Uncut Gems: 21 Best Gottlieb Pinball Machines of the Modern Era

Uncut Gems: 21 Best Gottlieb Pinball Machines of the Modern Era
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Uncut Gems: 21 Best Gottlieb Pinball Machines of the Modern Era
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Uncut Gems: 21 Best Gottlieb Pinball Machines of the Modern Era
Published on
December 29, 2022
Updated on
May 6, 2024
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Gottlieb is an often overlooked name in the world of modern pinball machines, but it shouldn't be. As one of the most prolific producers of electromechanical games throughout history, Gottlieb has provided some truly great experiences for pinball lovers over the years.

While they may not get as much love as classic Bally and Williams tables, or as Stern does today, their modern, solid-state era games are highly under-appreciated and have a bit of a cult following among hardcore pinball fans. With approachable design choices and fun themes, these vintage tables make great options for those looking to get into the hobby on a budget or add more affordable used pinball machines to their collection. Plus, many of the Gottlieb games in the modern era were just chock full of cheese and camp, and we love both of those things at Kineticist.

In this blog post we'll look at 21 of the best Gottlieb Pinball Machines from the modern era, presented in Pingorithm® ranking order. What's Pingorithm®? Why it's our proprietary super-secret pinball rating algorithm, which combines data from several major industry sources to derive a conclusive pinball rating score.

But you should totally play them all and decide which ones are your favorites!

What was Gottlieb pinball?

Gottlieb, aka D. Gottlieb & Co., aka Mylstar Electronics, aka Premier Technology (Gottlieb went through a lot of names), was a pinball, arcade, and video game manufacturer started by founder David Gottlieb in 1927. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, Gottlieb was responsible for producing the first commercially successful coin-op pinball machine in 1931, called Baffle Ball. The success of Baffle Ball would serve to kick off the modern coin-op pinball industry and the game would slowly transform into the tables we know and love today.

Gottlieb were prolific manufacturers of pinball machines, releasing over 600 pinball and pinball-like machines from the year they opened through their last year in 1996.

What happened to Gottlieb pinball?

Gottlieb pinball officially closed their doors in 1996. Prior to their closing, Gottlieb had been sold to Columbia Pictures in 1976 (hello cheap IP licenses). Several years later in 1983, Columbia Pictures was sold to the Coca-Cola company, at which point Gottlieb was renamed to Mylstar Electronics. That too would be short lived, as by 1984, Columbia would close down Mylstar, at which point their assets were sold to a new buyer and the company renamed Premier Technology. Premier itself would also be short lived as eventually Premier would move back to producing pinball machines under the Gottlieb name, which they would do until closing in 1996.

Generally speaking, while Gottlieb was great at churning out their bread-and-butter, electromechanical coin operated pinball machines, they struggled with the industry's shift to a solid state system in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As such, they lost ground to competitors like Williams and Bally who embraced the solid state era and released some all-time classic titles during this time.

While there are many reasons why Gottlieb was slow to transition to solid state tech, one of the big ones was referenced by Alvin Gottlieb in an interview in The Pinball Compendium where he said, "...Our usual mode of operation had games in development that were almost a year away from production. We were ultraconservative in our approach to converting to solid-state and the ensuring reworking of all the games in the pipeline. Some of the early glitches in the new controllers made us wary of their dependability, which would have been a departure from our reputation for high quality games."

Today, the main Gottlieb brands - D. Gottlieb & Co., Gottlieb, and Premier Technology are owned by Gottlieb Development, LLC. Gottlieb Development licensed the Gottlieb era IP to Steve Young and his company The Pinball Resource, where they produce and sell replacement parts, manuals, and other Gottlieb related items.

Where were Gottlieb pinball pinball machines made?

Gottlieb was headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, which is where the majority of their pinball machines were made. Gottlieb (also Premier Technologies) would also maintain factories in Bensenville, Illinois, and Springfield, New Jersey.

Who was David Gottlieb?

David Gottlieb was the founder of D. Gottlieb & Co. and one of the fathers of modern pinball machines. He's responsible for introducing Baffle Ball, the most successful coin-operated pinball machine of its time, which subsequently spurred other players in the blossoming industry to create their own versions of the game. It was off to the races from there!

