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From ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ To ‘Blade Runner’ – A Visual History Of The Flying Car

Back to the Future/Universal Pictures

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” Doc Brown’s bold statement at the end of ‘Back to the Future’ captured Hollywood’s fascination with the flying car, an imaginative fantasy that might be drifting ever closer to reality based on a news story making the rounds today.

Meet the PAL-V One, a two-seated hybrid car that manufacturers claims works on land and in the air, occupying an airspace near 4,000 feet, which is designated for uncontrolled Visual Flight Rules traffic. The PAL-V is designed like a helicopter, powered by an aircraft engine, runs on gasoline, and reportedly can reach speeds of up to 112 mph.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is now.

Of course, the modern-day flying car looks nothing like Hollywood imagined. As far back as 1961, filmmakers simply turned bulky automobiles like the ‘Absent-Minded Professor’s’ Flubber car into crafts that could elevate off the ground and fly through the air. When ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ followed suit in 1968, these cars looked no different than they would on the ground.

The Absent Minded Professor/Walt Disney Pictures
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang/MGM


Even recently, when Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) used magic to propel the family car into the air, ‘Chamber of Secrets’ director Chris Columbus did very little to change the fact that it was a simple automobile blessed with the gift of flight.

Harry Potter
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets/Warner Bros.


Gradually, inventive filmmakers began improving the designs of the flying automobiles, as when James Bond’s nemesis bolted wings to the roof of a 1974 Matador sedan in ‘The Man With the Golden Gun.’

Man With the Golden Gun
The Man With the Golden Gun/MGM


Flying cars, though, were supposed to resemble George Jetson’s sleek, airborne automobile … and fold into a briefcase-sized square at the push of a button. It wasn’t until some of the more creative names in science-fiction tackled the idea of a flying car that we finally saw gravity-defying craft in such films as Nick Castle’s ‘The Last Starfighter,’ Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner,’ and Luc Besson’s ‘The Fifth Element.’

Blade Runner car
Blade Runner/Warner Bros.
Fifth Element
The Fifth Element/Sony Pictures
Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter/Universal Pictures


The trend appears to be continuing in Len Wiseman’s ‘Total Recall’ reboot, which showed (in its most-recent trailer) shots of Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel fleeing for their lives in a souped-up flying craft.

Total Recall
Total Recall/Sony Pictures


The PAL-V suggests that technology is catching up with imagination. In time, we might actually be able to pilot crafts that looks like the Spinners from ‘Blade Runner’ of Doc Brown’s flying DeLorean.  Now, about those hoverboards …

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