4.4 Dieselpunk Cinema

Things to Come (1936)

Things to Come (1936)

With regard to cinema, dieselpark combines the tropes, character archetypes, and settings of diesel era fiction genres such as Serial Adventure, Noir, Pulp, and War with postmodern storytelling techniques and cinematography.

Famous inspirations for dieselpunk cinema include Metropolis (1927), Just Imagine (1930) and Things To Come (1936), thanks to their period visions of utopian/dystopian culture and technology.

Some commonly referenced examples of dieselpunk or dieselpunk-related cinema include: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, The Rocketeer, Inglorious Bastards, the Indiana Jones movie series, Sin City, Eraserhead, Brazil, and more recently, Daybreakers, which was labeled by The Flying Fortress as Dieselpunk.

Though widely labeled as cyberpunk,the neo-noir movie Blade Runner may also be described as dieselpunk due its strong element of decodence.[Source: Conrad, Mark T. (February 2009). The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813191815.] Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman has also been referenced as a dieselpunk movie by Mr Piecraft in the article “Discovering Dieselpunk” (Gatehouse Gazette), an opinion supported by Ken Hanke in his book Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker, page 75 – 85, who describes the look and setting of Batman as “The citizens, cops, people and the black-and-white television looks like it takes place in 1939.”

Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch (2011)

TV Tropes lists a good two dozen film titles under “dieselpunk” label, including Hellboy, The Shadow, The Phantom, The Call of Cthulhu, The Mummy Trilogy, Dark City, Cast a Deadly Spell, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Richard III (1995), Titus, The Element of Crime, Yesterday Was a Lie, City of Ember, Sucker Punch, Captain America: The First Avenger, Hardkor 44, The Hudsucker Proxy, Tin Man, Thelomeris, Mutant Chronicles, The City of Lost Children and Watchmen. The list can be expanded: films as diverse as Pleasantville, Dick Tracy, Superman (four titles, 1978-1987), Porco Rosso, Love’s Labour Lost and even “pure sci-fi” Gattaca are lined with dieselpunk themes and images. Russian First on the Moon (2005) with its dark 1930s style and French The Triplets of Bellevile (2003) boasting an unforgettable swing soundtrack are valuable additions to the list. It will be more accurate to define all these films as “genre-related”, bearing in mind the fact that the term “dieselpunk” was unknown to the authors. Same can be said regarding Equilibrium, full of dieselpunk tropes and highly esteemed by dieselpunk community. With all its importance to the genre it is a dystopian and not a “true dieselpunk” film.

Equilibrium (2002)

Equilibrium (2002)

In 2000 the dieselpunk movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, was released. It starred George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, with John Goodman, Holly Hunter and Charles Durning in supporting roles. Set in 1937 rural Mississippi during the Great Depression, the film’s story is a comedy loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. The title of the film is a reference to the 1941 Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels, in which the protagonist wants to direct a film about the Great Depression called O Brother, Where Art Thou? that will be a “commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man.”

The movie combines elements from the Odyssey (an oracle, sirens, Cyclops, water to represent Poseidon, Clooney’s character’s name of Ulysses, which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek name Odysseus, etc…)

It also reinterpreted various historical personalities from the 1930s. The character of Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel, the Governor of Mississippi and host of the radio show “The Flour Hour,” is similar in name and demeanor to W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, Governor of Texas. The character Tommy Johnson was an amalgam of blues players Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson (both of whom legend had it were to have sold their souls to the Devil). The Soggy Bottom Boys were an amalgam of The Light Crust Dough Boys (the band for the real Pappy O’Daniel) and the Foggy Bottom Boys.

The movie was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography at the 73rd Academy Awards. Cinematographer Roger Deakins was recognized with both Academy Award and ASC Outstanding Achievement Award nominations for his work on the film. The movie’s soundtrack contributed to a resurgence in popularity in Bluegrass music.


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow can be described as the first dieselpunk movie. Released in 2004, it was quickly accepted by dieselpunks all over the world and acquired the status of the genre’s flagship.


