15 Best Steampunk Movies You Must Watch

Steampunk as a genre is fast gaining traction all over the world. Every day, new people are discovering the movement, and with that, comes a whole new world of possibilities to play around with.

Whether it’s art, music, video games, board games, comics, or movies, there’s no shortage of new Steampunk content to find out there.

For those who are interested in the genre, one of the easiest ways to see if the genre is for you is to watch some movies that play around with the formula. Fantasy, Historical, Action, Superheroes. There are so many ways Steampunk has been portrayed on screen, it can get a little dizzying at times!

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best steampunk films you should watch, plus a few honorable mentions if you’re feeling up to the task.

So, without further delay, let’s put on our mad scientist’s goggles, fire up our steam engines, get stuck in!

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

If you’re looking to get a taste of what the Steampunk aesthetic is all about, one of the best places to start is with this movie produced by Walt Disney Productions.

Adapted from the Jules Verne novel of the same name, it is considered to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the source material, the movie has a cast of some of the best-known actors of the time, including names such as Kirk Douglas and James Mason.

What Steampunk fans really love about this movie however is its aesthetics. Produced by Walt Disney himself, the movie boasts some of the most stunning effects of the time, even winning two Academy Awards for both its stellar art direction, and its amazing special effects.

Whilst this movie was not intended to be seen as a Steampunk movie when it was released, as the genre wouldn’t be invented for another 30 years, it helped establish a visual identity and language that future artists would draw from for the genre, and has since been absorbed into the movement, and is now considered one of its landmark predecessor movies.

Hellboy (2004)

One of many movies on this list that walks a fine line between Steampunk and many of its offshoot subgenres that play around with other periods of history, Hellboy combines the classic aesthetic Victorian aesthetics with the elements of classic early 20th-century pup fiction, the Dieselpunk subgenre, and comic-book characters and heroics.

This early addition to the comic book/superhero genre was directed by Guillermo del Toro, a director whose movies often draw on so many visual cues from Steampunk, they could probably fill their own list.

Based off of the graphic novel series of the same name by Mike Mignola, the movie sees the titular Hellboy, and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (also known as the B.P.R.D), attempt to stop the occult mystic Rasputin, based on the famous Russian Mystic from the latter end of the Russian Empire, from summoning a demon and bringing about the end of the world.

There are many elements of this movie that bear many of the hallmarks of the Dieselpunk genre: The use of Nazis and the emphasis on elements of the occult might make this feel like a movie that is a little too detached from what we normally consider Steampunk. But the homages to the classic monsters of older science fiction, and Hellboy’s positioning as something of a Byronic hero, something very popular in character from 19th-century literature, ties this movie as an homage to Victorian retrofuturism as the visual design and art direction does. If you are a fan of urban fantasy with your classic Steampunk adventures, then this is definitely a movie to add to your watch list

Return To Oz (1985)

For a movie that balances the steampunk aesthetic with a dark fantasy setting, the Return to Oz is one of the strangest sequels of a classic movie that has ever been made. And Steampunk fans are all the happier for it.

Set several months after the original Wizard of Oz from 1939, the movie sees Dorothy return to the land of Oz to find it destroyed by an unknown force, leading her on a quest to restore the kingdom and the land of Oz to its former glory, meeting a whole range of weird and wonderful characters along the way, in a twisted parallel to the original movie’s plot and story.

Whilst this movie is definitely steeped in dark fantasy, filled to the brim with kings and queens, kingdoms and magic, this movie also provided a great visual style that influenced the early Steampunk genre, with the visual design of the Wheelers from the movie, as well as the prominent side-character Tik Tok, fitting in perfectly with the turn-of-the-century style from the time at the end of the 19th century that the original book series is based in.

Whilst the movie has garnered a reputation for being frightening to younger kids, this movie is as much a hallmark of 1980s dark fantasy as it is a visual feast for Steampunk aficionados to get a taste of.

9 (2009)

Who here remembers the movie 9? If you’re a fan of Steampunk, and you haven’t already watched this strange animated feature from the late 2000s, then you owe it to yourselves to take a look at this movie. As long as you don’t mind post-apocalypses and dystopias with your Victorian aesthetics.

