I decided it isn’t enough to have a Steampunk book guide, there needs to be one for movies, too. I hope this makes it easier to add a little steam to your life, and feel free to leave suggestions for other movies I should review below!
I am on a quest to watch any movie or television that ANYONE has applied the word “Steampunk” to in order to highlight those aspects that will tantalize Steampunk fans and serve to inspire. In addition, I have included adaptations of steam-era scientific romances as well as other period-appropriate works because of their settings and costumes. So not every movie here is strictly Steampunk, but they are movies that I think Steampunk fans will enjoy.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea– coming soon. IMDB description
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012)– Maybe witches aren’t your thing, so you won’t be seeing Hansel and Gretel as part of your Steampunk Halloween. But everyone likes vampires, right? In 2010, author Seth Grahame-Smith penned an alternate history featuring America’s favorite president and pitted him against the forces of darkness running rampant in the South. It was made into an insanely good action movie in 2012 and it is another awesome choice for any steam-inspired monster movie marathon.
The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2014)– IMDB description.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989)- IMDB description here.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
The story opens with a young Wilhelm Grimm comforting his mother and ailing sister with the promise that his brother Jacob would return soon after selling the family cow. Jacob (who is erroneously portrayed in the film as the younger brother) brings back a handful of beans rather than the much needed cash. (This nod to Jack and the Beanstalk is the first of at least 12 fairy tale references I caught. This sounds like a drinking game in the making…) Next, we see the brothers as adults. Wilhelm is played by Matt Damon and Jacob by the late, great Heath Ledger. Read more
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)– IMDB description.
City of Ember (2008)
The story centers on two teenagers, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway). We meet them on their Assignment Day when their entire future careers get determined by the luck of the draw. Doon is supposed to become a messenger, but he trades that choice job away to Lina in return for a chance to work under the city and gain access to the generator that supplies the lifeblood of Ember: electricity.
Because Ember lies deep below the ground, safe from the terror that took place 241 years ago. Without the generator the entire population would be plunged into total darkness and the electric lights mounted all over the city is there only refuge from the abyss beyond.
But lately, the lights have begun to flicker…
The City of Lost Children (1995)
One, which is the only name the strongman ever goes by, has his 4-year-old adopted brother stolen in the night by strange men who are blind without their clockwork eyes. One meets a band of street urchins and befriends a little girl named Miette.
The child-stealers (a la the Gobblers in the Golden Compass) are taking the children to be part of an experiment. There was a scientist who was manipulating genes and growing humans in his laboratory, but he has gone and left his creations behind. The de facto leader of the creations is Krank, who suffers from a defect because the experiment that made him left him incomplete: he cannot dream. And his inability to dream has accelerated his aging process, so he is using his “father’s” machines to steal dreams from others. But alas, the children are so afraid that they give him only nightmares. Until he meets One’s little brother, that is…
Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
The film opens with sweeping shots of the seemingly empty landscape. Cut to Daniel Craig, dirty, bleeding, and with no memory of how he ended up in the middle of the desert with a funky metal contraption on his arm. Within a few minutes, he establishes his unadulterated badassery and his status as the consummate cowboy – a gruff loner with a quick draw and sledgehammer fists. But all he has are disturbing flashes of the dead eyes of a beautiful woman staring at him to tell him who he is or where he came from.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Crimson Peak is the tale of a young woman who aspires to be a writer of Gothic fiction, probably because she saw the ghost of her mother when she was a child. As she tries to tell her potential publisher, her book is “not a ghost story. Rather, it is a story with ghosts in it,” which is also an apt description of the film.
When she is told she needs to add a romance in order to get the book made (because as a female author at the turn of the 20th century that is what is expected), she doesn’t let it daunt her and she begins transcribing her manuscript using a typewriter to hide her ladylike script. The plot of the movie then follows the trajectory she is told she needs for her book, and she finds herself romantically entangled with an impoverished baronet named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After the mysterious death of her father (Jim Beaver of Supernatural), she marries Thomas and moves to his dilapidated mansion in England, where the more she finds out, the more in danger she becomes.
Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc (2001)
Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc is the English title of a French film called simply Vidoqc. Gerard Depardieu plays the title role of Eugene Francois Vidoqc(the father of criminology and a real-life French figure of note), who is an occult detective on the grimy streets of Paris in 1830. He is on the trail of a masked serial killer, the Alchemist, but falls to his supernatural enemy within the first minutes of the film. Amidst the tumult of the outbreak of the Second French Revolution (also known as the July Revolution), Vidoqc’s biographer Etienne (played by French heartthrob Guillaume Canet) tracks down witnesses to fill in the blanks in Vidoqc’s investigation and mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile the Alchemist is still on the prowl and no one is safe from his mysterious powers.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)
And now on to the movie. We first meet Adele on an expedition to Egypt. Her male compatriots try to ditch her but she soon proves she is the most capable one there and leads them deep into the mummy’s tomb. But Adele is not on a search for riches, she has her heart set on a certain mummy who she hopes can be revived and called upon to save the life of Adele’s catatonic sister. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most practical of plans, but Adele knows a man who has been honing his psychic abilities for just such an occasion.
While Professor Espérandieu is flexing his psychic muscles back in Paris he inadvertently connects to the dormant life inside a dinosaur egg and suddenly a baby pterodactyl is set loose into the skies above the City of Lights. The professor is accused of the “crimes” that result and he is put on death row when no one believes his ramblings about the dinosaur.
From Hell (2001)
The 2001 Johnny Depp Thriller, From Hell, gives audiences just one possible version of events. In this adaptation of a an Alan Moore graphic novel, Depp is a detective who gets psychic visions of murders. He is based on the real life chief of Scotland Yard, Frederick Abberline who worked the Ripper case. With the help of Robbie Coltrane(Hagrid of Harry Potter fame), Abberline uses his flashes of insight to catch criminals. Unfortunately, Depp must be “chasing the dragon” (ie on opium) in order to get his visions.
The Golden Compass (2007)
For die hard fans, His Dark Materials (known as the Golden Compass trilogy in the US), wouldn’t technically fit into the definition of Steampunk.
The series is set in the present/near future so steam power is a thing of the past and the story has nothing to do with Victorian England or an alternate history, but the parallel universe Lyra Belacqua inhabits has some decidedly Steampunk elements to it. The images in this post are all from the 2007 film release of The Golden Compass.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)– In the 2013 movie’s version of events, the kids are left in the forest by their parents for an unknown reason, and they still defeat their “hostess of the grossest” but the story doesn’t end there. They discover during their struggle they should “1. never go into a house made of candy and 2. if you are going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” but also that they are immune to witch’s spells. They go on to become professional witch hunters and are called to the town of Augsburg to investigate a spate of disappearances. It turns out the local witches are a-brewing a plot to make themselves immune to fire, and they need 12 kids as well as another secret ingredient to do it. In order to find out what really happened to their parents, the siblings must face the Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and defeat her before she can carry out her dastardly plot.
Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: Rise of the Golden Army (2008)
The Hellboy movies are in that category of films that skirt Steampunk without it being the main focus. In both Hellboy and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army you can find steamy fodder for your punked out imaginings. Plus, those filed-down horns sure look like goggles!
”Hellboy” is the name that was given to the little red demon discovered by Alliance soldiers when he was “born” in the wake of WWII in 1944. It is revealed during Hellboy(2004) that his “true” name is Anung un Rama which loosely means “and upon his brow is set a crown of flame.” During the movie, a many-times-resurrected Rasputin (Karl Roden) forces Hellboy to accept his role in the rise of the Ogdru Jahad, a phylum of Cthulu-like monsters that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud.
Hugo Cabret is little boy alone in the world. He lives in the walls of a Paris train station and keeps the clocks running, but he has to steal to survive. One day he is intrigued by a clockwork toy at one of the booths in the station, and when he tries to steal it the man behind the counter takes Hugo’s most precious possession, his father’s notebook, in recompense.
The Illusionist (2006)
Illusions are all about making an audience believe the impossible. Magicians can accomplish this through sleight of hand, misdirection and clever technology. Innovative and deceptive designs makes the turn of the century magician a great trope of steampunkery. At left, Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is seen pondering in his workshop where this son of a cabinet-maker aspires to and achieves greatness.
The special effects are beautiful and based on magic tricks that were really performed during the 20th century…
The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996)– IMDB description here.
Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart (2014)
This twisted tale is set in the 19th century and starts in Edinburgh. Jack’s mother struggles through a storm on the coldest night of the year to get to the midwife in time to deliver. Unfortunately, the frigid night has frozen Jack’s heart solid, and it is only through the ingenuity of the midwife who replaces his living heart with a clock that he survives. His mother abandons the infant in the night, and the midwife finally has the child she has been longing for. But, his mechanical heart makes him vulnerable to the strains of the outside world, and his adoptive mother fears for his safety in the face of fear, angry, and especially falling in love.
Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (2012)
In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
I honestly can’t remember any other time this has happened to me, but I think the movie is actually BETTER than the books it is based on! It takes the best elements ofVolume 1 a smidge from Volume 2, but the plot is totally different from either in the end.
Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) if the first recruit after armed men attack him in Africa. Though he is on shaky ground with queen and country he answers the call and finds himself in London face-to-face with a mysterious agent for the crown known only as “M” (Richard Roxburgh). He meets the other members so far assembled like Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Mina Harker (aka Mina Murray, played by Peta Wilson) and Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), who is this version of the League’s Invisible Man.
Mysterious Island (2005)
It originally aired on the Hallmark Channel in two, 90-minute parts. This makes it a big commitment for a single evening. In this version, the lead role of the engineer and Union soldier is played by Kyle MacLachlan (Sex in the City, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and in place of two of the soldier-types they substitute a comely widow (Gabrielle Anwar) and her teenage daughter. They also decided that building up the mystery surrounding Nemo (Patrick Stewart) wasn’t worth their time, so giant CG animals are added to the mix. The pirates, lead by Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) also get a more central role in the plot.
The Prestige (2006)– IMDB description here.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)- I have seen some criticism about Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of everybody’s favorite detective. Sure, he plays the violin, hangs out with Dr. Watson and solves crimes in Victorian England, but some would argue that he is missing the essence of Sherlock Holmes because he spends some of his time running around and getting blown up. Though I agree that Conan Doyle’s Holmes was certainly more subtle in his approach than the 2009 movie would make him out to be, it is precisely this departure from the written word that makes this film Steampunk.
Shelock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011)
The film begins a few months after the events of the first installment. Holmes is investigating a series of seemingly unrelated crimes which lead him to intercept a letter from Irene Adler. He is so deep into his case that he totally forgets Watson’s bachelor party, and multi-tasks by taking him to a place where Holmes can find the intended recipient of said letter. The fortune teller, Madame Simza, claims she knows nothing about the letter, but their conversation is cut short by an attempt on her life. She flees before Holmes can question her further, and he’s got to get the drunk and battered groom to his nuptials. After the party, Holmes meets Professor James Moriarty, the man at the center of his investigation, and is warned to back off or people will suffer.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
In the film, the character of Ichabod Crane has been fundamentally altered, except perhaps for still being a bit on the hapless side. Crane (Johnny Depp) is a police constable in 1799 in New York City who is convinced that science and reason are at the heart of solving crimes. To test his claims, his superiors send him to a small town where a rash of mysterious murders has broken out, so he packs his chemistry set and goofy-looking spectacles and head to the beleaguered hamlet of Sleepy Hollow.
The story centers on Tristan, a most unlikely hero (Charlie Cox, from Daredevil on Netflix). He lives in a small town in the English countryside where nothing much ever happens. At least, not on his side of the enchanted wall that runs along the borderland. In an effort to win his lady love’s affections, he promises to cross the wall and retrieve the falling star they see on her birthday. Little do they know that when a star falls on the other side of the wall, it bears little resemblance to hunks of rock we sometimes find over here (Claire Danes).
When I first ran across a description for a manga Steampunk movie I admit that I was skeptical. But, I am so glad that I got it through Netflix and gave it a shot because it was incredible!
The story centers around a young boy named Ray Steam. He comes from family of talented inventors and has inherited their knack for tinkering. His father, Edward Steam and Grandfather, Lloyd Steam, have been gone for some time working on their inventions, but Ray’s world is turned upside down when his Grandfather sends him a mysterious package with instructions to protect the contents at all costs. Soon after it arrives, representatives of O’Hara Foundation (the wealthy and powerful company that sponsors his family’s work) appear and try to steal it from him. Grandpa Steam gets to Ray in time to tell him of his father’s death and to help him escape the clutches of the O’Hara cronies.
Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter were both complete and fabulous surprises when it came to their voice talent, not to mention the incredibly talented Alan Rickman in the role of Todd’s nemesis. The musical and the visual storytelling was incredible. I was especially pleased with how many male-male duets there were in this film, and how beautifully everyone blended. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I heard about another pairing of director Tim Burton’s bride (Carter) and Depp once again, but they were AMAZING in their roles as Todd and the nefarious Mrs. Lovett.
Have you ever been watching a pirate movie and said to yourself, “Gee, what this really needs is some aliens!” Then this is the movie for you. But seriously, it is a really cool re-imagining of the tale of young Jim’s adventure, which originally ran as a serial in a boys magazine in the 1880’s. There have been tons renditions of this story; plays, movies, comics, you name it. But this is the first one I have seen that really does anything to ‘punk’ it. Well, besides the Muppets of course, but even that was a pretty straight (if more kid-friendly) version of events.
