The concept of a vehicle that can act on its own has been around for decades. Movies and TV shows have often featured these characters with varying degrees of sentience, from cars that can talk and sing and interact with humans to other vehicles who are portrayed merely as self-driving, with no other personality traits. With both Cars 3 and Transformers: The Last Knight in theaters this month, there was no better time than now to create this infographic which features 25 of our very favorite sentient vehicles, dating all the way back to 1941. We’ve included Lightning McQueen and Optimus Prime, of course, but we're also sure to mention some lesser-known vehicles, such as a vampire motorcycle and a murderous semi-truck.
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Sentient Vehicles Transcript:
25 Cars, Trucks, Buses, Bikes, & Trains That Can Think on Their Own
2-4-0 Steam Locomotive
Casey Junior appeared in Disney's Dumbo as the steam engine who led the circus train from stop to stop. Casey is a happy and friendly locomotive who communicated via his whistle, with his voice being slightly muffled and modified, as well as via his energetic and rubbery movement. Casey is introduced with a song and, later in the film, climbs a steep track on a mountain, exclaiming the famous line, "I think I can! I think I can," referencing The Little Engine That Could.
Car from "You Drive"
1956 Ford Fairlane
The Twilight Zone 1964
In this season five episode of The Twilight Zone, a 1956 Ford Fairlane acts as a tell-tale heart to driver Ollie Pope. After Pope fatally strikes a paperboy, he fled the scene of the crime, hoping to keep it a secret. The car becomes his guilty conscience, though, by creating a commotion when Pope is near it, honking its horn and flashing its lights on its own, replaying the radio news story of the boy's death, and eventually driving him to the police station to confess.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Vintage Racing Car
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968
The title character of this classic movie from the 60s is a magical car owned by an eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts. Potts buys the car from a junkyard, adds a chimney breast and boat hull and takes it on adventures with his children. Chitty, named after the sounds it makes, can sprout wings and fly on its own.
Fun Fact: Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, owns the original, fully functioning car. He bought it at an auction in 2011 for $805K.
1963 Volkswagen Beetle
The Love Bug 1968
As hinted at by the film's title, Herbie is a car that thrives on love and friendship. In The Love Bug, Herbie helps race-car driver Jim Douglas win races to to the fact that Jim stuck up for him at a car showroom. Herbie also helps set Jim up with his love interest Carole by driving them to a romantic spot for a date. Herbie can't speak, but is able to communicate with humans through his actions and honking his horn.
Speed Buggy 1973
Speed Buggy was the star of the animated TV show produced by Hanna-Barbera. The series was about Speed Buggy (Speedy) and his teenage friends who solve crimes and also race competitively. Voiced by Mel Blanc, Speed Buggy was able to speak on his own to his friends, although one of the teenagers did have to drive him. While memorable, the show only ran for 16 episodes.
1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III (Customized)
The Car 1977
In the 1977 film titled The Car, a driverless, black car cruises the streets of a Southwestern town, murdering people who insulted it, made it angry, or just got in its way. James Brolin starts as Wade, the Chief Deputy who was tasked with stopping the dangerous vehicle. After noticing that the car wouldn't enter hallowed ground, more questions arose. Was the car possessed? Was it a demon? Just was was driving... The Car?
1982 Pontiac Trans Am
Knight Rider 1982
Technically, K.I.T.T. wasn't exactly a sentient car, but actually a self-aware supercomputer housed within a car. But how could we leave him off this list? K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Two Thousand) worked with David Hasselhoff's character, Michael Knight, to fight crime. K.I.T.T. had emotions, could think on his own, and could speak to humans. Other features included a scanner allowing K.I.T.T. to "see," audio and smell sensors, and a heat-resistant coating.
1958 Plymouth Fury
John Carpenter, the Master of Horror, brought Christine to the big screen in 1983, based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. Christine is able to understand when her owner, Arnie, speaks to her and she is able to drive on her own, as well as regenerate after any damage is inflicted on her. However, Christine is a protective and jealous car and begins to harm those who get in the way of her and Arnie's relationship.