The 21 Best Gottlieb Pinball Machines You Need to Play

Joker Poker SS (1978)

joker poker pinball machine

Joker Poker is one of many games from this era that has both a solid state version and an electromechnical version. During the transition to solid state machines, many pinball manufacturers produced two versions of their machine, one using the older electromechanical tech and the other with the latest solid state technology. While this approach may seem strange, many operators were wary of the new tech and the changes it would require of them. Plus, most factories were already set up to churn out electromechanical machines, so it took time to switch over to producing solid state versions.

Joker Poker is a simple game, but a total joy to play. Built around knocking down target banks in a specific order, Joker Poker rewards precise shooting and control play. JP is one of the best pinball machines of its era, and it can be a great game to have in your lineup for shot aiming and control practice, as inaccurate shooting and lack of ball control is severely punished on this game! The solid state version of Joker Poker is far easier to find than the EM version, as only 820 copies of the EM version were produced, and most of those were destined for international exports.

Black Hole (1981)

black hole pinball machine gottlieb

Produced in 1981, Black Hole is notable for being packed with features, as well as its unique design choices. Black Hole was Gottlieb's first foray into multi-level playfield design, featuring an upper playfied like any other game, as well as a lower playfield accessible through a specific shot on the upper playfield. The lower playfield featured its own set of flippers and was oriented so that it appeared to be "upside down" from the main playfield, with the flippers oriented at the top of the lower playfield in order to hit the ball back towards the player. For anyone playing this game for the first time, it can be quite disorienting!

Black Hole also featured speech technology and multiball, and its space / sci-fi theme was quite attractive to players. Because of its unique design, this game can often be much harder than it looks at first glance, so rewards repeat plays.

Devil's Dare (1982)

devil's dare pinball machine

Devil's Dare is an early Gottlieb solid state (first System 80A) that's notable for its standout artwork and theme integration. As a widebody machine, Devil's Dare is a rarity as it usually doesn't suffer from the maladies of other widebody machines like slow or clunky gameplay. The rules are simple and approachable, with some creative but satisfying shots involving spinners, drop target banks, and kick-out holes.

Fun fact: Devil's Dare was the "donor game" for the custom Willy's Wonderland pinball machine.

Haunted House (1982)

gottlieb haunted house pinball machine

Gottlieb's Haunted House is a super-packed machine, especially at the time of its release in 1982. It featured not one, not two, but three playfieds accessible by the player during gameplay (the first of its kind). The lower playfield would look very similar to anyone who had played Black Hole, released the previous year. It too featured an inverted playfield with a set of flippers at the top which were used to flip the ball back towards the player.

Haunted House also added a small upper playfield on the top right of the machine, with its own set of flippers as well. In total, the game would count 8 total flippers throughout the game, which meant that gameplay could often be exciting, fast, and unpredictable.

The game can be fun to shoot, with lots of targets and objectives to shoot for, however can suffer from a convoluted and not-very-approachable ruleset.

Class of 1812 (1991)

class of 1812 pinball machine

Class of 1812 is one of those games that gets boosted in the rankings more for its odd but well-executed theming, artwork, and sound package (complete with some of pinball's most campy callouts) than its gameplay. It's also fairly rare, and coveted by its fans, so take that for what its worth. Even though Class of 1812 was designed by an entirely different company, it sort of fits with some of its more humorous contemporaries from the period like Dr. Dude, Party Zone, and Elvira and the Party Monsters.  

Alien Star (1984)

alien star pinball machine gottlieb

A favorite in competitive pinball circles, Alien Star is a simple game on the surface, but can be quite challenging (and rewarding) to play it the way you'd like. Standard layout with two flippers, 3 pops, top lane rollovers, standups, a kick-out hole, spinner and 2-ball multiball. The fun comes from trying to complete game objectives in a certain order so that you can maximize your scoring through supremely satisfying lit spinner rips (for 50k a spin) and the 2-ball multiball.

For the non-initiated, the playfield may not look like much. But for those who can appreciate the deep strategy and playstyle required to succeed, it is a thing of beauty. Every risk taken has potential rewards but also carries with it severe penalties for missteps. It is a delicate dance that requires skill and precision in order to remain on top, or else you will be left paying the price for your mistakes.

