Steampunk is a curious subgenre that comes from a combination of fantasy and science fiction, often creating products with a heavy cult following. While in American cinema it hasn’t always received fair treatment, in Europe and Asia it has created great classics.
With heavy influence from auteurs such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, it has a very particular style that some may call “dark”, but is undoubtedly “imaginative”, and cult directors such as Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Hayao Miyazaki have understood it to create impressive films.
With that in mind, here we present 10 great (and quite unusual) steampunk films you should watch.
10. Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese)
Far from his usual films filled with violence and/or social issues, “Hugo” featured a very different side from Martin Scorsese. In fact, it’s a little hard to think that this film came from the same director of “Taxi Driver” and “The Departed”, but it did, and is a beautiful nostalgic love letter to cinema itself. It follows the story of Hugo Cabret, a young boy living in a railway station in Paris in the 1930s, who discovers a secret that leads him to meet director George Méliès.
With beautiful settings and photography from Robert Richardson, the film is filled with a nostalgic soundtrack and nice performances from a big ensemble cast that includes Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Moretz, Helen McCrory, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer and Jude Law. As for the steampunk elements, while it may not be as heavy as the other films mentioned on this list, it helps as an important part of the plot.
9. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010, Luc Besson)
Inspired by the comic book series of the same name by Jacques Tardi, it follows the adventures of famous journalist and travel writer Adèle Blanc-Sec, as she searches for her sister by reviving the mummy of Ramesses II. The film takes place in a version of the 1910s where there is ultra-advanced ancient Egyptian technology, and so extraordinary inventions combine with mystical elements, becoming a perfect example of a steampunk film.
With a charismatic performance from Louise Bourgoin and interesting special effects, the film was well received, with some critics calling it a “return” for Luc Besson. It is a fun and curious experience that all kinds of audiences may enjoy.
8. April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci)
It certainly might be too recent, but this French-Belgian-Canadian animated film perfectly uses steampunk elements to tell an quirky but charming story of a young girl searching for her parents in a highly alternative version of Europe in the early 1930s. It actually takes place in a world where there are no trees, and the air is so bad that people can’t live without the use of masks. It is a perfect example of the steampunk genre.
Yet, despite this, it happens to be a beautiful story that both adults and children can enjoy. It features great voice work from Marion Cotillard, who plays the titular character, and powerful visual settings that bring classic and nostalgic animation that works perfectly for the film.
7. The Adventures of the Baron Munchausen (1988, Terry Gilliam)
Terry Gilliam’s third and final part of his “Trilogy of Imagination” is, as every Gilliam film, a bizarre and unique piece of work with no equal. As the title says, it follows the adventures of the 18th century German nobleman, Baron Munchausen, and his exploits during the war against the Ottoman Empire. And so, it is an interesting exercise that combines fantasy and science fiction during a specific historic period (the basis of any good steampunk work).
Gilliam certainly is a genius on the steampunk matter, and almost all of his films make some use of it. For this, he has became one of the most notable cult directors on the history of steampunk.
With terrific performances from John Neville as the title character and a 9-year-old Sarah Polley, and an interesting supporting cast that includes Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman in one of her first roles, “The Adventures of the Baron Munchausen” can easily be one of his most famous and important works, along with “Time Bandits” and “Brazil”.
6. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958, Karel Zeman)
Jules Verne is often considered as a father of the steampunk genre. Several of his works make use of unusual and fantastic scientific creations in a period of time where they couldn’t be created. This 1958 Czechoslovakian film makes a homage to the famous auteur by telling the story of a band of pirates who kidnap a scientist in order to get an futuristic weapon to help them with their piracy. Thus, it’s not necessary to explain how this is a steampunk film.
It combines live action with different kinds of animation, making it a very unusual piece of work that, while not doing well in the United States, it was quite well received in Europe. So despite not being too famous, it deserves to be watched by any good cinephile – and especially for those who love the quirky steampunk genre.