On occasion, cars in television and film become full-fledged, inextricable characters in the narrative, commanding allure to match – even outshine – their human counterparts.

Some, however, burn brighter than others, becoming cultural touchstones in their own right. BBC Autos visited Quora.com, the online question and answer community, to gauge respondents’ thoughts on what might be the most memorable cars from cinema and television.

Three dark knights

Ken Miyamoto, a screenwriter and former Sony Pictures script reader kicked things off with a rather exhaustive hit list, which included KITT from Knight Rider and nearly all of the Batmobiles.

Infographic: Can you guess these star cars from film and television?

The Batmobile built for the television show of the 1960s was originally a 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura modified by Hollywood customiser George Barris. The latest Batmobile, the Tumbler of the Dark Knight trilogy, was built at an estimated cost of $250,000, and was powered by a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 engine with 400 horsepower under its carbon fiber and fibreglass body. Even with rear wheels measuring a comical 37in, the Tumbler could move from zero to 60mph in five seconds, according to its builders.

For the Knight Rider show, which originally aired on US television in the ‘80s, KITT –Knight Industries Two Thousand – was a modified 1982 Pontiac Trans Am originally designed for the show by Michael Scheffe. KITT could turbo-boost its way out of dangerous situations, jump over obstacles, drive autonomously and, of course, carry on a conversation. KITT was powered by a 5-litre V8 engine mounted behind its famous red scanner.

Cars of future past

When it comes to evocative movie cars, it is hard to top Dr Emmett L Brown's modified 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. With its gull-wing doors and brushed stainless-steel body, the DMC-12 was iconic in its own right, and then immortalised in the 1985 film Back to the Future. Doc and Marty McFly drove (and eventually flew) the DeLorean through space and time, powered by its Flux Capacitor. Only about 9,000 original DMC-12s were built, but the movie has contributed immeasurably to the car’s outsize legend.

Miyamoto notes Mad Max's 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon Pursuit Special on his list as well. The V8-powered Falcon tore through the apocalyptic Australian badlands, driven by Mel Gibson in the 1979 film. Mad Max nostalgists have something to look forward to, as the reboot of the film franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road, is due in 2015.

American classics

Some of the most famous on-screen machines come not from  alternate dimensions or the future end of days, but from the past. Matt Wasserman listed the 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe and 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in George Lucas's 1973 film, American Graffiti, as two of his top choices. Driven by actors Paul Le Mat and Harrison Ford, respectively, these cars have taken their place as two of the most iconic vehicles in  US film history evoking an era of hot-rod street racing.

In this vein of rebellious autos, Wasserman also lists the 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 from the 1968 film Bullitt. Driven by Steve McQueen, the pony races round the sunny streets of San Francisco, pursuing a 1968 four-speed Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. With little more than engine sound effects to heighten the drama, the famous chase scene still electrifies first-time viewers.

Paranormal icons

Another gem comes from New York City. Miyamoto lists the Ghostbusters 1959 Cadillac Ecto-1, an instant classic from the 1984 film. Though it's better known for sloshing round bends on its softly sprung, Miller Meteor chassis than for out-and-out chases, the  ambulance earned its immortality for shepherding four world-saving ghoul-hunters round the Big Apple. Sony recently restored two of the Ecto-1s, perhaps just in time for the long-rumoured Ghostbusters 3.

Some readers may remember another ghostly jalopy from The Munsters, a US television show that aired in the mid-‘60s. The Koach was built by George Barris – he of Batmobile fame – in just three weeks, and combined three Model T bodies for a final length of 18ft. Under the hood was a powerful 289 Ford Cobra engine from a 1966 Mustang GT.

Bond cars and Bounders

Quora user Denis Grammakov cited a road-tripping vehicle-turned-rogue icon: the 1986 Fleetwood Bounder RV from the US programme Breaking Bad. The infamous mobile lab used by actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul is now part of the long list of vehicles we can never look at the same way again. While Sony Pictures sold a number of cars that appeared on the show, the studio is reportedly keeping the Bounder for its studio-lot tours.

And finally, one of the most quintessential cinema vehicles comes not from one movie, but from more than 50 years of filmmaking. James Bond films have featured a variety of Aston Martin sports cars since 1964, when Sean Connery first piloted a DB5 in Goldfinger.  Since then, Aston Martins have appeared in nearly a dozen of the 007 films, and the automaker recently announced it would make 10 special DB10s apropos of the next James Bond film, Spectre.

Whether as spies, ghost-fighter or time machines, automobiles on screens big and small do much more than move actors from A to B.

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