Steampunk Movies

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A Personal Guide To The Best Films In The Steampunk Genre!

Steampunk movies are films set in a "retro-futuristic" society where imaginative fantasy and anachronistic technology go hand in hand.

In Steampunk movies pretty much anything can happen!

Steampunk was originally described as "Victorian era science fiction", but as the genre has grown, it has expanded to include many related forms of "speculative fiction". Mad scientists and imaginative inventors meet historical figures and literary characters and embark on wonderful flights of fantasy! Such rich imagery and scope has resulted in many entertaining and visually stunning films.

Here's my personal Top 10 Steampunk movies. Each of my film choices are followed with trailers from the movies so you can get a taste for each movie yourself!

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What Is Steampunk?

Steampunk = a "retro-futuristic" genre of fiction/fantasy featuring wildly imagined inventions and anachronistic technology

Definition of Steampunk

Judging by comments in the Steampunk Soapbox (further down the page), it seems that quite a few people are unfamiliar with the term "Steampunk" and have wandered into this page on a voyage of discovery! Those already aware of the rich and varied delights of Steampunk can skip this bit as I'm going to digress briefly to give an insight into what constitutes Steampunk.

Steampunk is eclectic - it means different things to different people. Broadly speaking Steampunk consists of three main elements:

  • Speculative fiction (exploring the question: "what if an historical event/literary character/plotline of a book or play etc had played out differently?"),
  • Anachronistic science fiction (shuffling things around in time - like introducing technology into a time period where it didn't actually exist),
  • Imaginative fantasy

Steampunk takes all of the elements above and sticks them in a blender!

Copy of public domain (copyright expired) Steampunk print "The Dream of Flight" (c between 1890 and 1900)
Copy of public domain (copyright expired) Steampunk print "The Dream of Flight" (c between 1890 and 1900) | Source

The Origins Of Steampunk

The descriptive label "Steampunk" probably dates back to sometime in the 1980s, but it's roots go much further back than that!

Think Victorian "mad science":

  • Jules Verne and H.G Wells,
  • Time Machines and Captain Nemo,
  • Gaslight and fantastical inventions,
  • Air ships and steam powered computers -
  • A "retro-futuristic" society which can encompass anyone, anywhere, anytime!

Steampunk now covers a vast genre of literature, films, music, fashion and even a lifestyle subculture!

Learn more about Steampunk with these gorgeously detailed and informative tomes!

Source

My Top 10 Steampunk Movies

My personal list of the top 10 best movies in the Steampunk genre...and a few others which I haven't yet got round to seeing, but which come highly recommended by Steampunk movie enthusiasts!

1. The Prestige
2. The Golden Compass
3. Van Helsing
4. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
5. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
6. Hellboy
7. The League Of Extraodinary Gentlemen
8. The Time Machine
9. Sleepy Hollow
10. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
11. More Great Steampunk Movies!


1. The Prestige

Based on the novel by Christopher Priest, this film is a superbly atmospheric tale of resentment and jealousy set against the gaslit theatres of Victorian London and the Colorado laboratory of a genuine historical figure: famed physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla (played brilliantly by David Bowie no less!!). Tesla made significant contributions to the development of electricity and The Prestige sees him aid Angier's quest to out-do Borden's "teleportation illusion" act by inventing a splendidly Steampunk machine which can teleport a human for real! An absolutely brilliant film and a "must-see" for Steampunk fans!

The Prestige
The Prestige

The Prestige (2006)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale

Director: Christopher Nolan

Two Victorian stage magicians, Robert Angier, a charismatic showman, and Alfred Borden, a gifted illusionist, work together until one fateful night, a performance goes terribly wrong resulting in the death of Angier's wife. The men become deadly enemies filled with bitterness and envy who will stop at nothing to learn each other's secrets. Their rivalry escalates into mutual all-consuming obsession as they vie with each other to be the greatest magician of the age.

 

The Prestige Trailer

2. The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is full of fantastical scientific machines and gorgeous sets, the whole film just screams the word "STEAMPUNK"!

The Golden Compass (Full-Screen Single-Disc Edition)
The Golden Compass (Full-Screen Single-Disc Edition)

The Golden Compass (2007)

Starring: Kathy Bates, John Bett

Director: Chris Weitz

Based on the books by Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass takes place in an alternate universe where each human's soul is embodied in a companion animal called a daemon. The story concerns Lyra, an orphan living in a fantastical parallel universe in which a dogmatic theocracy called the Magisterium threatens to dominate the world. When Lyra's friend is kidnapped, she travels to the far North in an attempt to rescue him and rejoin her uncle.

