What makes a great sci-fi movie? Is it thrilling storylines, engaging and amusing dialogue, and characters you love – and love to hate? Or is it more about the futuristic landscapes, out-of-this-world gadgets, and seemingly impossible vehicles?
Perhaps it is a combination of all of these things. The original Star Wars trilogy would still have had the same gripping plot and clever script, but would it have become a cinematic icon with lightsabres, TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon?
Forty years since the launch of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and the world has made some serious steps forward in engineering and technology design. So much so, that some of the gadgets which seemed an impossibility to audiences in the 1970s, are now commonplace for us in the 21st century.
Picture the scene where Luke is attacking the Death Star, and he chooses to ignore the targeting computer, instead relying on the mysterious force to make the difficult shot; well, the heads-up display we see in Luke’s X-Wing is not unlike the similar display systems already available in many new vehicles.
When it comes to vehicles themselves, there are some cars from sci-fi movies which are just never going to happen in real life – or at least never going to happen safely, whereas some of the most seemingly futuristic vehicles are already driving about on our streets today.
18 Could Happen: Spinner Car - Blade Runner
One of the most iconic sci-fi movies of all time is the 1982 dystopian tale of humans and replicants, Blade Runner. While we are a long way from the realistic artificial intelligence featured in the film, the vertical take-off car driven by hard-bitten cop Deckard (Harrison Ford) is closer than we may think. Uber is already working on a vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) called Uber Elevate, which they say could use existing air traffic control systems designed for helicopters. Another concept car in development is the Airbus Pop Up, a carbon fiber vehicle which can be attached to a drone.
17 Could Happen: Hydrogen-Fuelled Lexus - Minority Report
Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, was a combination of sci-fi and the classic cop movie. Cruise played John Anderton, Chief of PreCrime, in a futuristic Washington DC where the police are able to detect crimes before they are committed.
While most of the sci-fi featured in the movie – including the psychics whose visions make up the PreCrime reports – are well within the realm of fantasy, there are some aspects of the film which are very, very real.
The screen Cruise manipulates with his fingertips is reminiscent of modern touchscreen technology, while in the movie he drives a stylish, futuristic Lexus powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
16 Could Happen: Smart Car - KITT from Knight Rider
Smart technology is now so commonplace in our lives at work and school and at home that many kids can’t even remember a time before it existed. Most of us interact with smart technology through our cell phones, tablets, and laptops, but new cars rolling off the production line are also packed with smart technology to help you navigate, enjoy in-car entertainment, as well as taking calls and even receiving and dictating text messages. Perhaps the inspiration for this 21st century was the ultimate smart car, KITT, the star of TV show Knight Rider, along with his human driver David Hasselhoff of course!
15 Could Happen: Armored Personnel Carrier – Aliens
The futuristic and yet somehow familiar armored personnel carrier (APC) makes an impressive appearance in Aliens, the atmospheric and equally terrifying follow-up to the 1979 movie Alien.
This is the fearsome piece of machinery which transports Ripley and her team of crack troops to investigate the disappearance of terra-former colonists – and which Ripley eventually uses to ram a hole in the main building in order to rescue some of her crew.
The APC in Aliens looks something like a bulked-up Hummer and was actually made at Pinewood Studios in London from an old towing tug which used to pull aircraft around at Heathrow Airport.
14 Could Happen: Landspeeder - Star Wars: A New Hope
Much of the technology in the original Star Wars trilogy is still far beyond our reach – which only goes to show just how amazing the imagination of writer/director George Lucas really was! However, one of the most iconic vehicles in the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, might not be as impossible as it seems. Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, which the young hero rides around his home planet of Tatooine, could work like any land hovercraft. Hovercraft have been around since the 1950s, and though they are more usually used to make journeys on water than on land, a landspeeder-type vehicle is not outwith the realms of possibility.
13 Could Happen: Dodge M4S - The Wraith
The Wraith is probably one of the less well-known films on this list, but among sci-fi aficionados, this 1986 movie has become something of a cult classic.
Starring a young Charlie Sheen, the film tells the story of a teenager who returns from the afterlife as a street-racing car, determined to take his revenge on the gang who took him out.
While cars possessed by the spirits of deceased teens are an impossibility, the vehicle which is the real star of The Wraith is a car that was actually in production – the Dodge 4MS, a concept sports car developed by the company in 1981.
12 Could Happen: Driverless Taxis - Total Recall
In the original Total Recall, made in 1990 and starring The Terminator himself, Arnie takes a ride in a driverless taxi – driverless that is apart from the rather sinister Johnny, the robot which gives the Johnny Cab its name.
We already have driverless cars on our streets, and until recently Uber employed driverless technology to get customers from A to B, although at the moment the law says that there still needs to be a human at the wheel.
Probably not a bad idea, given that in Total Recall, the robotic cab driver is actually an evil mutant in disguise who tries to take Arnie our.
11 Could Happen: Gigahorse - Mad Max: Fury Road
In the original Mad Max movies, made with Mel Gibson in the 1970s and 1980s, and the 2015 reboot, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, vehicles played a hugely important part. When Gibson played the eponymous role, he drove the iconic V8 Interceptor, but in the reboot, the vehicles were all bigger, better and much more bizarre. The Gigahorse, for example, was the ultimate in modified vehicles, made of two 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Villes chassis, one on top of the other, combined with monster truck-style wheels, and an exaggerated suspension. Given the way vehicle customization is going, with owners become more and more creative, this kind of crazy combination no longer seems quite so crazy.
