showed up in the animated series at this time wasn’t quite the same, it definitely pulled some style inspiration from Burton’s Batmobile.

Batman Forever (1995)

In 1995, Val Kilmer took over the batsuit from Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumacher took over the director’s chair. With a new director, Batman Forever’s Batmobile also took a new direction. Some might say a strange, cartoon-ish direction.

This Batmobile kept the skinny design with a long front end and the split cockpit canopy. However, the overall look of the car took a sharp left turn. The car had large bat-like wings sticking up off the back of the vehicle, sharp fenders, and organic rib-like 3D shapes.

Batman and Robin (1997)

In 1997’s Batman and Robin, the batsuit was worn by George Clooney. While the movie wasn’t exactly a success – it was widely panned by critics and Clooney’s performance was heavily criticized – we did get a new Batmobile design.

Hey, I didn’t say it was a good one.

At the time, the new Batmobile was considered an improvement over the Batman Forever version, but that’s probably not saying much. This one took inspiration from classic roadsters, but perhaps not enough. It was something like 30 feet long and had an open-air cockpit – essentially a convertible missing the top – making it wildly impractical. To add insult to injury, it had gigantic wings sticking up off the back.

The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)

Batman took another little hiatus from the screen until Christopher Nolan revived the franchise. It started with 2005’s Batman Begins, followed by 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Christian Bale plays the titular character and is supported by the likes of Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Aaron Eckhart throughout the trilogy.

Nolan’s Batman is much more realistic, and the films are darker. This is also reflected in the new iteration of the Batmobile. Gone are the obnoxiously long front ends and massive decorative bat wings. Instead, we got something gritty and sleek – like a combination between a tank and a sports car. Nicknamed the Tumbler, this two-ton vehicle was powerful and fast. In case Batman needs to make a quick escape with a big distraction, it ejected a motorcycle called the Batpod and self-destructed.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

After Nolan’s trilogy starring Christian Bale, we had Batfleck. Ben Affleck donned the batsuit for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and then went on to reprise the role for Suicide Squad, Justice League, and the upcoming filmThe Flash.

As always, a new Batman gets a new Batmobile. Is Batfleck better than previous iterations of the Dark Knight No, not really. But is the Batfleck Batmobile better? Well, better than most, I have to admit.

This new Batmobile definitely takes plenty of design cues from the fan-favorite Dark Knight  Tumbler. It looks utilitarian. It’s functional and rugged, heavily armed and ready for combat. It does stand out from the Tumbler, though, because it feels a little more streamlined.

The Batman (2022)

This year, Robert Pattinson took over the bat-mantle. Although Ben Affleck was supposed to return in the role, he dropped out – and we were all blessed with Pattinson’s troubled, brooding Batman. He’s a realistic, gritty antihero, and he got a Batmobile to match.

This new Batmobile is one of my favorites. It is believable, which seems impossible when we talk about a rich-guy-turned-vigilante who fights the likes of the Riddler. But the new Batmobile absolutely feels like a justice-obsessed billionaire created this imposing ride in his secret lair. This guy stripped down a real-life powerful muscle car and added all the necessary mods and gadgets that he needed to bring down the criminals in Gotham City.