 

The Golden Compass trailer

3. Van Helsing

Based on the vampire hunting character "Van Helsing" from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, the film brings together several characters from contemporary "horror" literature such as Mr Hyde, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein in an entertaining blend of gothic fantasy. Enjoyable, action packed and full of great steampunk touches such as Van Helsing's wonderful gas powered crossbow - a sort of "Steampunk-proto-machine-gun" which fires multiple bolts!

Van Helsing (Widescreen Edition)
Van Helsing (Widescreen Edition)

Van Helsing (2004)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale

Director: Stephen Sommers

Van Helsing is a monster hunter who works for the Vatican. He is sent to Transylvania to destroy Dracula so that the captured souls of an ancient family called Velarius can be freed. Meeting the last of the Velarius family, a young woman called Anna, Van Helsing and his group are repeatedly attacked by the vampire brides of Dracula. Meanwhile Dracula himself has captured Anna's brother who is a werewolf and is experimenting on him in his laboratory. Aided by Frankenstein's Monster (who has never forgiven Dracula for killing his creator Dr Frankenstein), Van Helsing must overcome repeated danger in order to help Anna and her family.

 

Van Helsing trailer

4. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Classic adaptation of Jules Verne's much loved novel about Captain Nemo and his amazing submarine. Need I say more? After all, nothing is more steampunk than Nemo and his Nautilus!

Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Two-Disc Special Edition)

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Starring: James Mason, Kirk Douglas

Director: Charles A. Nichols, Richard Fleischer

It's 1866 and ships are disappearing in the Pacific Ocean. Rumours are circulating that the cause of the disappearances is a gigantic sea monster and the US government mounts an expedition to find out the truth.

The "sea monster" turns out to be a submarine captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo...

 

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea trailer

5. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a visually stunning film with a dark Gothic Neo-Victorian feel and plenty of laughs along the way.

Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events (Widescreen Edition)
Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events (Widescreen Edition)

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Starring: Jim Carrey, Liam Aiken

Director: Brad Silberling

The three Baudelaire children are left orphaned when their parents are killed in a fire. They are sent to live with a distant relative, the avaricious Count Olaf, but after a series of "unfortunate events" occur, they realise that the mishaps were far from accidental and that Olaf is plotting to kill them in an attempt to get their inheritance for himself.

 

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events trailer

6. Hellboy

The setting for this film isn't "Victorian" so some purists may prefer to describe Hellboy as "dieselpunk" rather than "steampunk", but whatever label you stick on this film, it's full of "mad science", tentacled monsters and glorious special effects!

Hellboy
Hellboy

Hellboy (2004)

Starring: William Hoyland, John Hurt

In the final days of World War II, the Nazis aided by resurrected Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, attempt to use black magic to summon the "Seven Gods Of Chaos" to help their cause. The Allies raid the camp where the ceremony is taking place, but not before a demon (later named "Hellboy"), has come through the portal. Joining the Allied forces, Hellboy eventually grows to adulthood, serving the cause of good rather than evil.

However, the world hasn't seen the last of the evil Rasputin...and it's up to Hellboy to save the day!

 

Hellboy trailer

7. The League Of Extraodinary Gentlemen

Gorgeous scenes of techno-steampunk with Captain Nemo's fabulous Nautilus submarine, six wheeled "auto-mobile" and imaginative weaponry.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Full Screen Edition)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Full Screen Edition)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - 2003

Starring: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah

Director: Stephen Norrington

Based (loosely) on the cult-classic comic by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, the plot is set in an "alternative" Victorian era England, with a "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" brought together to capture a dangerous criminal known as "The Fantom" who is plotting to start a World War using technologically adanced weapons.

The "League" comprises adventurer Allan Quatermain, seafarer/inventor Captain Nemo, vampiress Mina Harker, the Invisible Man Rodney Skinner, American secret service agent Tom Sawyer and the dangerous split personality of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. They must thwart the evil duo Professor Moriarty and Dorian Gray in order to stop the destruction of the city of Venice and thereby save the world.

 

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen trailer

8. The Time Machine

Based on the novel by H. G. Wells about a Victorian inventor who dabbles in time travel, "The Time Machine" is a great adaptation of a classic story. The "Victorian scientific" setting and time-machine sequences are wonderfully steampunk!

The Time Machine
The Time Machine

The Time Machine (2002)

Starring: Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons

When the girl he loves is killed, scientist and inventor Alexander Hartdegen resolves to travel back in time to change the events that led up to her death. He succeeds in his aim, only to witness her die again, this time caused by a different sequence of events. Realising that he cannot change her fate, he decides to travel forward in time to see what lies in the future.

After a few stops along the way, Hartdegen arrives 800,000 years in the future to find that civilization has devolved to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Calling themselves the Eloi, the survivors of mankind have built their homes into the side of a cliff on what resembles Manhattan. Falling in love with an Eloi woman called Mara, Hartdegan discovers that the Eloi are hunted for food by a race of subterranean creatures called Morlocks and he is forced to use his scientific knowledge and his time travel capabilities to save the Eloi.