Combination Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Trans Am
Turbo Teen 1984
More of a superhero than a sentient vehicle, Brett Matthews is part-car/part-boy. The classic story of "boy drives car into a secret government area and is exposed to a molecular beam" is told in this animated series. Matthews' incident ends up giving him the ability to transform into his car while exposed to heat and back to human form while exposed to the cold. This 13-episode series was heavily inspired by Knight Rider.
Thomas the Tank Engine
E2 Class Steam Locomotive
Thomas & Friends 1984
First seen in The Railway Series books, initially published in the 40s, and eventually in the TV show Thomas & Friends, Thomas was a happy-go-lucky engine, although sometimes he was portrayed as more cheeky. The more popular the character got, though, the friendlier he became. He was able to move on his own, as well as talk. Thomas was also featured in Shining Time Station, an American TV show which featured segments from Thomas & Friends.
Happy Toyz Truck
White Western Star 4800 Truck
Maximum Overdrive 1986
Stephen King's second entry on this list is the Happy Toyz Truck, the main villain from the campy 80s horror movie Maximum Overdrive. Due to a nearby comet, machines begin to come to life and attack humans around them. ATMs, motorized bridges, lawnmowers, and vending machines all start to lash out, but none of them are as dangerous as the Happy Toyz Truck. The big rig, wearing a Green Goblin mask, murders many, but is finally stopped after a showdown.
A Cat that is also a Bus
My Neighbor Totoro 1988
The bus, which is also a cat, has 12 legs, fur, a Cheshire Cat-like face, and a bushy tail, and helps Satsuki find her missing little sister, Mei. The Catbus doesn't speak, but is able to fly and run on it's own, as well as determine the location of any intended destination. Its eyes act as headlights, while mice on the back act as taillights. The character is also able to shapeshifter and is seen stretching on oof its windows into a door to let Satsuki inside.
Benny the Cab
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 1988
Benny the Cab is one of the Toons in the half-animated/half-live-action film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Benny is fully sentient—he can speak, express his emotions and thoughts just as a human, and he can drive on his own. The yellow cab, shown as a character from the Golden Age of Animation, is gruff, yet loyal, and tries to help Eddie Valiant, played by Bob Hoskins, and Roger Rabbit escape from the Toon Patrol.
Dragster of Doom
Salvaged Drag Racing Car
Beetlejuice (TV series) 1989
In the cartoon series based on the Tim Burton classic Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice and Lydia Deetz are friends. The episode "Dragster of Doom" introduces a new character, Doomie, a dog-like car that the main characters buy to drive in the Neitherworld. Doomie has a split personality, and while sometimes he is happy and friendly, he can also turn more feral, usually when in the presence of a dog. The salvaged racing car can drive (and fly!) itself, manipulate its interior—such as seatbelts—and communicates via its horn and facial expressions.
850 CC Norton Commando
I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle 1990
The title of this film explains it all—this movie is about a sentient motorbike with a thirst for blood. The motorcycle can start on its own, drive itself, and, as expected, murder on its own as well. The bike is sentient thanks to being possessed by an occultist who was killed by a Hells Angels-like biker gang and is now hell-bent on getting revenge. The vampire motorcycle also has supernatural powers, allowing it to grow spikes and glow red.
The Magic School Bus
Ward International Bus
The Magic School Bus 1994
As the title of the beloved educational TV show from the 90s describes, this classic, yellow bus is magical. Ms. Frizzle, the class teacher, is usually in charge of driving the bus during their adventures but there were plenty of times that the Magic School Bus acted on its own. The bus had the ability to change shape, to fly, to disassemble itself, and, most memorably, to alter its size—such as shrinking down to be small enough to fit into a human body! All in the name of science.
Remote Controlled Toy Car
Toy Story 1995
First appearing in the original Toy Story film, and later in the sequels, RC was one of the toys that lived in Andy's room. RC drove on his own, expressed emotions via his face on the front of the car, and was able to communicate by revving his engine or beeping his horn. His fellow toys were able to understand what he was saying while he made these noises. RC was part of the exciting climax of the film, assisting Buzz and Woody in their efforts to match up with Andy's family's moving van.
