CATEGORIES Movie NewsThis is Andy Smith's favorite part, when he slips in through the top of the Tumbler -- the Batmobile used in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy -- and fires up the engine. The Tumbler lets out a roar, the floor shakes and the cockpit begins to smell like the inside of a lawnmower. A slight, confident smirk slips across his face that seems to say, Yeah, I am sitting in the driver's seat of a Batmobile. My job is awesome.
"I have to say, I love this car, because we built it to do what it does," said Smith, a special effects supervisor who worked on the Batmobiles in both Nolan's trilogy and Tim Burton's "Batman." "[The Tumbler] can go over a jump, you can smash it into things, it's just a big chunky piece of engineering and I like that. It can [even] spin on all four tires and do donuts."
Just beyond the Tumbler's armoured cockpit are its five predecessors; all six Batmobiles lined up outside the San Diego Convention Center for the 2012 edition of Comic-Con. Last weekend, the attraction was a crowd favorite, bringing in thousands of fans looking to take photos of one of the most iconic symbols in pop-culture history.
It may come as a bit of a shock to know that each Batman film has used a working Batmobile. Perhaps it's because we've come to expect every movie today to be dripping with special effects and CGI-ed out the wazoo. However, in person, the Tumbler (which you can see in this weekend's "Dark Knight Rises") is just as hulking and massive as it appears on screen. And sitting inside it, you feel invincible.
The Batmobile made its feature film debut back in 1966, with "Batman: The Movie," starring Adam West. The car West used was modeled after a concept vehicle, the 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura. The Futura in the film was purchased by custom car builder George Barris for the amazingly low price of $1. However, it would take $250,000 to transform it into the Batmobile we know today, requiring 40 coats of super gloss black paint, along with a variety of non-working gadgetry, including a red Batphone, a Batscope and a Bat-computer (unlike the Batmobiles themselves, the cars' accessories are, unfortunately, just for show).
It would be two decades before another Batmobile made it onto the big screen, in Burton's 1989 adaptation. This was the first Batmobile that Smith, who began his career building race cars, would work on. Here, the Anton Furst-designed Batmobile would take on a more modern feel.
Unfortunately, things didn't go quite according to plan in the beginning. While Smith described the final car to be "super reliable," he admitted that the initial model ended up hitting some snags -- namely, there were problems with the vehicle's hatch, which originally opened up like a clamshell.
"After it was built, the filmmakers' changed their minds [and now wanted the hatch to slide], which meant taking it apart, and that's why it looks kind of off now." said Smith, while pointing to the hatch that now appears to be a bit propped open. "It just gave us a whole bunch of headaches."
Luckily, the last-minute change didn't do much to negatively affect the final product, as the Batmobile in Burton's film was the sleek, crime-fighting machine it was always meant to be, roaring down the streets of Gotham, fire blasting from its tailpipe.
More than a decade later, Smith would jump back on the Batman bandwagon once again to work on the Tumbler in Nolan's "Batman Begins." However, this Batmobile was completely different from the one audiences had seen in previous films. Here, the two-and-a-half ton vehicle was more tank than sports car. Not only did it look like it was ready for urban warfare, it hit top speeds of 110 MPH and housed the Badpod, a hidden motorcycle that could eject itself in case of an emergency. But, as with the first Batmobile Smith helped build, his team ended up facing a few challenges after showing off the first model.
"[When] we had the steering [on the car] set up, we put it out for all the executives to come over and look at what we'd done," recalled Smith. "My boss said, 'Why don't you drive it?' So I take it around the corner and drive it around and everything works great. Then he goes, 'Can you do it again but a bit faster?' So I just do it and fly around the corner and it snapped -- the two wheels just buckled in and we came to a bouncing halt. So everyone came up to it and looked at it; nobody said a word and then they just left. I was like, 'Oh, that's the end of that. We're screwed.'"
The executives apparently didn't hold the mishap against Smith, as he eventually got the greenlight to build more Tumblers for the film and its two sequels (there would end up being five Tumblers in all). He also learned a valuable lesson: "The most underused word in the film industry is 'No,'" he said, smiling.
In addition to the Tumbler and the Lincoln, there have been several awe-inspiring Batmobiles in between, each more fantastical and flashy than the one before. After the Lincoln were the aforementioned Burton Batmobiles, with their spherical bombs and machine guns; Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" introduced a Batmobile with a ribbed cage that glowed blue and, with a little movie magic, could climb up the side of buildings; "Batman and Robin" dropped the ribbed cage, and added a pulsating sphere in the grill; and finally, there were the Tumblers, the rough-and-tough tank-like vehicles first seen in "Batman Begins."
The Tumblers appear to be the ones that Andy Smith enjoys the most (or perhaps that's just because he's sitting behind the wheel of one right now as the engine runs). As Smith later admits, "To have a movie vehicle that isn't just something you look at -- for it to actually do what it does -- this has been the best thing so far, I must say."
Below, you can take a look at photos of every single Batmobile in the gallery, along with a video of Andy turning on the Tumbler. "The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters this Friday.