The 10 Coolest Movie-Inspired Pinball Machines
Just a quick 10-minute cab ride from the Alamo Drafthouse off Route 183 in Austin, Texas sits Pinballz, a massive arcade that specializes in — make sure you’re sitting down for this one — pinball. They’ve got old machines dating back decades, and new ones from just the last few years. And while their pinball games come in all shapes and sizes, Pinballz has a particularly large collection of pinball games adapted from popular movies.
The practice of turning films into pinball dates back decades, but really peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when arcades sprouted up in malls and shopping centers around the country, and almost every blockbuster (and even a few gigantic flops, *coughLostinSpacecough*) became the recipient of their own silverball adaptations. Unlike video games inspired by movies — whose contours could be shaped to match their source material — pinball’s gameplay is pretty much locked into a narrow set of circumstances: flippers, bumpers, targets, and ramps. Some films, including some big hits, didn’t fit comfortably into that system. And on the flip side, some of the worst movies of the era actually made the best pinball games.
You’ll find a few of those here, along with videos of the ten coolest movie-inspired pinball machines I got to play at Pinballz. Hardcore pinball enthusiasts might disagree with my picks, but my choices were as much about replay value and quality of the shots as the overall design and the ingenuity of the use of the movie property in the game. If you can’t get enough of these curiosities, the bottom of this post has a gallery of 40 more movie-inspired machines. (Big fan of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? There’s a pinball made just for you!) And if you’re ever in the Austin area, take a detour to Pinballz. Make sure you try the Johnny Mnemonic game too. Just trust me on this.
The Addams Family
The Barry Sonnenfeld movie inspired this beloved machine, the best-selling pinball game of all time according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong). The game was intricately designed with tons of unique features, including a Thing hand that would appear from beneath the playfield and grab the player’s ball (using a magnet), and a bookshelf that opens to reveal a secret shot.
Data East, 1991
This gorgeous machine boasts some of the coolest pinball artwork ever, and really fun gameplay. The Batcave sits in the middle of the playfield; in the back there’s Acme Chemical Factory, which leads to the museum. And there’s nothing like Jack Nicholson cackling at you to ratchet up the tension.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The promotional flyer for this game showed the machine sitting inside a coffin, which would have been a real eye-catcher at the arcade. Sadly, the real game looked like your standard issue pinball. It did have a cool magnet under the playfield that let your ball spookily levitate across it after locked in the right spot. Hitting the ball as it “levitates” starts multiball.
Freddy: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Because there’s nothing children like more than games based on terrifying horror movies, there was a Nightmare on Elm Street machine in the mid-1990s. It’s one of the most metal pinball games ever made. There’s a big Freddy head in the middle of the playfield whose mouth moves and talks to you; hit the right spot and he’ll even spit the ball out at you. Gross.
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
This popular machine featured sound clips from the first three Indiana Jones movies, and new audio provided by actor John Rhys-Davies. The game featured 12 different modes based on different components of the original trilogy, and a mini-playfield where players had to steer a ball to avoid various holes. Score well enough and you could active a 6-ball multiball. 6 balls! That’s tougher than sitting through Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
This Keanu Reeves sci-fi action flick is one of the most notorious bombs of the 1990s. But it’s one of the best movie-to-pinball adaptations ever. Send the ball into the back left corner and it activates a pair of gloves, which lift your ball into the air via a magnet. Then you can move one of the gloves using buttons to maneuver the ball into position and then drop it into a Tic Tac Toe board. It’s shockingly fun. I want one of these in my house. (Don’t tell my wife.)
Data East, 1993
Clever features of this game include the famous Jurassic Park gates (you have to shoot through them) and pterodactyl bouncing over the playfield. The John Williams music doesn’t have quite the same sense of grandeur when digitized, but at least the voices come from the actual movie.
This beautiful new machine features a gigantic model of the Vengeance ship from Star Trek Into Darkness that rocks and bounces when struck by the ball, and an extra flipper you need to hit a “Warp” ramp. It’s arguably more fun that the movie it’s based on.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
This underrated pinball (based on the underrated movie) features a bonus game in its backglass (you shoot an moving “RPG” at lighted targets), a big Arnold Schwarzenegger head and a ton of Schwarzenegger voices recorded just for the machine. (“Shoot heeuh, and heeuh!” “Lahk is lit!” “Ball 1 lahked!” and so on.) What’s better than bouncing a silver ball while a burly Austrian man barks orders at you? Nothing, that’s what.
One of the most clever movie-to-pinball adaptations, Sega’s Twister featured a spinning disc in the center of the playfield that could toss your ball unexpectedly off course. When the player gets multiball a magnet in the spinning disc would catch your ball, add a couple others, and then spin them around at high speed, simulating a tornado. Pretty awesome, actually.
Check Out a Gallery of More Movie-Inspired Pinball Machines: