Frequently when I describe my manuscript as “steampunk” people look very confused. This often leads to me coming up with a list of movie comparisons, so I thought it would be handy to do a post on just that.
- Hugo (2011)
Hugo is the most recent popular movie with steampunk elements. Although the main story takes place in the 1930s, after the age of steam, the abundance of clockwork, trains and an automaton give this movie a very steampunk feel. The movie was based on the brilliant book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.The cast included Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee and Asa Butterfield in the lead role. Asa went on to star as Ender in Ender’s Game and will be starring in another book adaptation, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiars, due out at Christmas. Under the guidance of director Martin Scorsese, Hugo was nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director and Scorsese did win a Golden Globe for his direction of the film.
2. Sherlock Holmes (2009 & 2011)
The Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films have a decidedly steampunk feel. Perhaps that owes in large part to the rich Victorian London setting that serves as the backdrop for the world’s most famous detective. This is definitely the Age of Steam. In addition, the gadgets and technology included in the films are more advanced than were actually available at the time. Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams under the direction of Guy Ritchie make these films great fun.
3. The Golden Compass (2007)
Airships, armored bears and clockwork technology put this alternate universe into the steampunk realm. Unfortunately Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Sam Elliott weren’t enough to push this film into the great movie category. The film was based on Phillip Pullman’s novel of the same title. In November 2015, BBC One announced plans for an eight-part television series covering all three parts of Pullman’s trilogy with the author serving as executive producer. No word yet on when it will air.
4. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
This noir film includes flying robots, dirigibles and floating aircraft carriers. It is decidedly a genre mashup that incorporates interesting cinematography to create a very unique film. It pays homage to many films of the 1930s and 40s – the time period in which the movie is set. It stars Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Most of the film was shot using a blue screen with nearly all of the background being computer generated, one of the first films to use this technique. Spotting the film and culture references make this a fun watch for classic movie lovers as well as steampunk fans.
5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
This film brings together an unusual cast of characters plucked from classic literature to face an evil villain. With fantastic machines and high-stakes adventure during the Victorian time period, I found so much to love in this film. Then I read the graphic novel by Alan Moore. After seeing the original story and how Mina Harker started as a strong female character with a larger role, I was somewhat disappointed in the film adaptation. It’s still a good movie and a whole lot of fun, but it could’ve been so much better. I hope that if the movie were made today, that this character would get her due and be leading the team instead of relegated to a supporting role.
6. Wild Wild West (1999)
Hard to believe it has been 16 years since this film came out. It’s the one I most often cite as an example, because if someone hasn’t seen this Will Smith/ Kevin Kline version, they might be familiar with the 1960s television show with Robert Conrad. I loved watching the re-runs of this show when I was kid, and I’m sure it had a strong influence on my current steampunk preferences. The clockwork mechanicals and witty dialogue make the movie a treat to watch. I’m especially fond of villain Kenneth Branagh’s giant spider machine.
7. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
I’m certain this film wasn’t described as steampunk when it debuted in 1968, but the story of a flying car and other incredible inventions most definitely belongs in this genre. I did a long post on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a few months ago, noting that it was written by none other than James Bond author Ian Flemming. That’s right, like so many other films on this list, the movie was originally based on a book. Extensive liberties were taken with the adaptation, but this is a fun musical romp to a steam-powered fantasy.
What’s your favorite steampunk movie? Are there films I’ve missed? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.