Jeep Wrangler YJ (Customized)
Power Rangers Turbo 1997
Storm Blaster is an extra-terrestrial Jeep that is capable of driving itself on various terrains. The self-driving car is sentient, but doesn't use any communication. It is primarily used by the Blue Ranger. The Storm Blaster is one of two cars that were found in the core of an asteroid by the evil Divatox. After refusing to join forces with the villain, the sentient alien cars decided to team up with the Turbo Rangers instead.
Chevrolet Camaro (Customized)
Power Rangers Turbo 1997
The Lightning Cruiser from the Power Rangers Turbo series is able to drive itself at high speeds while maintaining great maneuverability. It also has the ability to fly by transforming into a jet, but, as with Storm Blaster, it is not able to communicate with other cars or humans. The Lightning Cruiser is equipped with a mounted cannon while in car mode or four assault guns when in jet mode. It is primarily operated by the Red Ranger.
Bob the Builder 1998
Scoop is a fully sentient piece of construction equipment that lives in the Bob the Builder universe. He can move himself and speak to, and be understood by, other machines. He's the leader of the machines, was the first piece of equipment that Bob befriended, and often spouts the phrases "Can we fix it?" and "No prob, Bob!"
Fun Fact: The voice actor of Bob the Builder in the original UK series also was the star of I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle.
Project Satan appeared in "The Honking," the first episode of season three of Futurama. he was created by the military using parts from evil cars (such as the steering wheel from Adolf Hitler's car and the turn signal from Charles Manson's bus) to create the most evil vehicle imagined. This were-car could speak to humans, feel emotions, and could move on its own and drive itself. However, at the end of the episode, he drove himself to his own demise.
Flying Ford Anglia
Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2002
Enchanted by Arthur Weasley, this flying Ford Anglia first was used by the Weasley boys to rescue Harry Potter from the Dursley's house during the summer. However, Ron and Harry also ended up driving the car to Hogwarts after they were unable to board the train at Platform 9 3/4. While most of the time we see the car driven by a human, there are times when the car acts on its own, such as when it rescues Harry and Ron from the Forbidden Forest. It is unable to communicate with humans.
Generic Stock Car
This anthropomorphic star of Pixar's Cars franchise is fully sentient. Lightning McQueen speaks, thinks, communicates, moves, and makes decisions all on his own. While McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, begins as an over-confident and selfish race car, over the course of the film he becomes likable, caring, and a good friend. Animators said that they designed McQueen's movements with an athlete in mind, while staying true to the mechanical construction of the car.
1992 Peterbilt 379
Optimus Prime first appeared as a toy in the mid-80s, but really became a household name after the animated TV series premiered shortly after. We've depicted the leader of the Autobots—sentient robots that turn into vehicles—as he appeared in the 2007 live-action film. Optimus Prime transforms on his own, speaks, thinks, and communicates with other Transformers and humans. Truly, he is more than meets the eye.
British Taxi Cab
Regular Show 2010
In the season premier of its second season, Regular Show's "Ello Gov'nor" featured a sentient British taxi that terrifies Rigby after he watched a horror movie about it. This car can drive itself, flash its lights, laugh, and utter the phrase, "ello, gov'nor!" Maybe the care is possessed or just part of a dream hallucination, but either way, its actions secured it a spot on our list of sentient vehicles.
Sources: imdb.com, tvtropes.com, wikia.com, wikipedia.com
Didn't realize there were so many, huh? Us, either, until we really started digging into the concept! It was pretty hard to narrow down. We didn't even include any video game vehicles (next infographic, perhaps?). Did we miss any that you love? Let us know in the comments! Or, you know, tell us about your favorite sentient car theory. While you're brainstorming your own favorite cars that can think and laugh and love, you can also take a look at our Transformers costumes. We have styles for kids and adults, both Decepticon and Autobot! Roll out!
Design Credit: Cody Petersen