 

The Time Machine trailer

9. Sleepy Hollow

This is a Tim Burton film and as such, is by definition stylised and more than a little on the "gothic" side, Ichabod's "investigative devices" are quite definitely steampunk though...

Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Director: Tim Burton

In 1799, police constable Ichabod Crane is sent to the village of Sleepy Hollow, to investigate a series of murders in which the victims have been found decapitated. A big fan of innovative investigative techniques such as finger-printing and autopsies, Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow to be informed by the inhabitants that the murderer is not human, but is instead, a headless phantom riding a black horse who terrorises the neighbourhood at night. Ichabod must use his wits and his knowledge of forensic science to avoid becoming a victim of the murderous supernatural spectre himself.

 

Sleepy Hollow trailer

10. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

Cult classic "either love it or hate it" film. Set a little earlier than the usual Victorian steampunk era, but no less steampunk for that...like Baron Munchausen himself, this movie is splendidly far-fetched!

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 1989

Starring: John Neville, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, and Robin Williams.

Director: Terry Gilliam

Baron Munchausen is a man who simply cannot help telling wildly exaggerated stories of his bravery and adventures. He has gained a reputation as a liar, but when he meets a little girl who truly believes in his legendary exploits, he is inspired to live up to his reputation in order to help her and her home town which is being besieged by the Turkish army.

The quest to save the day involves a variety of adventures including a trip to the moon in a hot air balloon, an encounter with the the Goddess Venus and her husband Vulcan, being swallowed alive by a sea-monster and a first hand encounter with death.

 

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen trailer

More Great Steampunk Movies

So, that's my own personal top 10 steampunk films listed above...but that could change.

Here's a few more great movies in the steampunk genre, some of which I've seen and others which I haven't got round to seeing yet, but which have been acclaimed by other Steampunk fans!

The City Of Lost Children

What makes this film "Steampunk" is Krank's "Mad Science" including a sinister cult of blind men called "Cyclops" who he uses to perform the kidnappings. In return for giving up their sight, the cult members are given a mechanical "third eye" (called an "Optacon") and a device which makes their hearing supersensitive. I haven't seen this film, but so many people rave about it as a magnificent example of steampunk, that it's definitely on my "must see" list

The City of Lost Children
The City of Lost Children

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Starring: Briac Barthelemy, Guillaume Billod-Morel

Director: Marc Caro

The plot revolves around a mad scientist, Krank, who lives in an old oil rig off the coast of a surreal Dickensian French city. Krank does not have the ability to dream, and as a result he is prematurely old. In order to supplement his dream deficit, Krank kidnaps young children in order to study and extract their dreams. Unfortunately for Krank, this scheme fails as the experience of being kidnapped and manipulated by the wicked Krank is so traumatic that the children have no "normal" dreams - only nightmares.

 

The City Of Lost Children trailer

Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq

This film has been described by an Amazon reviewer as "...like watching a dream and a nightmare on speed... a cross between the Matrix, Moulin Rouge and From Hell...visually stunning and very freaky." ...sounds fabulous and this is one I DEFINITELY must see!

Dark Portals: The Cronicles Of Vidocq [DVD]
Dark Portals: The Cronicles Of Vidocq [DVD]

Vidocq is a 2001 film starring Gerard Depardieu. It takes place in a steampunk version of 19th century Paris, pitting the historical figure Eugene Francois Vidocq, the French criminal, spy and pioneer private detective, against a supernatural serial killer called The Alchemist.

 

The Chronicles of Vidocq movie trailer

Steamboy

Another film I haven't yet seen. I'm not much of a fan of anime, but this film is highly regarded by many steampunk enthusiasts. It combines alternate history and speculative fiction and an intriguing set of characters including Robert Stephenson and Scarlett O'Hara!

Steamboy: Director's Cut
Steamboy: Director's Cut

Steamboy (2005)

Starring: Anne Suzuki, Masane Tsukayama

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Steamboy is set in England in 1866. A young boy called Ray Steam receives a mysterious device called a Steam Ball from his inventor grandfather with instructions that he must guard it from others. The Steam Ball is immensely powerful and Ray finds himself in danger as many others want to possess the Steam Ball for their own evil purposes.

 

Steamboy trailer

Wild Wild West

Based on the 1960s TV series, the film features wildly imaginative and bizarre steampunk inventions, including nitroglycerine-powered penny-farthing bicycles, spring-loaded notebooks, bulletproof chainmail, flying machines, steam tanks, and a giant mechanical spider!