In 2006, the Dieselpunk movie, Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish: El laberinto del fauno, “The Faun’s Labyrinth) written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was released. Set in Spain during 1944 the story centers around a young girl who discovers a magical labyrinth in a garden located on the grounds of the country home where her mother and stepfather have moved. Upon her discovery, she’s given a book with a series of tasks by a magical faun. Though the protagonist is a child, Pan’s Labyrinth is not a children’s movie and has an R-Rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. The American movie reviewer Roger Ebert described Pan’s Labyrinth as, “gruesome and brutal as it is enchanting and spellbinding”.

The Artist (2011)

The Artist (2011)

Released in October, 2011 was The Artist in which the storyline involves a silent era movie star in the late 1920s. The movie was not only shot in black and white but also as a silent movie. It won 5 Oscars (2012) – Best Motion Picture of the Year (Thomas Langmann), Best Achievement in Directing (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Jean Dujardin), Best Achievement in Costume Design (Mark Bridges), Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score (Ludovic Bource).Before that, The Artist won Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. It also won the The 2012 Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures by the Producers Guild of America. The Artist has a favorable rating of 97% by the web site Rotten Tomatoes.

The Adventures of Tintin, released on November 22 (Europe) / December 21 (USA) / December 26 (Australia), is a 2011 American performance capture 3D film based on a series of comic books created by Belgian artist Hergé (Georges Remi). Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, the film is based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944). Producer Peter Jackson, whose company Weta Digital is providing the computer animation, intends to direct a sequel. Spielberg and Jackson also hope to co-direct a third film.

Midnight in Paris, released 2011, written and directed by Woody Allen, takes place, as the title implies, in Paris. The storyline follows a man named Gil Pender played by Owen Wilson who owns an antique store. Gil is also a movie screenplay writer who dreams of writing a successful novel and who has a passionate love for the literature and art of the 1920s. Wilson’s character feels like a fish out of water in the modern world and dreams of living in Paris during the Roaring Twenties. Much to his surprise, he finds himself traveling back in time to the 1920s each night at the stroke of midnight in which he meets the famous intellectuals, artists and musicians living in Paris at the time.

The movie was a surprising success in that it was Allen’s top-grossing film of all time at the domestic box office, as well as at the time it was released Sony Pictures Classics’ biggest title after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” In addition, opened to wide critical acclaim and is considered one of Woody Allen’s best films. In 2012, the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as well as the Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay.


Iron Sky, a long awaited Finnish dieselpunk film, was screened on February 11, 2012 at the Berlinale Festival and sparked a lot of interest as well as mixed reactions (read BBC report).

A short summary  from the film’s website: “In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers. When American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) puts down his Lunar Lander a bit too close to the secret Nazi base, the Moon Führer (Udo Kier) decides the glorious moment of retaking the Earth has arrived sooner than expected. Washington claims the mission is just a publicity stunt for the President of the United States (Stephanie Paul), but what else could the man be but a scout for the imminent attack by Earth forces? Two Nazi officers, ruthless Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) and idealistic Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), travel to Earth to prepare the invasion. In the end when the Moon Nazi UFO armada darkens the skies, ready to strike at the unprepared Earth, every man, woman and nation alike, must re-evaluate their priorities.”

The film was released on April 4 (in Finland) and April 5 (in Germany). Watch the theatrical trailer (HD) on Read a review @ The Traveler’s Steampunk Blog. A prequel and a sequel along with a TV miniseries has been announced.

Due to the lack of an distributor in the United States a campaign was launched that allowed Iron Sky to be shown in theaters throughout the Unites States.

Iron Sky is currently available on both Blu-Ray and DVD for Regions 1 and 2.

On January 28, 2013, Iron Sky was awarded the Award For Best Visual Effects by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. Iron Sky also won the award was the Hulda-award for Best Finnish Export, followed by the audience award for Best Poster of 2012. In addition, the Jussi-award for Best Production Design.

The producers of Iron Sky have announced that they have started work on a sequel named ‘Iron Sky: The Coming Race’. At their Indigogo campaign site, the producers describe the sequel, “… we want to go darker, we want to go crazier, we want to be more experimental.” They also state that their goals for filming are to have final draft of the script by the end of 2014 with a promo for Cannes 2014 and then to shoot the film in 2015.

