Ranking pinball machines from the best to the worst makes as much sense as ranking music or literature: it’s stupid to think that taste is universal. Nevertheless, since everyone else is doing it, why not us? At the very least, it allows us to direct new Pinheads towards pinballs that have proven themselves over time.
Stalling the reader to maintain suspense is a crevice of crevice that I disapprove of, so here’s the ranking and then we’ll discuss the method used for the ranking.
The 10 best pinball machines of all time
- Medieval Madness – Williams then Chicago Gaming Company – 1997 then 2015
- Monster Bash – Williams then Chicago Gaming Company – 1998 then 2018
- Twilight Zone – Bally – 1993
- Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure – Williams – 1993
- Attack From Mars – Bally then Chicago Gaming Company – 1995 than 2017
- Lord of the Rings – Stern – 2003
- Star Trek: The Next Generation – Williams – 1993
- Addams Family – Bally – 1992
- Theater of Magic – Bally – 1995
- Scared Stiff – Bally – 1996
Pinball machine classification method
“This is a scandal!”, “how come…”, “can we do a serious ranking without quoting…”. Wow, I can hear you in my head, haters, so let’s calm down! As a self-proclaimed journalist, I am unassailable, I brandish my virtual business card like an anti-troll talisman.
This ranking is based on the compilation of 3 sources, each of them offering their own scale: pinside, internet pinball database and flipjuke. The scores reflect the opinion of the communities that these sites gather. In this case, the contributors are mostly American for the first two, and French for the last one. They rate several aspects of the machines out of 10, and the average of these ratings is then automatically calculated.
These 10 places are attributed to pinball machines that can be found in the 3 rankings, prioritized according to the average rankings achieved at the time this article was written.
For the first three places, namely Medieval Madness, Monster Bash and Twilight Zone, the debate is not really allowed: they are all in the top 10 of the selected rankings.
The further you go down the ranking, the bigger the differences in appreciation become. For example, Theater of Magic and Scared Stiff are considered as must-haves by flipjuke and IPDB, but do not even reach the Top 20 by Pinside.
The limits of the exercise, but let’s not kid ourselves
The exercise is inevitably controversial, as each ranking generates biases:
- Machines from the last few years do not seem to be listed in the IPDB ranking
- Pinside has a tendency to overvalue recent pinball machines (we remember Stern’s Led Zeppelin reached the first place at the beginning of 2021, however, for a very short time)
- Some ratings are based on less than 10 reviews on flipjuke (due to the smaller French speaking market)
But honestly, if you ask a Pinhead to name the 10 most popular pinball machines (not their preferences, mind you!), they’ll pretty much most of this list. Some examples:
- Addams Family was the best selling pinball machine of all time
- Medieval Madness has long held the top spot on pinside
- Pinball Mag is just one year old as I write this, and without relying on the ranking, we have already written articles on 6 of the 10 pinball machines selected.
Original pinball or remake?
In all transparency, two out of the three rankings bring up the original machines but not their remakes. Pinside is the only one to propose an aggregated score for all versions, with the possibility to consult the details.
We voluntarily combine the two, as the quality of the remakes are as good as the originals. One manufacturer has made its business to do so: Chicago Gaming Company.
The chagrins will mark the difference, but this position does not hold once you have put your hands on the reissues. In saying this, we are judging the pleasure of playing, not the technical part underneath the playfield. We could do an article on “the most technically accomplished pinball machines” or “the most solid pinball machines”, but you’ll note that this would be a different article with other measurement criteria.
The Bally/Williams hegemony
Bally and Williams, which were one company in the 1990s, occupy 9 out of 10 places, campaign-style in Russia. Is this really surprising?
The golden age of pinball was in the 90’s, and the best-selling pinball machines date from this period. In fact, pinball enthusiasts are more likely to own or have played machines from this period than any other. Finally, during this decade, Bally/Williams reigned supreme over world production. A bit like Stern since the beginning of the 2000s.
There are specific rankings for electro-mechanical machines, but the volume of opinions is not at all the same. It is therefore likely that a battle mixing the two types of pinball machines would not change much the hierarchy presented above.
On the other hand, the electro-mechanical pinball of the previous period is less fun to play. The object often has a certain vintage class, but its rules suffer from technical limitations: at that time, the absence of electronic components limited the creativity of the mechanics to score.
Conversely, why does only one post-golden age pinball machine rise in this ranking? Production quantities plummet after the year 2000, that’s why. Moreover, with today’s customers mostly in their forties, tastes tend to freeze on the 1990s, i.e. our beautiful teenage years.
Finally, only time can distinguish shooting stars from eternal suns. Among the current glories, we will see which ones stand the test of time.
A top 10 for every level
Among these 10 pinball machines, we can observe two categories of machines: the general public pinballs and the pinballs with a real depth of games.
Medieval Madness, Monster Bash, Attack From Mars, and Theater of Magic are arcade blockbusters. Very easy to play, with a simple board structure, and the objectives to reach are easily understood. You have to hit the big toy in the middle, it’s not complicated. This does not mean that you can reach the wizard mode easily, just that the path is well marked.
On the other hand, Twilight Zone, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings are more difficult to access, but have rich universes, supported by complex but rewarding rules. One could say that these machines were designed before their time for home use. It takes time to get the hang of them, but once you get past the roughness of the beginning (no ball save on Twilight Zone for example), players will definitely come back.
The good pinball machines that come next
To stick to 10 pinball machines remains frustrating, it’s so ugly for the 11th. So here are some good followers: Wizard of Oz, Creature from the Black Lagoon, FunHouse, White Water, Revenge from Mars, and Roadshow… No surprise, we are still on oldies but goodies.
I’ll end on this message to new pinball fans: this top 10 is made of sure values, a downside maybe on Scared Stiff and Star Trek, which are less talked about, but they are not all crap, perhaps far from it.
Starting to play on these machines will give you a solid reference to evaluate other machines later. The grumpy ones will say that you won’t find anything better in the recent productions. We don’t necessarily agree. In any case, you will be armed to form an opinion, and discuss it foot to foot with any Pinhead.
And if you want a ranking with more recent machines, we have the article you need: the best pinball machines since 2010.