Just watch the trailer above for the 1975 film Tommy, aka the wildest pinball movie ever made, and you'll catch on pretty quickly that before Playstation or Xbox were twinkles in their creators' eyes, pinball was king. And what a glorious reign it was – a right royal riot of lurid artwork, flashing lights, ringing bells and celebrity endorsements that hit peak popularity in the 1970s and early-80s.
Things changed when video arcade games like Space Invaders and Galaga came along and usurped pinball from its amusement-parlour throne. The new era of high-tech entertainment had arrived, and pinnies weren’t invited: in 2000, just three new models were released.
But though pinball was down, it wasn’t out – in fact, it seems to be making a stealth comeback, with 28 new machines launched last year. Could a pinball renaissance be upon us? Check out these 21st-century machines and see what you think…
Pinball and rock’n’roll go together like beer and peanuts, and over the years machines have been dedicated to performers as diverse as Aerosmith, Dolly Parton and KISS. But one musical icon had to wait until nearly 30 years after his death for the honour. No matter: the King lives again in this action-packed, stereophonic diorama spanning his entire career. Enter the Heartbreak Hotel, do the Jailhouse Rock, and cheer on the mechanical Elvis as he hip-swivels his way through the hits.
2013: Wizard of Oz
It took nearly 75 years before The Wizard of Oz’s pinball potential was recognised, but the wait was worth it. Hailed as “the next generation of pinball evolution,” “pinball modernity refined to perfection” and “a beautiful piece of art” by the notoriously picky reviewers of the Internet Pinball Database, Wizard of Oz’s LCD monitor marked a turning point in pinball design. But all its whizz-bangery would be meaningless if it didn’t do the movie justice. One glance at the wicked witch’s castle or the ruby-slipper flippers dispels any fears about that.
2016: Batman 66
You’ve probably noticed by now that, while modern-day pinball designers take full advantage of current technology, their hearts are tied to the pop-cultural past. Enter Batman 66, an exuberantly technicolour tribute to the cult 1960s TV series. With high-definition display and video footage from original episodes, plus all the villains and bat-gadgets you could ask for, it blends vintage kitsch and contemporary playability to create maximum biff-bang-pow. Voices from the original Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) seal the deal.