One of the most fascinating cultural phenomena covering the intersection of lifestyle and technology has been Westworld. The HBO series, run by married couple Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, is in my mind the most interesting display of current thinking around artificial intelligence, sentient robots, and as of season three, the future of mobility.
When doing research for our upcoming mobility special in Scandinavian MIND Issue 2, I realised that the ride sharing vehicles displayed in the third season of Westworld have a canny resemblance to the Swedish autonomous taxi startup Nevs.
It got me thinking. Given that car has been such an important part of the cinematic history, why aren’t electric and autonomous vehicles better represented in Hollywood lore?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked this question, since it sent me down an online rabbit hole I’ve barely been able to climb out of since.
It has now been almost 20 years since we saw Tom Cruise get assembled in a futuristic Lexus in the Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report. Since then, not much has happened. Lists of the coolest EVs or self-driving cars in movies are never longer than eight or nine examples — from Herbie to the Delorean in Back to The Future, to Kitt in Knight Rider to, yes, Minority Report. The batmobile in Batman Begins gets an honorary mention for being self-driving, but I would put it in the traditional category. Just look at the SIZE of the exhaust tube!
Lists of the best car movies of all time (yes, I’ve read those too, told you I was down a rabbit hole…) include none of the above-mentioned concepts.
To conclude: we don’t really see cool futuristic, electric, or autonomous vehicles in major Hollywood movies. Sure, Tesla has made the rounds, from Cars 3 to the Netflix series Ozark according to the Internet Movie Cars Database (rabbit hole!), but never as a star.
Why is this?
The simple answer is that it’s about money. Car cameos in movies have been a key revenue for big blockbusters since the 1960s. In everything from James Bond flicks to the Fast and Furious franchise, car scenes and their adrenaline-infused chases are nothing more than bloated Superbowl ads.
”These days, a particular car doesn’t appear in a movie or a hit TV show just because the director wants it there. Product placements are basically ads, which the automakers pay for. Tesla doesn’t pay for advertising (nor does it need to), and the other brands that have EVs aren’t keen to advertise them” wrote Evannex back in 2019.
I’m thinking that it has to go beyond that. That we are actually seeing another type of shift. When cars go from being a human-operated machine, with VROOOM-type sound-effects, to a self-driving robot, something happens to its cinematic appeal. As Alain Vissier, the founding CEO of Swedish mobility company Lynk & Co suggested in my recent podcast interview with him, we are moving from a car industry to a mobility industry. And in doing so, the car is no longer the ultimate manifestation for freedom.
I mean, who wants to see a remake of Bullitt with silenced, self-driving EVs chasing each other around San Francisco?
But perhaps I’m thinking about this the wrong way. Perhaps there is a new era of car movies, car chases, and conceptual mobility lurking around the corner. And perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong places.
Just look at the concept cars conceived by the Polestar design team for the Balenciaga videogame last year.
Now, that is something I’d like to experience in the next season of Westworld.