Ranking The Best Bally Pinball Machines from the 1970s: A Roundup for Arcade and Pinball Fans

Ranking The Best Bally Pinball Machines from the 1970s: A Roundup for Arcade and Pinball Fans
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Ranking The Best Bally Pinball Machines from the 1970s: A Roundup for Arcade and Pinball Fans
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Ranking The Best Bally Pinball Machines from the 1970s: A Roundup for Arcade and Pinball Fans
Published on
July 21, 2022
Updated on
February 18, 2023
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When you were growing up, do you remember the hours spent at the local arcade playing your favorite pinball machines? If that's you, and you've still got an eye for the legendary silverball, then you'll love this roundup of the best vintage Bally pinball machines from the 1970s.

For a quick refresher on Bally, they were a legendary pinball manufacturer, founded in 1932 and producing pinball and other arcade machines until about 1988, when rival manufacturer Williams took over their pinball division. Even today, Bally pinball games are considered some of the best pinball ever produced, occupying prized slots in many a pinball owners collection.

Related: check out our guide to the Best Williams Pinball Machines from the 1970s.

What was the Bally Manufacturing Company?

Bally Manufacturing / Bally Entertainment had a remarkable pinball output in the 1970s, and some of their best games of all time were created during this period. The 70s was a transition period for Bally and pinball alike, as you'll see the slow transition from Electro-Mechanical machines controlled by electronics and machine parts (EM) to Solid State machines (SS) controlled primary by computer chips and other computer-style machinery.

Bally competed with the likes of Gottlieb, Stern Electronics, Williams, and others for pinball supremacy in their time.

The 12 Best Classic Bally Pinball Machines from the 1970s

Future Spa (1979)

  • Game design: George Christian
  • Artwork: Dave Christensen, Paul Faris
future spa bally 1970s pinball machine

Look, as far as gameplay is concerned this probably isn't the best 1970s Bally machine on this list. It's a widebody, which for a lot of people already puts it close to the bottom. The rules aren't super deep, and as far as shot layout, Paragon does a lot of the same stuff better.

But lordy the art package is everything in this game! It's pure 70s/80s era cheese that revolves around the concept of a gym and health spa sometime in the not-too-distant future. There are so many weird details to fixate over.

Like who influences fashion in this hypothetical future? Is any of it comfortable?

bally future spa pinball backglass art

Is it really a good idea to do cable curls and cable scissor kicks at the same time?

bally future spa pinball playfield

Is the gym of the future topless?

future spa pinball topless woman

I don't know that we'll ever get the answers to these questions, but the game sure is fun to play and a conversation piece in your collection.

Old Chicago (1976)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Dave Christensen, John Youssi
bally old chicago 1976 pinball flyer

Old Chicago is a highly unique EM machine from Bally for it's lower third playfield design with two pop bumpers in the corners directly above two inlane drains. Can make the game feel way more dangerous and out of control then it actually is. Very satisfying spinner shot. Plays fast and can be really challenging to master.

bally old chicago pinball 1970s playfield

Art package by Dave Christensen and John Youssi is unique and stands out in this era with its pastel colors and art deco styling.

Playboy (1978)

  • Game design: Jim Patla
  • Artwork: Paul Faris

No, Playboy is not the most family friendly pinball theme out there, so if that's an important factor to you then you can probably move on now.

If you're otherwise unbothered by a little 1970s mass market softcore-porno chic, then read on!

bally playboy 1978 pinball playfield

Low key, this is one of my favorite players of the bunch. The rules are super simple - collect Playboy house keys, collect Playboy playmates, shoot for the Grotto, rack up bonus points, rinse and repeat. Sometimes harder said then done, but when you get that bonus maxed out and carrying over to your other balls, it's one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences of the era.

Paragon (1975)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Paul Faris
bally paragon pinball flyer 1970s

Paragon can be a brutal drain monster to play for a lot of people, and is subsequently known for its often short ball times. But there's so much to do on this table and a lot of ways to attack it. Plus it's one of those games that forces you to learn tap passing if you really want to master it. Extremely satisfying to get to a bonus carryover if you hit the 20k, 30k or 40k thresholds.

bally paragon pinball playfield 1975

Could be one of the best wide body games ever made, and the artwork by Paul Faris is immersive and top notch, particularly if you're a fantasy or D&D nerd.

