Steampunk is a beloved genre of literature, comic books, and animation. It is certainly the one with perhaps the most spectacular examples of cosplay ever created, yet is surprisingly absent from the silver screen – as in productions coming from Hollywood. There are just a handful of feature films with a decent budget and cast that would embrace the genre – most of them only contain a few elements of steampunk here and there, used more for the effect rather than for the plot. So, the question is: do these examples of feature films fit in the steampunk genre at all?
One of the few movies that are built around a steampunk theme and have a decent star power is 1999’s “Wild Wild West”, with Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek. In it, US Army Captain James West (Smith) and US Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kline) try to defeat the eccentric Dr. Arliss Loveless (Branagh) who tries to win the war for the Confederate side using a series of unlikely – mostly steam-powered – contraptions and gadgets, from his wheelchair to tanks and a giant mechanical spider. While the visuals of the movie were impressive, the movie as a whole was not. Not even the star power of the actors was able to save it from a shameful result at the box office and five Razzie awards.
Another steampunk movie that is often forgotten by the fans of the genre is “Mutant Chronicles”, a direct-to-VOD production directed by Simon Hunter, released in 2009. The movie, based on the role-playing game with the same name, takes its viewers into a dystopian future, with no flying cars and happy people playing Spin Palace live blackjack on their gadgets but a desolate, war-torn world of constant conflict over the dwindling resources, ruled by corporations instead of governments. One of the clashes between the sides uncovers a Machine hidden underground for 10,000 years that turns the bodies of humans, living or dead, into mindless “mutants” out for blood. A group of unlikely heroes leave on a suicide mission to shut down the Machine and save Earth. “Mutant Chronicles” also has some star-power to show, thanks to Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, and John Malkovich. One of the most obvious steampunk elements in the movie is the steam-powered spaceship used by the team. A tech is seen shovelling what looks like coal into its furnace before it takes off.
One of the more obvious uses of steampunk elements in a successful Hollywood movie is “Back to the Future Part III” from 1990. “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) uses his expertise to create a variety of fantastic contraptions well ahead of their time after he is stuck in the Wild West. Inventions include an elaborate machine to create an ice cube, a super-fuel to speed up a steam engine to 88 miles per hour, and ultimately a flying steam engine time machine that he uses to ride into the sunset with his family.
Do these count as steampunk movies? Share your opinion below.