10 Could Happen: Aptera 2e - Star Trek (2009)
The Aptera 2e is something of an anomaly in this list. Rather than acting as the inspiration for future car makers, the Aptera 2e actually made a brief appearance in a Star Trek movie after the concept car had already been made.
This futuristic three-seater, battery-powered vehicle was designed for the city and streets if the future – which is what made it a perfect choice for a cameo appearance in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, starring Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk. It was a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but it gave Aptera some much-needed publicity for their concept project.
9 Impossible: Time Travelling DeLorean - Back to the Future
There’s nothing impossible about a DeLorean DMC-12, the scissor-doored sports car which starred in the Back to the Future trilogy. After all, 9000 DMC-12s were built before production ended in 1983, and the cars continue to change hands today – perhaps fueled by their appearance in the popular movie franchise.
The impossibility here is the idea that you can make a time machine out of a Delorean – or more precisely that you can make a time machine out of anything at all.
Time travel may be a great subject for a sci-fi movie, but real life science has proven that it is virtually impossible.
8 Impossible: Crown Victoria - Men in Black
Men In Black, another successful sci-fi franchise, is based on the premise that aliens live among us, while a secret agency works to keep them in line thanks to a selection of futuristic gadgets developed from captured alien technology.
On his first day on the job, rookie Will Smith is told by Tommy Lee Jones not to push the red button in the Ford Crown Victoria they use to get around.
Naturally, his character, Agent J, is unable to resist temptation, not realizing that this puts the car into flight mode, flipping the Crown Victoria upside down as they speed through the city traffic.
7 Impossible: Bumblebee – Transformers
When it comes to the rebooted Transformers movie franchise, viewers are spoilt for choice when it comes to vehicles which could never happen. After all, the Transformers aren’t just vehicles, but are also battling robots; the Autobots and the Decepticons. Bumblebee is one of the Autobots, a yellow and black Chevy Camaro muscle car when in vehicle mode, and a mute yellow and black robot, only able to communicate via his car radio when he has “transformed”. Bumblebee is even getting his own origins movie, a prequel to the first 2007 film, which is to be released in December 2018.
6 Impossible: Speeder Bike - Return of the Jedi
Luke’s landspeeder might be feasible as a real-life vehicle thanks to hovercraft technology, but the speeder bikes ridden by Storm Troopers, with Princess Leia and Luke in pursuit, in Return of the Jedi are a little more unlikely.
These hover motorbikes move at a tremendous pace through the trees on the Forest Moon of Endor, home of the Ewoks, and are able to make quick course corrections to avoid obstacles.
Hovercrafts simply aren’t that maneuverable, even if you could make one into a motorbike! Speeder bikes are going to have to stay firmly in a galaxy far, far away – for now, at least.
5 Impossible: Flying Winnebago – Spaceballs
When a movie franchise becomes too successful, you can usually expect that someone will try and cash in by making a spoof version. That is what happened with the success of Star Wars, which led to the creation of the Spaceballs spoof by Mel Brooks in 1987. Starring Bill Pullman and John Candy as space voyagers, who travel through the stars on the Eagle 5, a flying Winnebago, the movie poked fun at Star Wars and other sci-fi franchises like Alien, Star Trek and Planet of the Apes. While the Eagle 5 was perfect for a sci-fi spoof, in real life no-one would even try and put a Winnebago into space.
4 Impossible: Electric Rover - The Martian
In most aspects, The Martian, the 2015 sci-fi movie starring Matt Damon, sticks pretty closely to the facts, using real-life examples of current NASA technologies to make the film seem as realistic as possible.
One of the most impressive pieces of machinery in the whole movie is the solar-powered rover which abandoned astronaut Watney uses to get around the surface of the planet.
It is remarkably similar to Mars river vehicles which are already in design at NASA, although they have yet to deal with the problem that Mars receives less sunlight and therefore less solar power, making it difficult to power anything over a long period of time.
3 Impossible: Light Runner - Tron and Tron Legacy
Tron, a 1982 movie about a computer programmer Jeff Bridges who gets transported inside his machine’s mainframe and has to take part in races involving futuristic vehicles in order to escape, is something of a sci-fi classic. The movie was even re-made as Tron: Legacy in 2010, featuring racing cars as well as the original motorcycles. Aside from the fact that the premise of the film is completely unrealistic, the vehicles themselves even manage to break the laws of physics, traveling faster than the speed of light; something which Einstein himself said was impossible when he developed his special theory of relativity.
2 Impossible: Ecto-1 Hearse – Ghostbusters
There’s nothing impossible about the vehicle Ecto 1, the hearse driven by the Ghostbusters in the two original movies in the 1980s, and in the recent 2016 reboot, starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. After all, it is just an old hearse which has been repurposed to get the Ghostbusters team around New York.
What is impossible about this vehicle is the technology on the inside of Ecto-1, which purports to be able to catch and store ghosts.
First and foremost, there is no scientific evidence ghosts exist, and even if they do, no one has invented any way to catch them!
1 Impossible: Optimus Prime – Transformers
We’ve already met Bumblebee, one of the Autobot robots from the Transformers movie franchise. Equally unlikely is the fact that Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, might actually be a real-life vehicle one day. Operating as a huge eighteen-wheeler when he is in car mode, Optimus Prime becomes a giant battling robot after he transforms. He may be the best known of the Transformers characters, thanks in part to the popular kid's cartoon series, but that sadly doesn’t make it any more likely that he and his Autobots are going to come along and save the earth one day.
Sources: starwars.com, uber.com, wired.com, bbc.co.uk, bestmoviecars.com