TX-Sector (1988)

gottlieb pinball tx-sector

Much like Alien Star, TX-Sector is a spinner heavy game that just feels good to shoot when you know what you're doing. TX-Sector was somewhat notable for its sound package and well integrated callouts, as well as its creative teleportation gimmick, which used a hidden captive ball beneath the playfield to give the player the illusion that their ball was teleporting across the playfield. TX-Sector took a while to find its place in pinball, but has enough of a cult following today to keep secondary market demand strong.

Count-Down (1979)

gottlieb countdown pinball

Count-Down is an early solid state produced by Gottlieb and designed by famed pinball designer Ed Krynski. It's a simple game where the emphasis is on racking up bonus points by knocking down sets of drop targets, but its clever use of 4 flippers (upper and lower) and a single center pop bumper make it incredibly fun to shoot and a challenge on repeat plays. Somewhat similar to Joker Poker as it rewards precision shooting and ball control. Count-Down is easy for new players to pick up and start playing, but difficult to truly master.

Tag-Team Pinball (1985)

tag team pinball gottlieb

Tag-Team Pinball was an obscure release by Gottlieb in 1985, and it remains so today. Like other games of this period, gameplay is largely focused around hitting sets of drop targets in a specific order on your way to a 3-ball multiball, which is easier said then done. Tag-Team makes our list largely due to its theme and art package, as we're suckers for anything wresting themed, particularly old-school wrestling from this era.

Most notable gimmick on this table is the ability to "team up" with other players so that a 4 player match becomes a competition between two two-player teams.

This is one of those Gottlieb pins that can be hard to track down, so if it catches your eye and you see one for sale locally, snatch it up!

The Amazing Spider-Man (1980)

amazing spider-man pinball machine gottlieb

There's something about the simple sounds in 1980's The Amazing Spider-Man that keep us coming back to this table. It's nothing more than computerized beeps and blips, but when combined with the kinetically satisfying gameplay, it becomes a case where the sum is greater then the individual parts.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a widebody so it can suffer from common widebody problems like sometimes clunky and slow gameplay. But it makes up for that with its theme, art package, wide range of shot types and creative layout.

Gordon Morison's artwork is a particular standout on this table, as it looks like it was lifted from the pages from an early John Romita era Spider-Man comic book.

Super Mario Bros. (1992)

super maro bros. pinball machine gottlieb

Hardcore pinball fans love to dump on 1992's Super Mario Bros. pinball machine. Sure it's not the deepest game around, and for more experienced players it can be on the easier side, but its theme integration is on point as it feels like you've been transported directly into the hit Nintendo video game.

One of the reasons we have Super Mario Bros. on this list is that it's a killer gateway game for new pinball players, casuals, or kids since it's easy, approachable and everyone is pretty familiar with the theme. It's also known to rake when put on location, so if you're an operator, this should be a game you consider for your lineup.

Genesis (1986)

genesis pinball

Nope, 1986's Genesis is not an early music pin based on the band Genesis, as we mistakenly assumed for longer than we'd like to admit. Genesis is a simple sci-fi and fantasy themed pin by John Trudeau and inspired by the 1927 classic German film, Metropolis.

Genesis is often overlooked because of its lackluster backglass art (and that's probably being nice), but don't let that fool you. Once you dive in, you'll find a simple and enjoyable game with shots that feel great and some of the best pinball music from the 80's. Variety abounds as you progress throughout the game in your attempt to complete the robot build - no easy feat. Missed shots can be particularly punishing, however the "one more game" factor keeps motivating you to keep trying until your primary objective is complete.

The Incredible Hulk (1979)

the incredible hulk pinball machine gottlieb

Gordon Morison does it again! Released the year before The Amazing Spider-Man, 1979's The Incredible Hulk once again looks like it was lifted directly from the comicbooks.

The art package is probably the game's primary appeal today, however we tend to think it's an underrated shooter as well. The Incredible Hulk is a bonus heavy game that looks and feels more like a classic EM machine than a solid state, with the notable exception of its use of two ball kickers in the place of traditional slingshots.

Has that "one more play" feeling in spades. Many previous owners of this game end up regretting the day they sell it.