The Spy (“Шпион”), a Russian film based on Boris Akunin’s Spy Novel and released in April 2012, was advertised as a “cinematic comics” but its photographer, Denis Alarcon Ramirez, clearly called it a “dieselpunk-styled movie”. He also admitted that he learned about dieselpunk while shooting the film. The Spy trailer is brought to us by

The independent Dieselpunk movie The Wars of Other Men is set in an alternative universe in the midst of a 1920s-era world war. With chemical weapons known as “the Fog”, the enemy has started to turn the tide in their favor. When the High Command learns the location of the facility that manufactures the Fog, a nameless Lieutenant is giving a mission to lead a squad to destroy the facility creating the super-weapon. According to the official web site for the movie, “With the lives of his men and the fate of the war hanging in the balance the Lieutenant must make a choice — will he be a good soldier or will he be a good man?”

Another independent Dieselpunk movie is Project Arbiter set in 1943 during WWII. The movie’s storyline centers on an experimental O.S.S. unit code-named Project Arbiter. During a special ops mission, Captain Joseph Colburn finds a prototype suit, which can temporarily cloak the wearer and render him invisible.

Dimensions: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads. According to the synopsis from the web site for the movie, “Stephen is a brilliant young boy who lives in England, in what appears to be the 1920s – but nothing in Stephen’s life is quite as it seems.  His world is turned upside down upon meeting a charismatic and inspirational professor at a garden party, who demonstrates to Stephen and his friends what life would be like if they themselves were merely one, or two, dimensional beings.  He then proceeds to explain that by manipulating other dimensions, time travel may actually be possible.

As Stephen’s life unfolds, events lead him to dedicate himself to turning the Professor’s theories of time travel into reality.  Jealousy, love, obsession, temptation and greed surround him, influencing his fragile mind and the direction of his work.”

Their Facebook page states that Dimensions has been described as ‘A Beautiful Mind’ meets H.G. Well’s ‘The Time Machine.’ On July 12, 2012 , Lance Ulanoff, the social media commentator and former Editor-in-Chief of and PC Magazine, described on Twitter the movie as “a bit like Downton Abbey on acid”.The movie has already won several awards, including Best Film 2012 at the London Independent Film Festival, the Long Island International Film Expo, Boston Science Film Festival, Crystal Palace International Film Festival and Costa Del Sol International Del Cine Fantastico Spain.

Blancanieves is a 2012 Spanish black-and-white silent fantasy drama film written and directed by Pablo Berger. Based on the fairy tale “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm, the story is set in a romantic vision of 1920s Andalusia. Berger calls it a “love letter to European silent cinema.”


The film won the Special Jury Prize and an ex-aequo Best Actress “Silver Shell” Award for Macarena García at the 2012 San Sebastián International Film Festival. It also won ten Goya Awards, including the Goya Award for Best Film at the 27th Goya Awards.

The movie The 25th Reich is based on the classic novella, 50,000 Years Until Tomorrow by J.J. Solomon, and with a screenplay penned by David Richardson, Serge DeNardo, and Stephen Amis. Directed by Stephen Amis.25th-Flyer-Poster

According to the official web site for the movie, the plot involves five American GI’s stationed in Australia in 1943 find themselves embroiled in a secret OSS time-travel mission that goes horribly wrong. The hapless soldiers are catapulted 50,000 years back into the past, to retrieve an alien spaceship that might help the Allies win the war against Hitler.

On May 10, 2013 The Great Gatsby will be released. Produced by Baz Luhrmann, this version will combine the storyline of the novel with modern music. According to the web site the novel will take, “the Jazz Age sensibility of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel into the musical equivalents of our own times, through the blending of hip-hop, traditional jazz and other contemporary musical textures.” The movie’s executive music consultant Jay-Z, stated, “The Great Gatsby is that classic American story of one’s introduction to extravagance, decadence and illusion. It’s ripe for experimentation and ready to be interpreted with a modern twist.”


In addition to updating the music, the fashion has been described using terminology that echoes dieselpunk philosophy. At the web site, the Costume and Set Designer Catherine Martin stated in an interview about working with Miuccia Prada for the Great Gatsby how Prada along with Luhrmann, “use the past as an inspiration, but then transmute it into something unexpected and something totally modern” as inspiration for her in desigining the costuming for the movie.

Volume 1, issue 2, page 301 of the peer-reviewed journal “Fashion, Style and Popular Culture” described the movie as a dieselpunk production.

The Great Gatsby opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival. The movie opened at $51.1 million during its first weekend. The movie soundtrack debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.


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