What Are Steampunk Movies?
Steampunk as a movie genre is a beast which evokes much debate from steampunk fans and critics alike. Some fans claim that the list of steampunk movies is incredibly short and exclusive while others might compile massive lists of films which feature any machine sporting brass gears and a steam pipe. For the most part, the steampunk genre can be narrowed down from more than just “science fiction movies with cool gadgets”, but it isn’t always so rare to find in film as some may think. That being said, steampunk is a genre that is oftentimes defined by its individual authors, artists, and appreciators so collective agreement on this classification isn’t always achieved.
Steampunk in Early Cinema
Steampunk didn’t earn it’s name until the 1980’s but that’s not to say it didn’t exist in film or literature before that point. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958), and The Time Machine (1960) all contain fantastically inventive machines and technologies which can be safely classified as steampunk. Captain Nemo and The Underwater City (1969) and Master of the World (1961) are another two Jules Verne inspired films which easily fall into the steampunk genre.
The steampunk genre has seen notable success in animated and CGI movies as well. Prominent steampunk elements can be found in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet; the main theme of both movies focussing on advanced and fantastic technologies. The anime movie Steamboy is considered by some fans to be the honorary steampunk spokesman when it comes to cinematic representation. Tim Burton as well has dabbled with cogs, gears, and steampunk styled gadgetry in his film 9.
One of the most satisfying aspects of steampunk in film is the amazing transformation from what existed purely in our imagination to actual realization with props and sets constructed in amazing detail. Movies which, in my humble opinion, really bring the fantasies of steampunk to life include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wild Wild West, Sucker Punch, and The Golden Compass. I love imagining the incredible contraptions and devices described in many steampunk novels but actually seeing them come alive can give a whole new appreciation for steam power and alternate technologies.
Some movies may have earned their steampunk rights through their dedication to imaging alternate histories or the careful coupling of Victorian setting with science fiction elements. Others may have squeezed through the gaps because they glued gears on it and made it look pretty. Personally, I would have to say that even if all the film has done is inspire a few sparks of steampunk creativity in its fans then it has done its job and earned its place in the steampunk genre.