The 1970s could arguably be called the golden era of pinball machines, as some of the most fondly remembered pinball games ever brought some of the greatest brand names of the decade to the pinball world. It’s therefore worth taking a look at the best pinball machines of the 1970s.
The 10 best pinball machines of the 70s are:
- KISS (1979)
- Fireball (1972)
- Evel Knievel (1977)
- Eight Ball (1977)
- Joker Poker (1978)
- Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1976)
- Playboy (1978)
- Centigrade 37 (1977)
- Jacks Open (1977)
- El Dorado (1975)
Through the artwork and game design of some of the most iconic pinball machines ever made in a decade that redefined pinball forever, below we take a look at how new technology, icons, and franchises allowed for some standout contenders for the title “best pinball machine of the 70s.”
The 10 Best Pinball Machines Of The 70s
If it feels like KISS have been around forever, it’s because they have. With an eye for self-promotion and marketing that was ahead of its time, the legendary band put their faces to anything from kids’ toys to lunchboxes as their fame spread.
Pinball machine makers Bally also got in on the action, with one of the most famously recognizable pinball machines ever, A solid-state electronic machine, 17,000 units of the KISS pinball machine were made and distributed globally.
A one-off KISS prototype that included speech was created at the time, but only one of these was made, as Bally tried to respond to the pinball game “Gorgar” which was also released in 1979, which had a voice in the game itself.
As recently as December 2021, a KISS pinball machine went at auction for $14,000, much higher than the 2021 average of $6,645. This shows just how popular this iconic game still is.
History-making pinball came along in 1972 with the release by Bally of the first multiball pinball machine – Fireball. An electro-mechanical machine, Fireball was beautifully designed, had an excellent multiball system, and became one of the most popular pinball machines ever made.
As well as multiball, Fireball had a spinning disc on the playfield that periodically spun frantically, sending the ball shooting off in random directions, adding to the game’s difficulty and enjoyment. The spinning disc on Fireball was not the first time such an addition had been made, but Fireball’s spinner, especially with its multiball feature too, had a huge impact on players at the time.
A truly standout game by Bally, Fireball had more features than most pinball machines of the era, and as such is part of pinball folklore, with artwork on the backglass that has stood the test of time. Only 3815 units were shipped, making Fireball quite a scarce machine to get, but it is well worth playing should you have the opportunity.
The trick to finding a great theme for a pinball machine is to find something or someone that everyone knows and run with it. And in the 1970s, Evel Knievel was one of the biggest stars in the world, and the Evel Knievel pinball machine was one of the best-known and most loved machines of the decade.
With simple gameplay and a great-looking backglass and playfield, 14,000 units were shipped. Even in 2021, an Evel Knievel machine averaged almost $6,000 at auction, which just emphasizes how cherished the franchise is.
Fans of the game state just how much fun it was to play and often comment on the artwork. But given how much of an icon Evel Kneivel was during this period, it is no surprise that it had such a huge fan following.
From 1977 until 1993, Eight Ball was the biggest selling Pinball machine of modern times until it was overtaken by the Addams Family pinball game. With the perfect combination of pinball and pool, over 20,000 units were produced and shipped out at a furious rate.
Another solid-state electronic machine by legendary pinball makers Bally, Eight Ball became one of the most common pinball machines around in the 1970s, and as such had a huge following from nostalgic fans the world over.
It had a Happy Days theme, a spinner, and addictive gameplay that was as simple as it was challenging. Although one criticism often voiced was that a left drain angle often led to the ball being difficult to keep in play.
This minor flaw led to the game being extremely addictive for players as they put coin after coin into the machine to beat it, which brought even more revenue in for owners, which increased demand for more units as Eight Ball was seen as something of a moneymaker.
Despite that, Eight Ball has very few detractors, and with an average price of $3,197 per unit sold in 2021, it still holds its value very well to this day. And because it was so widely distributed, with 20,000 units made, it can be one of the easier pinball classics to purchase.
For Joker Poker it is the gameplay that makes this superb game by Gottlieb & Company one of the best pinball machines of the 70s, with multiple targets that had to be knocked down to enable the high bonuses.
It’s a beautifully crafted game with great chimes that make this solid-state electronic classic from 1978 one of a select number of machines that are a must-have in any collection. A 2021 average sale price of $2,509 is reasonable, though with only 9,280 units made, it can be difficult to find.
With a playfield that looks fantastic, a specific target for each ball, and a unique bonus system, Joker Poker takes skill and practice, something pinball fans appreciate in this classic game. Joker Poker has well-distributed target banks that meant players had to really work at getting the bonus multiplier, so strategy and patience were virtues that added to the game’s enjoyment.