The titular character 9, the ninth stitch-punk, a rag doll given life by infusing it with part of a human soul, to be made by ‘the inventor’, and has been tasked with finding a way of defeating the machine that plaid waste to life on earth, whilst finding and working with a group of 8 other stitch-punks to try and bring life back to the world.

This is a classic tale that is grappled with throughout Steampunk, and the rest of science and speculative fiction as a whole: A warning of the power of science without morality, and the devastation that can bring on the world.

The tone of the movie is certainly dark, with the only colors on-screen for the majority of the movie being shades of brown, black, and grays. This is by design though, as director Shane Acker attempts to show us the consequences of changing the world through technology, without human empathy and compassion to steer it: A dead wasteland where nothing can live.

Certainly, it’s a dire message, but the emphasis on machines, being both a terrible force of destruction, and characters that the audience can empathize with, and try to save the world, are core ideas in Steampunk’s stories.

Animation is a unique medium through which to tell stories, as, at least in theory, the team creating an animate piece is only limited by what they can imagine and draw/create, not limited by the laws of physics, or by set and prop budgets. A key strength we shall see in other entries on this list.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

For another example of what Steampunk can look like in the world of animation, we take a look at the cult-classic Disney movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

This movie has so many hallmarks of Steampunk fiction, even without discussing the visual style. An academic, regarded as odd and eccentric by his peers, finds forgotten records from the lost city of Atlantis, that sunk below the ocean thousands of years before. Eventually, he is recruited to help lead an expedition to find the lost civilization and discover its ancient secrets. That practically screams Steampunk pulp adventure! Plus, it tackles issues of colonialism and exploitation, often hallmarks of stories that try and analyze 19th-century fiction and culture through the lens of empire.

And this is without even discussing the visuals of this movie! Another movie to draw on inspiration from the graphic novel artist Mike Mignola, who was also a production designer for the movie, everything about the visual language of this movie communicates its time, setting, and retro-futuristic technology, from the main cast’s clothing to their tools and gear. There’s even a super-advanced retro submarine called the Ulysses for crying out loud!

If you love the turn of the 20th-century pulp action and adventure stories or even just hidden animated movie gems from the past, you’re going to love this movie.

The Fabulous World Of Jules Verne (1958)

For another classic movie from the 50s that became a hallmark piece for the Steampunk to come, The Fabulous World of Jules Verne is one of the most important early movies to influence what was to come.

This classic science fiction adventure, Originally titles, Invention of Destruction in Czechoslovakia, the country it was originally made in, was retitled when it was distributed to American audiences, and it is a fitting title. Although primarily based on Jules Verne’s novel Facing the Flag, the movie draws on many other iconic set pieces and ideas from Verne’s other works, including the use of a submarine, as an homage to 20,000 Leagues under the sea.

Part of what makes this movie feel like a piece of Steampunk iconography is the moviemaker’s attempts to recreate elements of classic line engravings from the Victorian period in live-action, either through effects that were added on set, or added compositely after being shot, such as using stop-motion and drawn animation, alongside matte paintings and miniatures to complete the effect. It’s easy to see how this influenced how future artists would look at this movie and think, ‘Oh yeah, this is definitely Steampunk.’ 

The Time Machine (1960/2002)

No discussion about steampunk movies would be complete without mentioning The Time Machine movies, both the classic 19060s version and the more recent, early 2000s remake.

Inspired by the classic science fiction author H.G. Well’s book of the same name, The Time Machine is surprisingly something of an exception to the Steampunk genre. Not much time (pun not intended) is based in the late Victorian period, where the stories begin. Much more of the movie is used to emphasize the different periods of history and future that the protagonist travels to. Particularly, the speculation from the respective movies of what caused the humans of the far-future to develop as they did.

However, the costume designs of the different main characters, George and Alexander Hartdegen from the 1960 and 2002 movies respectively, have definitely lent themselves to the Steampunk fashion scene. And the design of the time machines, whether it is the clockwork-inspired prop from the movie from 1960 or the polished glass and metal used in the 2002 remake, are some iconic pieces of movie-prop history, that have inspired countless Steampunk enthusiast’s designs in the years since these movies were released.

April And The Extraordinary World (2015)

For another delve into the world of animation for our next movie, April and the Extraordinary World is a classic example of what the Steampunk genre attempts to do with, its use of retro-futurism, and alternate, dystopian fiction.

