Dieselpunk Goes to Hollywood

I bet you know some Dieselpunk but didn’t realize where you’d seen it before.

In my previous posts, ‘What is Punk Fiction?’ and ‘What is Dieselpunk?’ we discussed retro-futurism and defined it as ‘the future as seen from the past’ and ‘the past as seen from the future’. We said that Dieselpunk reflected the culture, society and technology of the 1920s to 1940s with aesthetics that included Art Deco, crime noir and the Jazz Age. So I think the best way to visualize this is to grab a bag of popcorn and a big soda, park yourself in an easy chair, and join me as ‘Dieselpunk Goes to Hollywood’!

Roll the film, please!

(For more information on the movies in this post, follow the links provided which will take you to Wikipedia, IMDB and various movie websites. Thanks go out to Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures for making promotional images available for use under the ‘fair use’ license.)


Indiana Jones Raiders

George Lucas created this iconic character in homage to the action heroes of 1930s film serials. In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked Indiana Jones as the second greatest film hero of all time. Indiana Jones was introduced in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Set in 1936, Indiana Jones, a professor of archaeology is pitted against the Nazis, traveling the world to prevent them from recovering the Ark of the Covenant. The third film, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, set in 1938, returned to the formula of the original with globe trotting elements and the return of the infamous Nazi mystics, this time trying to find the Holy Grail.

The Rocketeer movie poster

This movie is one of my personal favorites as it displays so many expressions of the dieselpunk visual aesthetic. Straight from the pages of a pulp comic from a past era, the Rocketeer recreates 1930’s Hollywood, complete with gangsters, Nazi spies, and the growth of the Age of Aviation. The Rocketeer, a superhero created by writer-illustrator Dave Stevens, first appeared in 1982 and is a homage to the Saturday matinee serial heroes of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The Rocketeer was released as a feature film by Walt Disney Pictures in 1991. Set in 1938 Los Angeles and New York, ‘The Rocketeer’ has a retro, nostalgic feel as young pilot Cliff Secord stumbles on a top secret rocket-pack and with the help of his mechanic/mentor, Peevee, attempts to save his girl and stop the Nazis.


This movie has to be at the top of my list of dieselpunk favorites. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is visual art in motion, a masterful 2004 American pulp adventure science fiction film written and directed by Kerry Conran. Set in an alternative 1939 and a recognized example of the dieselpunk genre, the plot follows the adventures of Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), a newspaper reporter, and Joseph “Joe” Sullivan (Jude Law), alias “Sky Captain,” as they track down the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier), who is seeking to build the “World of Tomorrow”. Conran was heavily influenced by the designs of Norman Bel Geddes, an industrial designer who did work for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Conran summed up what influenced him in making Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: “We tried to approach it almost as though we lived in that era and were just another group of artists trying to make a work out of those pieces and inspirations. We wanted the film to feel like a lost film of that era.” Retro-futurism abounds in this movie’s style, setting and special effects. This is 1939 as someone in perhaps the late 1920’s might envision the future to be like; but written by someone today looking back at the past.


Hellboy is a superhero created by writer-artist Mike Mignola that first appeared in comics in 1993 and was followed by two live-action feature films in 2004 and 2008 starring Ron Perlman in the title role. Hellboy was summoned from Hell to Earth as an infant demon on December 23, 1944 by Nazi occultists and then discovered by the Allied Forces. Hellboy works for the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense against dark forces including the Nazis in a series of tales that have their roots in folklore, pulp magazines, vintage adventure, Lovecraftian horror and horror fiction. In earlier stories, he is identified as the “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator.”


Marvel Comics’ Captain America is one of the best known American comic superheroes, first appearing in March 1941 and then becoming a popular character during the 1940s wartime period. Steve Rogers, a frail young man was enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum in order to aid the United States’ efforts in World War II, fighting the Axis powers. After the war ended, the character’s popularity waned and the comic was discontinued by 1950. Captain America was re-introduced by Marvel Comics during the Silver Age of comics, as an M.I.A soldier retrieved from an iceberg and awakened from suspended animation. Captain America has featured in several recent movies, his own feature films (2011, 2014 ) and as a character in Marvel’s Avenger movie (2013). Captain America #3 is due out in 2016.


Frank Miller’s Sin City is a 2005 American neo-noir crime action thriller based on Miller’s graphic novel series of the same name. A man embarks on a brutal rampage in search of his one-time sweetheart’s killer, killing anyone, even the police, that gets in his way. Sin City opened to wide critical and commercial success, gathering particular recognition for the film’s unique color processing, which rendered most of the film in black and white but retained or added coloring for select objects. The sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is scheduled for release this summer on August 22, 2014.


Iron Sky is a 2012 Finnish-Australian-German comic science fiction action film. 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 puts down his Lunar Lander a bit too close to the secret Nazi base, the Moon Führer 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 but what else could the man be but a scout for the imminent attack by Earth forces? The Fourth Reich must act! Two Nazi officers, ruthless Klaus Adler and idealistic Renate Richter, travel to Earth to prepare the invasion. The Moon Nazi UFO armada darkens the skies and strikes at the unprepared Earth. This film had up to date special effects and a satirical, almost Monty Python-esque feel to it. I found it entertaining and it certainly had that retro-futuristic dieselpunk feel. A sequel is in the works for this independently funded series.

So there you have it, retro-futurism in motion pictures… the Art Deco & pulp fiction aesthetics of yesteryear; the Age of Aviation and weird flying machines; gangsters and crime noir; heroes, anti-heroes and villains and Nazis! Dieselpunk goes to Hollywood!

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Post by Charles A Cornell

As an author, my overactive imagination fills my mind with three dimensional puzzles of stacked what-if questions that cry out for answers. You can find me fueling my creativity amidst the chaos of a very busy life in my writer’s den where I dream up whimsical adventures that range from the satirical to the macabre which I then blog about on CharlesACornell.com

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