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My Favorite Retrofuturism Movie Genres

Retrofuturism is a vision of a future that never was from a past that has passed us by. It includes an aesthetic that blends old-school design sensibilities with futuristic concepts.

In the realm of sci-fi movies, retrofuturism creates a visually stunning and thematically thought-provoking experience. Here are some of the most common types of retro-futurism movies you'll encounter:

1. Cyberpunk Retrofuturism

Cyberpunk movies are typically set in a dystopian future dominated by mega-corporations and advanced technology. The visual style is often dark and gritty, with neon lights, towering skyscrapers, and a heavy emphasis on cybernetics.

Blade Runner 1982 is one of the best textbook examples of what a Cyberpunk movie should be. In a world where clones of people called replicants are created to act as slaves, few people are hired to terminate rogue replicants.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard a Bladerunner who hunts down such unwanted replicants. The name of the movie originates from what such hunters do - walk on the physical boundary between civilization and the wild - being a Bladerunner.

Robocop 1987

Robocop 1987 is one of my all-time favorite Cyberpunk movies that has a revenge story as its core plot. It really got the dystopia right in terms of what future Detroit would be like. Some scenarios that play out in the movie is also pretty accurate by themselves in terms of crime that occurs in other parts of the world.

Other examples include Akira (1988), and Ghost in the Shell (1995). I personally like the more recent Ready Player One (2018) where the protagonist enters a virtual world using a device like an Apple Vision Pro.

2. Steampunk

Steampunk movies are set in an alternate history where steam power is the dominant technology. The visual style is characterized by Victorian-era machinery, airships, and intricate clockwork gadgets.

I don't have any favorites in this genre but one exception is the animated short "Good Hunting" which is Season 1, Episode 8 of Love Death & Robots. This shows a Chinese village being brought into the industrial age with steam-powered machinery.

It shows how steam-powered technology drains actual magic from the natural world, and how a technologist helps a magical creature regain its hunting abilities.

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A great example of the steampunk genre is the phenomenal flop Wild Wild West (1999). Another example that is executed well is Sucker Punch. Although in Sucker Punch it's all in the actor's head.

The Golden Army in Hellboy 2

One of the better steampunk movies would be Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army where there is a good plot and great action. Also, the movie is a detailed example of how enjoyable the steampunk genre can be when done right.

3. Dieselpunk

Dieselpunk movies are set in the period between the two World Wars, often focusing on pulp fiction themes like flying cars, ray guns, and mad scientists.

The visual style is a mix of Art Deco and industrial design, with plenty of chrome and leather.

The Rocketeer (1991) is an excellent example of Dieselpunk where the lead fights crime with the help of a jetpack.

The Rocketeer 1991 movie poster

Another movie that might be B-grade but is an interesting example of Desielpunk is Iron Sky (2012).

Nazi Moon Base in Iron Sky 2012

The premise is near priceless where Nazis flee to the actual moon instead of Argentina alone. After establishing a base on the moon they re-enter the Earth in 2012 to take over the planet.

4. Atompunk

Atompunk movies are set in the 1950s and 1960s, during the height of the nuclear age. The visual style is filled with Googie architecture which is architecture that is inspired by automobiles, space transport, and atomic power in its various forms.

A classic example of this is Forbidden Planet (1956) in which the planet is powered by thousands of thermonuclear reactors harnessing power from the planet's core. The emphasis in this movie is on atomic power and what you can achieve with unlimited amounts of such power.

This might not be a movie, but the TV series The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) also frequently featured atompunk elements. One of these is Time Enough at Last where a man who wants to do nothing but read is finally granted his wish due to a nuclear apocalypse.

Another episode is No Time Like the Past where the lead tries to correct key moments in history through time travel.

5. Raygun Gothic

Raygun Gothic movies are a relatively obscure subgenre, but they're worth mentioning for their unique blend of sci-fi and B-movie aesthetics.

These films are often set in a fantastical, almost dreamlike world with bizarre creatures, ray guns, and over-the-top acting.

Flash Gordon 1980 Movie Poster

Some examples of Raygun Gothic movies include Flash Gordon (1980) and Masters of the Universe (1987). Flash Gordon has achieved cult status over the years which you can see in the movie Ted. Another movie that I personally enjoyed is the live-action movie of the cartoon He-man and the Masters of the Universe.

Masters of the Universe 1987 scene

These are just a few of the many types of retro-futurism movies out there. Each subgenre has its own unique blend of visuals, themes, and storytelling elements, making it a fascinating and diverse genre to explore.

The Final Word

There's no such thing as the best retrofuturism genre or sub-genre. It all depends on the taste of the viewer. That being said, the movies on this list are generally regarded as some of the best movies out there - retrofuturistic or not.

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