Wipe Out (1993)

gottlieb pinball wipeout

Bring on the camp! 1993's Wipe Out is a zany? we'll go with zany, pinball machine that feels like one of those 80s/90s ski comedy flicks like Hot Dog, Better Off Dead or Ski School. Crazy callouts and unique mechs for the time (the ski lift and slalom course certainly catch the eyes).

Art package is bright and colorful - but can we talk for a minute about the implied flexibility of the female skier on the backglass? We're not convinced normal people can bend that way.

For better pinball players, Wipe Out can suffer from some of the same types of problems that games like Super Mario Bros. do in that once you know the shots and the rules it can become a bit easy and repetitive to play, and it doesn't have the same theme value as an S-tier Nintendo property, so it doesn't have the same staying power in a collection or route.

Lights...Camera...Action (1989)

lights camera action pinball gottlieb

1989's Lights...Camera...Action is another obscure, sorta goofball Gottlieb game. We're suckers for the film theme, so it makes our list on that criteria alone. However, even without that made-just-for-us theme, the game still has a lot to love. For starters, it was one of the first games to incorporate the idea of modes into gameplay, which is still a popular concept today. Beyond that, its rotating playfield mechanic is unique and adds some much needed shot variety to the game, plus the interactive backglass animation is a neat source of delight as you play the game.

Bad Girls (1988)

bad girls pinball gottlieb

At its core, Bad Girls is really just a cookie cutter knock-off of the all-time classic Bally Eight Ball Deluxe. A generic pool-themed game that's fun to shoot but that lacks a lot of depth. Where it shines, however, is it's totally bonkers maximalist 80s cheese art package. The backglass alone is worth the price of the game.

Fun fact, the game's art package and sound design are partially inspired by Michael Jackson's 1987 album, 'Bad'.

Victory (1987)

victory pinball gottlieb

Victory is a racing themed game released in 1987 and designed by John Trudeau. Victory has oodles of flow and some fun shot design. It's got 4 flippers, 2 in their normal position at the bottom of the playfield and 2 more mini-flippers at the top of the playfield in an area that functions as an upper playfield. This game is notable for not having any pop bumpers on the playfield, instead relying on tight curves, spinners, target shots, and multiple playfield areas for generating game action.

Hoops (1991)

hoops pinball gottlieb

Is Hoops the best basketball themed pinball machine ever released? Eh, probably not, but that doesn't stop it from being a lot of fun to play! One of Gottlieb's infamous street level games (no ramps or crazy mechs), Hoops is just a lot of fun to shoot. The ball is constantly in motion on this game, which plays faster then you'd think as you get very little time to react to shots as you play. Scoring for Hoops is its own unique joy as it combines traditional pinball scoring with basketball style scoring (sorta like NBA Fastbreak).

Hollywood Heat (1986)

hollywood heat pinball machine

More 80s cheese! We'd put Hollywood Heat in a lineup next to Bad Girls, Gold Wings, and Genesis for the ultimate 80s camp trifecta. This game makes our list due to its art package and the fact that it's easily rethemed to a Miami Vice table. Need we say more?

Waterworld (1995)

Yep, we're putting 1995's Waterworld on the list. The success (or lack thereof) of its namesake license sorta sullies the reputation of this game, but we appreciate it for its place in bad movie pop culture history. It's got some interesting toys and gimmicks, and theme integration is pretty tight. The game gets a lot of hate in pinball circles, but like Super Mario Bros. it can be a draw for new players, so we think it belongs on this list.

Gold Wings (1986)

gold wings pinball machine gottlieb

Does Gold Wings look familiar? Like an off-brand, straight-to-video release of a movie that kinda sorta reminds of you of that summer's hit blockbuster? That's because it's exactly what it is. Gold Wings looks and feels like a Top Gun pinball game, because that's what was popular at the time, only Gottlieb didn't have the license! Of course, Gottlieb didn't let that trifle of a detail stop them from producing a game that's super campy and fun to shoot, despite its unorthodox layout and simplistic ruleset.

Notable Omissions:

These games may be awesome Gottlieb productions, but we either don't find them fun to play or we don't have enough time on these machines to back up putting them into a "best of" list.