Set in a time when electricity did not replace the use of steam and coal the same way, the movie depicts an alternate Europe, barren of forests and trees, which have been burnt and used as fuel since coal reserves were depleted, and wars over fuel threaten to destroy the rest of the world. How far-fetched.

The story follows the titular April, and her attempts to find a way to repair the damage done by this Victorian industrialization that has been destroying the world. This is a classic staple of Steampunk, where technology and machines used by nations and institutions threaten to bring the world to ruin, but it is also science and technology that is its best bet to save it as well. The art style, influenced by classic French artists such as Jacques Tardi, distinguishes this feature in a genre whose animated features are dominated by movies produced in the United States and Japan.

Hugo (2011)

For another movie that wasn’t made intentionally to be Steampunk, but is often considered to be by its fans, Hugo is probably among the most acclaimed on this list, with plenty of awards for its direction and visuals, as was as being produced and directed by the legendary moviemaker Martin Scorsese. The movie is actually based on a historical fiction novel called The Invention of Hugo Cabret, released a few years earlier in 2007

Set in the early 1930s, the movie follows a young boy by the name of Hugo Cabret, who is attempting to fix a robot, built by his deceased father, in the hope of finding a hidden message that he believes was left for him by his late parent.

Whilst the setting is generally playing around in a time that is not considered the typical Victorian 19th century that other works are, a good 20 to 30 years after in fact, many of the visual design elements, the old-world architecture, typically lend themselves to the genre. The Automaton elements are especially very Steampunk-esque, with many figures of the late 19th/early 20th century including the movie pioneer Georges Méliés who features in the movie, having experience with them.

The City Of Lost Children (1995)

For a Steampunk movie that will scratch that chilling, dark-fantasy itch that others such as Return to Oz and 9 do, then you need to watch The City of Lost Children.

The plot follows the creation of a mad scientist who, because they are aging prematurely because they cannot dream as humans do, attempts to extend their life by stealing and kidnapping people who have the most imaginative among us. Namely, the children who are attending a nearby carnival. 

It’s a pretty grim tale in many respects, which might not be a surprise, given that many of co-director Jean-Pierre Jeunut’s other works have grim or dark comedic undertones, such as Delicatessen. The idea of an abomination of science trying to rob children of what makes them human rings pretty true with some of the darker elements of movies we have already talked about. But the visuals, and dark, fairy tale vibe that this film is going for, are some of the most striking out there.

This movie was released at a time when Steampunk was, metaphorically, still trying to find its feet, and definitely helped cement the sort of stories audiences have come to expect from the genre.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

If you’re looking for some more super-heroics and your favorite masked vigilante fighting crime in the smog and smokey streets of Gotham, read, watch or play any Batman property. If you’re looking for all that, plus some more top hats and a world fair, then you’ll want to watch Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.

Based on an alternate timeline that was first created in 1989 by writer Brian Augustyn and artist Mike Mignola, who seems to be a recurring character on this list, the story takes place in late 19th century Gotham, where a Victorian, Steampunk-powered Batman, is on the hunt for the infamous Jack the Ripper. Yes, that same jack the Ripper from real Victorian London appears in this story. What more could you ask for!

For those who enjoyed Hellboy’s superhero action and tone, this is definitely a classic animated Steampunk story if you are looking for the aesthetic you come to steampunk for, mixed with murder-mystery elements, and a good manhunt. Or rather, a batman hunt.

Stardust (2007)

For those starry-eyed fans of Steampunk, it can sometimes feel like the genre in movies is a little too enthusiastic about darkness and dystopias, lacking in cheer, or even romance. For a setting based so much around a period as full of romantic settings as the Victorian era, you’d think there’d be a little more of that.

Enter: Stardust. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, it is an adaptation of a novel of the same name, written by acclaimed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.

Tristan Thorne, the main character, promises to bring a fallen shooting star back to the girl he loves. On his way to finding and bringing the star back, he is swept into a world of magic, whimsy, and wonder.

This is a film firmly set in the realm of fantasy, but there are many aesthetic parts to this production that this film’s visual style borrows from steampunk, from the traditional English setting to the soft metallic glow of bronze and silver light that reoccurs throughout the film. Plus, there’s even a flying pirate ship! You can’t ask for much more in your Steampunk than that!

