Dieselpunk as a genre of punk-fiction may not be as popular as steampunk, but I personally find it to be much more fascinating. Unlike steampunk which is set during the Victorian era, dieselpunk is set during the interwar period and usually ends in the 1950s, when the splitting of the atom brings us into a new era. Dieselpunk gives us internal combustion engines instead of steam engines, hardboiled detectives instead of chivalrous British adventurers, Art Deco instead of Gothic Revival and much, much more.
More importantly, there is a darker and more pessimistic nature to dieselpunk. There are similarities between the two, for example, airships still appear, but this is the era of industrial warfare and the horrors that came with it. This is the era where the veterans of the Great War try to make their way in a world that seems destined to fight an even worse war in the future. This is a world where the down-trodden minorities begin to become more vocal about freedom and liberty. Furthermore, aesthetically speaking, things are less colorful and more mass produced in a dieselpunk universe than in a steampunk universe.
Surprisingly enough, I would argue most people’s introduction from dieselpunk came not from books, which is the primary means people learn about steampunk, but from films. There are many dieselpunk-esque films, although the vast majority were premiered long before the term was created. Why this genre has found a foothold in cinema probably has to do a lot with how more recent the historical era dieselpunk is based to the present than steampunk is. Thus it is able to reach a wider, more mainstream audience than steampunk ever could.
So if you are looking to learn more about dieselpunk, here are my top five (in no particular order) dieselpunk films!
These are the action/adventure films of action/adventure films. They are beloved both by children and adults. They are funny, smart and a great homage to the pulps stories of the 30s and 40s. All that being said, it has a lot of dieselpunk elements. We see airships, flying wings, magic, motorcycles, fedoras, gangsters and evil Nazis. We get adventure in exotic locales to find ancient artifacts that could cause the doom of millions if they fall into the wrong hands. This is probably the best example of a dieselpunk film in this list and if you haven’t watch any of these movies than you my friend were born yesterday. Welcome to the world because there is a lot of fun movies to watch in your future.
Now if I just keep telling myself they never made a fourth film it just might come true…
I am very surprised that The Rocketeer is not more well known. Based on the comic character by the same name, it has an all star cast, great villains, historical cameos, airships (expect to see a lot of these) and a freaking jet pack, which is just below a flying car on someone’s list of most wished for future technology.
I still laugh during the scene where the FBI and the mob are fighting the Nazis and two characters from those sides stop to stare at each other in disbelief at what they are doing before going back to shooting Nazis. Heck, even the poster is dieselpunk, with its Art Deco style! It still holds up and I highly recommend you check it out this little known superhero film if you get the chance.
Speaking of all-American superheroes…
Marvel has been doing superhero movies right for years, but I was blown away by how they portrayed the past in this film. Sure its far from historically accurate (I never knew American had a desegregated military in WWII), but what with the advanced technology, giant flying wing bombers and, once again, evil Nazis as antagonists, it still was a fun summer flick.
Surprisingly Captain America often ranks low on the best Marvel films out there, which I never really understood. I always found Steve Rogers to be a much more relatable character than say the space god or the billionaire genius who never seems to make any money off the advanced technology he creates, but then what do I now.
Lets all just be thankful that they finally did Captain America right.
Although spelling may not be one of his strengths, Tarantino knows how to make an awesome revenge film. Inglourious Basterds may not have all of the use trappings of a dieselpunk movie, it nevertheless gets a nod for its intense scenes of a Nazi killing action. This film took the primary bad guy for almost every dieselpunk story and really punished them. Plus the characters are fun to watch and we got an unbelievable performance out of Christoph Waltz (and a cartoonish performance out of Brad Pitt, but you got to take the good with the bad).
More importantly, this is the only one that is actually an alternate history and (SPOILER ALERT) watching Hitler die at the end is enjoyable for all ages…well not really. Seriously, if you show your small children this film you might as well just drop them off at your local Child Protective Services office.
Still one wonders what if Hitler was assassinated inside a movie theater…
I may be cheating a little with this next film, since most of Up is set in the present day. Nevertheless, the second and third acts take place in a hidden jungle land where we see airships, an old adventurer turned bad and bi-planes flown by dogs, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “dog fight”…wow, what a lame joke.
Its a film that is packed full of emotion, adventure and memorable characters (SQUIRREL!) Its a great family film…and I think the third entry on this list from Disney. Huh, what is Disney’s fascination with the 30s and 40s?
Regardless, I think it is a great entry to round out the list. If you didn’t see your favorite dieselpunk film on this list, please let me know in the comments.