Steampunk has style. You might assume that the narrow focus of a subgenre like steampunk would force works to become repetitive and derivative, but the best steampunk stories still feel fresh, and that’s because the rules of the genre itself are more aesthetic than structural.
Steampunk movies, TV shows, books, and comics look and feel cool, but they don’t necessarily need to have anything other than steampunk’s gears-and-goggles aesthetic to keep them in the genre, and the best creators take full advantage of that. That’s certainly the case with these riveting (do you get it?) steampunk movies.
Our list covers some great steampunk movies, including everything from films with a touch of steampunk to all-out efforts that fully immerse themselves in the genre.
Did we miss one of your favorite steampunk flicks? Share it with us in the comments!
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
For whatever reason, Hollywood has had an easier time creating great movies that are unapologetically steampunk when the target audience is children. Exhibit A: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which is both one of the best steampunk movies and one of the most underrated Disney flicks ever made. The fun and funny adventure film follows early 1900s adventurers on a submarine journey to the lost city of Atlantis, which turns out to be very real.
Legendary director Martin Scorsese might not be the first person you think of when you think steampunk, but his 2011 film Hugo is widely considered to show some traits of the subgenre.
Scorsese’s film is an adaptation of an illustrated children’s novel that features 1930s Paris and human-like automatons. The colorful adventure and the 3-D film it was shot on were both somewhat atypical of Scorsese, but he got his typical reaction: box-office success, great reviews, and Oscar wins.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
There’s not much of steampunk’s typical alternate-history stuff here, although the movie does feature some anachronistic contraptions and infernal devices. Still, this is (more or less) the real 1800s, albeit a version full of fictional characters imagined by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and brought to life by Hollywood hotshots like Robert Downey Jr.
Sherlock Holmes mixes steampunk and neo-noir elements to craft a blockbuster that pleased audiences without infuriating critics. Kudos to the Sherlock Holmes gang for making a blockbuster that mixes steampunk with sophistication (a little bit of it, anyway).The film follows the famous detective and his ever-present sidekick, Watson, on a missing-person case that is more than it seems.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Yes: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is technically dieselpunk, not steampunk.
But dieselpunk and steampunk are related genres, and while they get their hip feeling from different eras of mechanical wizardry, they’re very similar in a lot of ways. So unless you’re a stickler for exactly which sort of outdated engine technology you want blended with your alternate histories, retro fashions, and high-contrast camera work, check out Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
The story, which follows an airship’s quest to find the source of giant robots that have been attacking New York City, is the perfect over-the-top vehicle for the memorable visual style.
Steamboy tells the story of a boy named Ray Steam (yes, really) who has to protect a mysterious mechanical sphere from the evil forces that are after it. This is one of the rare films that fully commits to the steampunk aesthetic while still succeeding as a work of art.
Steampunk buffs will be hard-pressed to find a more steampunk-y film than this: it’s set in the genre’s classic alternate-history, steam-crazed world. Yet this is a film for anyone. It received generally positive reviews and even snagged a film festival prize. You can’t say that about Wild Wild West.
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Van Helsing (2004)
Van Helsing has enough steampunk style to meet our standards for a steampunk movie. Does it meet our standards for a good movie? Listen, let’s not get too hung up on this stuff. The bottom line is that Van Helsing is a stylish and fun take on the character of Van Helsing, who makes a living exterminating Dracula and other monster-type things. If it’s deeply stupid as well, then that’s just a part of what makes Van Helsing Van Helsing, okay? Turn off your brain and have a good time, just like the 2004 moviegoers who, over the protests of critics, helped make Van Helsing a success.
Featured still from "Hugo" via Paramount Pictures.