Given that the 1975 film “Tommy” is based around a boy who becomes a pinball master, Bally’s decision to make a pinball machine that is based around Elton John’s autobiographical song (he played the Pinball Wizard in the film), and the album looks like a shrewd decision.
With Elton John as Captain Fantastic and his then-lyricist Bernie Taupin as The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Bally produced more than 16,000 units of the game, with a huge focus on the artwork being a particular highlight of the machine.
Lead artist Dave Christensen included several X-rated pieces of artwork in the backglass of the machine, which was only noticed as production grew near, leading to them having to alter the backglass.
And despite Bally taking steps to cover the uncensored artwork with stars (which would not look out of place in an Elton John pinball game) a small number of the 16,155 machines made it through production with the X-rated art on show and had to have mirrored stars added to them.
The overriding sentiment of fans of this superb example of 70s pinball machinery is the overall amazing look of the unit, from the playfield to backglass, and a cabinet that looks great with Elton John emblazoned across the front.
The gameplay is excellent, and with multiple standup targets and a 5-bank drop target giving you plenty to aim for with the four flippers, the action is frenetic and keeps players returning to this classic of 1970s pinball. Captain Fantastic holds its value well, and with an average 2021 sale price of $4,373, finding one for sale at a good price could be a solid investment.
Another Bally classic from the 70s is the Playboy pinball machine, a solid-state electronic machine released in December 1978, with 18,250 units produced. With three gameplay systems, and with up to four players, Playboy was an extremely popular machine, although possibly not suitable for younger players!
Even discounting the scantily clad women draped across the backglass, part of the game was to collect five keys to unlock chastity belts, so perhaps a game for older players!
It’s a very collectible pinball machine with excellent, albeit risqué, artwork, and a game that many collectors consider a must-have, as much for its history as for its gameplay. The average price for a Playboy machine in 2021 was $3,608, showing it is still a sought-after pinball classic.
With only 1600 units ever produced of Centigrade 37, it is its scarcity and overall excellent gameplay that means this Gottlieb & Company pinball game makes it onto the list of the best pinball machines of the 70s. With an electro-mechanical design and feature-packed gameplay that is quite complex yet addictive, Centigrade 37 is a firm favorite due to its energetic playstyle.
Skillshots, drop targets, and a thermometer on the backglass that, when at maximum bonus, flashes and allows you to collect a replay credit makes Centigrade 37 one of the best pinball machines of the 70s. A sci-fi based theme, think Fahrenheit 451 meets Lost In Space, Centigrade 37 fits in well with the huge demand for sci-fi and technology-themed games of the 70s.
Due to the scarcity of the Centigrade 37 machine, prices are notoriously high, and a 2021 average sale price of $4,496 means a collector could often get three other pinball machines for the same price as this beautiful yet expensive collectible.
Pinball machines can be surprisingly complex to score highly on, but Jacks Open focuses on being straightforward and fun to play, with multipliers and drop targets that are easy to understand and keep you trying tobeat your high scores.
It is the simplicity of Jacks Open that makes it so appealing to collectors, as you try to collect poker hands and increase your bonus points, players get to feel that there is a progression to the game as they try to make a full hand of drop targets.
A poker set themed scoring system that has players aiming for various poker hands to increase their scores, a beautifully crafted backglass and a great playfield make Jacks Open a great game to play. Gottlieb made several card game based pinball machines over the years, including Joker Poker, and Jacks Open stands alongside Joker Poker as one of the best pinball/poker combinations around.
With Gottlieb & Company producing only 3,000 units, a Jacks Open cabinet can go for as little as £1,363, which is a very reasonable price. And given how much fun this game is to play, it would be a great addition to any player’s collection.
One of Gottlieb & Company’s most copied pinball machines, El Dorado is an electro-mechanical classic from the 70s that had superb gameplay, a satisfying target range of both long and short-range shots, and a playfield that looks wide open, but rewards skillful shot placement.
El Dorado has a classic western-themed playfield that harks back to a golden era in Americana, and plenty of drop targets allow for players to really rack up the points once they get to grips with it.
El Dorado also has one of the longest shots in pinball, a lower left flipper to upper right drop target shot that stretches the skills of players. El Dorado has a very open feel to its playfield and is much less cluttered than many modern machines, but this clean design should not be confused with simplicity, as targeting each drop target is a skill in itself as you aim for the high score.
This is an overall beautiful game with a real history and a loyal following. Although an average 2021 price per unit of $3,112 makes El Dorado one of the more expensive pinball machines around, it is still one of the best-looking and much-loved pinball games of the 70s.
The 1970s had some of the most iconic and best pinball machines ever produced, but the real reason the machines in our list are rated as the best is the emotional attachment that fans have to them. The memories of playing in arcades or malls, the classic chimes and the classic artwork, all make these machines some of the best ever made.