By Cristen E. Rose

When I tell friends that I write steampunk, some of them smile, and others say, “What?” The ones that smile probably wonder how a bottle-cap with glued-on gears and watch parts they saw at the flea market has anything to do with literature. The conversation usually goes something like this:

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006

Me: It’s Victorian-era science fiction. You know, like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

Them: Oh! Wow. (puzzlement, scratches head)

Me: Yep. It’s fun to mix up the genres. I throw some magic in there too for good measure.

Them: Why is it called steampunk?

Me: Short answer is because the genre was named in the 80’s along with Cyberpunk and a few other “punks.” The “Steam” is because it takes place the age of steam-powered machines and industry. “Punk” is because the protagonist is usually an anti-hero that goes up against a corrupt system, society or non-human entity of some sort. Just think Neo in The Matrix—but that’s Cyberpunk.

And then, as it always happens, they ask…

Them: “OK, I got’cha. Are there any steampunk movies out there?”

Me: You remember Wild Wild West? The one with Will Smith? How about Cowboys and Aliens?

Then they smile and nod, and we’ve reached an understanding of what strangeness occupies my free-time and fantasy life. If the discussion carries any farther, I might add these others to the list.

My favorite steampunk films (in no specific order) are:

(BTW, all of these are a MUST SEE.)

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006
Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale AND David Bowie? Yes, please! Two ruthless magicians duel it out for the best stage act. When Tesla gets involved, things get interesting. (see above photo)

Howl’s Moving Castle US release by Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004
An artistic masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Again, a love story featuring a steampunk magician who is Christian Bale. What is it with me? {wink}

Sherlock Holmes — Warner Bros., 2010
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have fun with these roles in the steampunk remake. Yes! That impossible death-machine contraption in the end qualifies this version as sci-fi, folks. Not to mention the use of dark secret societies is a well-known steampunk trope—one of which I am particularly fond.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus —Sony Pictures Classics, 2008
Bet you’ve never heard of this film. But with Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, you should have. The setting is modern, so it bends the rules a bit on what is considered steampunk. However, it involves magic, a Victorian style traveling troupe of actors and whimsical machines. The visual aesthetic is heavily influenced by steampunk maker culture too.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — Fox, 2003
Superheroes pulled from the pages of Victorian novels must join forces to battle a global threat. It’s got everything any steampunk heart could desire. Much love for this fun action movie.

Stardust — Paramount, 2007
A beautiful love story, this film also features a kick-ass airship that harvests lightning bolts for energy. Oh yes…

Hugo — Paramount, 2011
Visually stunning, this movie was full to bursting with enough gears and clockworks to satisfy. The story was sweet and well-told.

Of course, this list doesn’t scratch the surface of what steampunk films have been made. Want to dig deeper?

So, what are your faves? We’ll talk books in a future blog post. That’s going to be a much longer list…

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2 Responses to My Favorite Steampunk Films

  1. JazzFeathers says:

    Well, I write dieselpunk, and I’ve never even tried to explain to my friends what dieselpunk is. Here in Italy, nobody knows about it but the (very) few fans.

    I think explaining steampunk is a bit easier because there are so many popular films that use this kind of imaginarium. I know all the films you mentioned, although I haven’t watched all of them. I think my favourit is Sherlock Holmes. And yes, I’d lebel it steampunk for the mood and the soul, though I suppose someone could consired it just a very funny interpretation of history 😉

    To me, the mood and the soul are more important than the mere aesthetics. In the dieselpunk community, many consider dieselpunk everything that has a 1920-1950 aesthetic and uses internal combusion machines as opposed to steampunk which has a Victorian aestherics and steam-powered machines. I really don’t think this is all there is about either of these genre.

    • Cristen Elizabeth Rose says:

      Thanks for your comment! I would love to see more films in the dieselpunk genre! And steampunk. Maybe we should write screenplays. 😉