Van Helsing (2004)
Van Helsing (played by Hugh Jackman) is a monster hunter with a mysterious past. He is employed by the Catholic church to seek out and destroy evil, but remembers nothing before he was charged with his holy quest. As far as I can tell, the only thing this Van Helsing has in common with the Dutch doctor and do-gooder Abraham Van Helsing of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is the name.
The film starts with an homage to classic black and white movies as an angry mob attacks castle Frankenstein in 1887. Sommers’ twist is that the good doctor’s financial backer is none other than Count Dracula.
The Warrior’s Way (2010)
The story centers on Yang, the greatest swordsman in the world. He gains this title at the very beginning of the film when he brings down the head of a rival clan. Yang’s mission is to obliterate the whole family, but when he is met with the innocent eyes of his rival’s baby girl, he throws away his whole life to keep her safe. In an effort to flee his past and ensure her future, he sets sail for the American West to find a friend whom he has not seen in many years.
Wild Wild West (1999)
Like the TV show, the movie is about two special agents for the US government upholding the law in the heyday for cowboys. Despite the title, the film does not actually take place out West at all (most of the movie is set in New Orleans), but is actually a pun on the name of Will Smith’s character, James West. Under orders from the president, he forms an reluctant alliance with his gadgetly-inclined partner, Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are on the trail of a notorious Civil War general who was responsible for a masacre during the war. West is an impulsive, “shoot first, shoot second, shoot some more and if there is anyone left alive maybe ask a question or two” type of hero, where Gordon is a thinker and tinkerer, so you can imagine they don’t always see eye to eye.
Television Shows and Mini-Series
The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006)
The Amazing Screw-On Head was originally a comic book by artist Mike Mignola,who also brought us the Hellboy series and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. In 2006, the SyFy Channel (the then SciFi Channel) aired several pilots on their website for possible shows. Unfortunately, Mignola’s creation did not make the cut, but you can watch 22-minute pilot at Steampunk Short: The Amazing Screw-On Head.
I thought this was a fun little show with some good body part puns and a strong Steampunk premise (a super secret agent who can use a variety of mechanical bodies). It’s too bad it didn’t get made into a series, I bet the writers and actors had a lot more to offer.
Did those voices sound familiar? That’s because you just heard the voice talents of Patton Oswalt (Mr. Groin), David Hyde Pierce (Emperor Zombie) and Paul Giamatti (Screw-On Head).
Copper- Read the IMDB description here.
If you are a Sci-Fi fan then you must have heard of Doctor Who. But just in case you haven’t, the Doctor is an altruistic alien who can go anywhere in time and space, but seems to have an affinity for jolly old England all the same 🙂
Did you know that there are lots of episodes that could serve for Steampunk inspiration?
I have heard some hemming and hawing about the costumes in NBC’s Dracula because they aren’t “period” enough. Personally, I think that is part of what makes it steampunk rather than a period drama and therefore way more interesting. I watched a special about the making of the Tudors and I think the costumers on Dracula are taking the same approach: It’s not about historical accuracy, it is about making the audience look at clothes and get an impression about the person wearing them. For instance, records about the real Anne Boleyn show that she was on the forefront of fashion in her day, but how do you capture that for an audience that doesn’t know the difference between silk and satin?
Murdoch Mysteries- IMDB Description here.
Mysterious Island (2005)- 2-part mini-series featuring Patrick Stewart as Nemo. Read more.
In this two-part miniseries, Peter and the Lost Boys are pickpockets on the tough streets of London. Their convivial though crooked caretaker, Jimmy Hook, has rescued the orphans from a life on the the street and his protege, Peter (played by Charlie Rowe, whom I recognized as Billy Costa in The Golden Compass) feels a deep gratitude for the life they now lead. So it is no surprise that when Jimmy tells the boys about a potentially lucrative burglary Peter jumps at the chance to prove himself to his mentor. In the end, Jimmy says it is too dangerous for the band of boys to help him with the caper and tells Peter to forget the whole thing, but Peter is in such a hurry to grow up and take his place as Jimmy’s equal he lies to the other boys and tells them they are supposed to commit the crime without Jimmy to guide them.
Penny Dreadful– Read the IMDB description here.
Progress– web-series about Jack the Ripper. Find out more.
Ripper Street- coming soon! Read the IMDB description here.
Warehouse 13- coming soon! Read the IMDB description here.