Considered to be awful by critics...but what do critics know! I like this film - it's an action-packed, entertainingly silly steampunk romp - so what's not to like!

Wild Wild West (Keepcase packaging)
Wild Wild West (Keepcase packaging)

Wild Wild West (1999)

Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Sinister inventor Dr. Arliss Loveless, plans to rekindle the Civil War by assassinating President Ulysses S. Grant. Gunfighter James West and master-of-disguise and inventor Artemus Gordon team up to thwart his evil plans.

 

Wild Wild West trailer

Time After Time

I've seen so many complimentary reviews of this 1979 film, I find it hard to believe that I have never come across it! It's sounds great, so it's definitely one to look out for!

Time After Time
Time After Time

In late 19th century England, writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) unwittingly includes Jack the Ripper (David Warner) in his social circle. When one of Wells's dinner parties is crashed by the police looking for the Ripper, Jack uses the author's time machine to escape. Having escaped however, The Ripper finds himself stranded in another era when the machine automatically returns itself to H.G Wells' time.

Wells feels duty bound to track down Jack The Ripper before he can inflict his evil nature on the unsuspecting inhabitants of another time period and he eventually finds himself in modern-day San Francisco on the trail of his murderous former friend...

 

Time After Time movie trailer

Do YOU Like Steampunk Movies?

Are you a fan of the steampunk genre of films?

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Have your say about Steampunk movies in the Steampunk Soapbox at the foot of the page!

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Steampunk Soapbox 164 comments

ThreeLeggedKat 12 months ago

I strongly believe that the Series, "Hell on Wheels" has steampunk genre' costumes, characters, backgrounds, machines, weapons, etc. Check it out. It can be streamed via Netflix or a trailer watched via UTube. Pay attention to the areas I listed and you will gleen "Steampunk" tendencies. Thanks, for letting me post, ThreeLeggedKat


kathy 19 months ago

I think you now have to add the new, "Mad Max" . Not the clothes but the cars and contraptions. Thanks for some new additions to my DVD library.


AaronG 21 months ago

Odd not to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow on this list


t2d2 2 years ago

I like the list. I've read or seen most of the tittles you have listed.


boneworld profile image

boneworld 2 years ago from West of Left South Lucky

Great list! It's great to see Jasper Morello on there. I love that story.


boneworld profile image

boneworld 2 years ago from West of Left South Lucky

Great list! It's great to see Jasper Morello on there. I love that story.


anonymous 3 years ago

One movie I don't see listed would be the 1999 Wil Smith, Kevin Kline movie "Wild Wild West". The TV series from the 1960s is classic Steampunk as well. Nice listings.


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BlowDryBar 3 years ago

I love stylized movies! City of Lost Children and Delicatessen are two great ones I think fit in this genre.


allen-alberson profile image

allen-alberson 3 years ago

I love The Prestige, and would never have thought of it as Steampunk, but it definitely is! Grreat list


LauraCarExpert profile image

LauraCarExpert 3 years ago

wow, what a great and informative lens you got here. I think the prestige, wild wild west, and Hell boy are the best movies on the list.


seodress profile image

seodress 3 years ago

Really love steampunk movies.


BowWowBear profile image

BowWowBear 3 years ago

Steampunk is a lot of fun, I love looking at the groups who hold get-togethers to show off their creations. I was looking for a few good movies to watch this weekend and you helped me out with that. Thanks!


Meganhere profile image

Meganhere 3 years ago

What a great lens. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.


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FlynnTheFineFle 3 years ago

Mmm...I love the movie Stardust. I bsuppose it's only moderately "steampunk," but its so good! Best humor in a movie since "The Princess Bride." Thanks for the info.


Chrystalia profile image

Chrystalia 3 years ago

great lens--featured it on mine! when I get my steampunk website built, maybe you'd like to write some reviews???message me and let me know!


Underrated profile image

Underrated 3 years ago

Great lens


Cynthia Haltom profile image

Cynthia Haltom 3 years ago from Diamondhead

Thanks for clarifying the definition so Steampunk, I was always curious about it.


MusicMadness LM profile image

MusicMadness LM 3 years ago

Steampunk is one of the best genres out there. It's so rarely done, and even more rarely done well. I'd have to say I enjoy it even more than sci-fi.


EricKnight profile image

EricKnight 3 years ago

Awesome lens on a film genre that rarely gets much attention.


AcrossTheBorder1 profile image

AcrossTheBorder1 3 years ago

So strange. When I spotted the title of that article I couldn't think of any steampunks movies I knew. Nevertheless, when I opened the article and browsed through the list of movies, I realized that I had seen all of them, it's just I had never thought of them as steampunk movies. Though indeed they feature most of the steampunk characteristics and can be righteously called "steampunk movies" now that I am giving it a thought.


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