Capt. Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1976)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Dave Christensen
bally vintage pinball capt. fantastic flyer

Captain Fantastic is simply one of the iconic Bally vintage pinball machines, and one of the best selling EM machines of all time. This game was inspired by Elton John's character from the movie Tommy as well as his 1975 album by the same name. One of the early examples of a licensed theme driving the sales performance of a fairly standard pinball game.

Like Paragon, Capt. Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy rewards tap passing and the ability to master playing with double flippers on one side. Can be a one-note shooter once you dial it in, but always challenging to go for a high score.

Mata Hari (1978)

  • Game design: Jim Patla
  • Artwork: Dave Christensen

Mata Hari is a simple game with a symmetrical layout, two drop target banks, a loop shot and a top playfield saucer shot. When you hit your shots in the right order and start maxing out bonus collects and specials it gets super rewarding to play.

best bally 1970s pinball mata hari playfield

Art package is immersive for the time. Based on the legend of Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod (aka Mata Hari), a Dutch exotic dancer convicted of spying for Germany during World War 1 and later executed by a firing squad in France (light theme for an arcade game, we know!).

Harlem Globetrotters On Tour (1979)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Greg Freres
bally best 1970s pinball harlem globetrotters flyer

The theme is probably a miss for anyone born after 1990 or so, but putting that aside for a second, Harlem Globetrotters is a whole lot of fun to play. The playfield is pretty packed for this era, with three spinner shots, inline drops, double flippers and a saucer at the top of the table. Almost every shot on the table feels just a tad dangerous, which makes it even more rewarding when you have that perfect game.

harlem globetrotters pinball playfield

Flip Flop (1976)

  • Game design: Jim Patla
  • Artwork: Dick White
bally pinball machines 1970s flip flop

Another symmetrical layout game but really unique pinball machine for the 1970s and for an EM. Flip Flop features 4 flippers, two pop bumpers, mushroom bumpers, two kickout holes and one of the few games with a "flip flag" bank (Wizard! being another).

A Flip Flag is a tiny, domino-shaped device that is hinged at one end and flips on its hinge to indicate whether a particular feature has been earned by the player.

bally 1970s vintage pinball flip flop playfield

Can be a great game for those new to pinball and enjoying vintage Bally machines.

Wizard! (1975)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Dave Christensen
bally wizard pinball flyer 1975

Wizard! is another game based around the 1976 film Tommy, this incredibly well selling game is considered one of the first licensed themes of all time, with iconic representations of Ann Margret and Roger Daltrey on the backglass. Like Flip Flop, also features the Flip Flag mech, as well as a super enjoyable spinner shot. Takes a lot of work to master but once you do it's a lot of fun to play over and over and over again.

bally 1970s best pinball machines

Evel Knievel (1977)

  • Game design: Gary Gayton
  • Artwork: Paul Faris
bally evel knievel 1970s pinball machine flyer

Evel Knievel has a little bit of everything in it, so it's a ton of fun to shoot if you like the theme or not. Two spinners that can be lit for sweet points, three regular pop bumpers, two passive bumpers, a drop target bank, a stand up target bank, and a saucer at the top of the playfield.

bally vintage pinball machines evel knievel

The rules, like most games from this era, are pretty simple, but there's a high replayability factor. Outlanes can be ball hungry sometimes, so good nudging skills can really help with this table. Like many of the other games on this list, the art package is also a particular highlight on the machine.

Hokus Pokus (1975)

  • Game design: Greg Kmiec
  • Artwork: Christian Marche
bally hokus pokus best 1970s pinball machine

Hokus Pokus is a spinner lover's dream game. It has not one, not two, but three spinner shots on the playfield. Rules are straightforward - hit A B C D targets, rip spinners, repeat.

bally hokus pokus pinball machine playfield

If you've never enjoyed the sounds of an EM scoring on a juiced spinner shot, then you need to make it a point to play this game!

KISS (1978)

  • Game design: Jim Patla
  • Artwork: Kevin O'Connor

KISS is last on this list as it's another example of a game where it's more about the theme then the gameplay. Sure, KISS can be fun to shoot but it's oftentimes just an unforgiving challenge. Spinner shots (which are key to the game) are tight and far from the flipper, and shooting just about anything else on the playfield feels extra dangerous.

bally pinball machines 1970s kiss

But, people love the theme and it has a crazy amount of nostalgic love for that reason. If you grew up listening to KISS music and have a certain soft spot for the famous makeup band, then this pin belongs in your collection.