This film brings something that many other Steampunk films seem to lack at their core: A compelling romance story at its heart, that brings a warmth that is sometimes missing from this genre. This is definitely a story you want to watch if you are looking for something a little more hopeful in your retro-futuristic Victorian fantasies

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

If Hellboy and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight were more your taste in this genre, stories of heroes and villains with a ton of action, then The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be right up your alley.

Think of the most iconic authors from the 19th century, and think of some of their most famous characters. Jules Verne and Captain Nemo. Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray. Robert Louis Stevenson and Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde. Bram Stoker and his iconic vampires. This film has them all, and a lot more.

Like Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and Hellboy before them (or perhaps after, given that this film was released a year before Hellboy), this is a movie based on a graphic novel of the same name, the original run of the series being written by the legend of the industry Alan Moore. This movie draws on that wealth of material to create an action-packed tale, in which icons of the Victorian literature have been assembled in 1998 by the British Empire, to prevent war from breaking out between the major colonial powers when an assassination plot is discovered, formulated by an unknown conspirator. If that

With influences from many of the 19th centuries’ greatest science fiction writers, this is definitely a movie every Steampunk fan should see at least once.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

One of legendary Japanese director and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s earlier animated features, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a classic example of Japanese Steampunk brought to the silver screen in animation form. Released at the same time as Steampunk was starting to form as its own genre, you can absolutely see why this is a classic of the movement.

Castle-in-the-sky

When a mysterious girl floats into a small mining town and is found by an orphan boy (you know, just the usual start to your week), the pair start an epic adventure that sends them on an adventure to find the lost, you guessed it, castle in the sky.

Movies about characters flying amazing, fantastical machines and exploring beautiful, far-flung lands are a staple of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s works. There are so many, they would probably fill up their own list that is a similar length to this one!

Steamboy (2004)

For another Japanese animated classic, Steamboy is a quintessential Steampunk through-and-through. Directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the legendary hallmark cyberpunk film Akira, the story takes place in a Europe from an alternate timeline that is going through a second industrial steam revolution in technology.

The plot focuses on a young boy, Ray Steam, who is sent a mysterious device from his seemingly dead grandfather, and must protect it from being stolen by the ‘O’Hara foundation’, who are trying to take the machinery for themselves.

Well, for a start, the main character’s name has ‘Steam’ in it, so you know this is a legit Steampunk movie!

Plus, the amount of time this movie and its visuals took to complete was insane, with over 180,00 drawings being used throughout this incredible animated feature. The design of the astounding technology is on-point too, looking exactly like you’d expect a super-advanced second wave of steam technology to look like. 

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are plenty more pieces of Steampunk movies where these fifteen films came from. We have included a pair of features that, for whatever reason, did not make our final list, though are still amazing pieces of Steampunk visual media to watch.

Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress

This short animated series is equal parts Steampunk technology, action, and a zombie apocalypse.

As the industrial revolution is underway, a plague starts to sweep the country, which causes most people to be turned into corpses that bite and infect other humans. They can be killed by either their heart being pierced, or their head being destroyed, the twist: their golden hearts are protected by a layer of iron, making most normal weapons against them completely useless, unless very close. You can see why this might be an issue for ordinary humans.

There is a huge abundance of incredible steam-powered gadgets and weapons on display in this series, and some incredible action set pieces that utilize them all to breathtaking effect.

This is not an animated movie but is instead a series, which is the main reason this piece of media didn’t make it onto our list above. But if you’re looking for some zombie-killing action, then this is definitely something to keep at the top of your watch list. 

Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror Of Shamballa (2005)

This follow-up sequel film didn’t make our main list, because although this is certainly a steampunk film, it is actually a sequel to the hit 2003 anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, which kind of makes the series a must-watch before you start this film. This isn’t a bad thing, either: The series is one of the most popular shows from its heyday.

The film revolves around a pair of brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are trying to find each other again after Edward was stranded in a universe similar to our own in Weimar Germany in the mid-1920s, as a shadow organization plans to enter their world to gain new weapons to conquer Europe with. Pretty standard Steampunk affairs, at this point.

With enough alternate high-tech machinery to keep you entertained for days and enough occult mystery to keep you invested for the whole movie, this is definitely one to look out for if you loved the series, and want more flying machines!

Cynthia Williams
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