On the eleventh day of Steampunk Christmas,
My true love gave to me:
Twelve steampunk movies.
Since the steampunk culture started with literature–both the proto-steampunk works of Verne, Wells, et al, and first steampunk novels of the 1970s and 1980s–it only seems fitting that those works eventually be adapted for the big screen. Here are some favorites:
Hugo (2011): Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film features a boy who lives alone in a Paris train station, a clockwork automaton, and the pioneering films of Georges Méliès (including A Trip to the Moon, inspired in part by Jules Verne). The touching Martin Scorsese film is beautifully photographed.
20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954): The Disney adaptation of the Jules Verne story was the introduction for many to steampunk–even though it would be several decades before the term was coined. The film starred James Mason and Kirk Douglas, and the prototypical Nautilus. Fun fact: Captain Nemo’s pipe organ is now in the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.
Steamboy (2004): This Japanese anime film takes place in an alternate 19th century Europe, and tells the story of the struggle for possession of a secret steam-powered energy source.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968): Based on the book by Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming!), it tells the story of an eccentric inventor, his magical car, and his adventures eluding an evil Baron.
Sherlock Holmes (2009): The latest cinematic version of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as Watson. Holmes is played to be more bohemian rather than strait-laced detective usually is.
Brazil (1985): Terry Gilliam’s film of an overly bureaucratic dystopia features a number of complex yet dysfunctional mechanisms. Although not exactly steampunk, its aesthetic has been called “sci-fi noir”.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003): Based on the Alan Moore comic book, the film has received mediocre reviews including from Alan Moore himself, as well as from the steampunk community. Putting things such as the aesthetic of the film tending towards art deco rather than Victorian aside, I think it is a reasonably entertaining action movie with better than average acting.
Wild Wild West (1999): An adaptation of a 1960s US television series, the movie features a tricked-out private rail car, a giant steam-powered spider, and an evil genius bent on revenge. The film generally doesn’t get very good reviews, although I think it is an entertaining action picture.
Time after Time (1979): Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells who must use his time machine to pursue his friend into the 20th century, a friend he suspects may be Jack the Ripper.
Treasure Planet (2002): This Disney animated adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Combine pirates and outer space sci-fi and you get something close to steampunk.
The Prestige (2006): This film tells the tale of two competing magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. David Bowie plays Nikola Tesla!
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): This adaptation of the Jules Verne novel stars James Mason. While the special effects are vintage, the movie still works as a fun action movie.