Is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Steampunk?

Is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Steampunk? Let’s have a look at some of the key elements of the movie in order to decide whether it meets the criteria in order to be classified as steampunk or not. If not, does it fit into one of the other punk aesthetics? Let’s find out. 

Before we get into whether 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is steampunk or not, let’s look at what the film is about to get a flavor as to whether it is steampunk or not. 

Movie Title: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Studio: Walt Disney Productions

Director: Richard Fleischer

Story By: Jules Verne (original title in French: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin

Release Date: July 20, 1955 (United States)

Main Actors: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas

Synopsis: Set in the late 1800s are seas are no longer safe; many ships have been lost. Sailors have returned to port with stories of a vicious narwhal (a giant whale with a long horn) which is blamed for sinking their ships.

A naturalist, Professor Aronnax, with his assistant, Conseil, and Ned Land, a professional whaler, join a US expedition in an attempt to unravel the mystery.

They come into contact with Captin Nemo and the Nautilus, where they remain with Nemo and visit places such as the lost city of Atlantis and Vulcania.

What Makes a Movie Steampunk?

Before we answer the question, is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea steampunk? Let’s have a look at some of the key characteristics of a steampunk movie.

There are a number of elements that need to combine in order to classify a movie as steampunk. 

Check out our in depth guide as to what makes a movie steampunk for more information on this. Whether something fits into the steampunk genre or not is a topic that is always up for hot debate in the forums. 

As steampunk sadly never existed, there is no history to check the validity against, however, there is some faux pas that means that something is clearly not steampunk. 

Things such as this we would class as being ‘steampunk inspired’, i.e. they don’t traditionally conform to the steampunk genre, but they have taken elements from it to inspire them. 

As a quick recap, we’ve lined up our top 10 elements to look out for in a steampunk movie.

If you’re interested in learning more about steampunk, check out our article, ‘What is Steampunk?’, which will take you through the history, influences, fashions, gadgets, and much more. 

Top 10 Things to Look Out for In a Steampunk Movie

  1. The Use of Steam – In steampunk, electricity has never been invented, everything is mechanical and powered by steam. This means that if you can see digital machinery in a movie, it isn’t traditional steampunk, therefore it may be classified as ‘steampunk inspires’  
  2. Steam Powered Vehicles – In steampunk movies, as with the above, you will only see vehicles powered by steam, cars, ships, and even submarines.
  3. Airships – Airships are popular within the steampunk genre – again, mechanically powered.  
  4. Set In Victorian Era or an Alternative History – Steampunk is set in either the Victorian Era (19th Century), or in an alternative, future, occasionally depicted as a ‘wild west’ setting. 
  5. The Clothing – Clothing can vary, but is normally focused around the fashions of Victorian England, or that of a colonial explorer. 
  6. Augmented Mechanical Humans – In steampunk, persons can normally be seen with mechanically replaced elements to their body, sometimes these are full replacements, other times, a mechanical exoskeleton.
  7. Gadgets & Gears – futuristic (mechanical) gadgets are common place in the steampunk genre. A personal favorite is a gun that mechanically springs from up a sleeve to the user’s hand, ready and poised for use. Gears can be seen throughout the steampunk genre, emphasizing the mechanical theme that is central to the aesthetic.  
  8. Time Travel – Time travel is no an essential component of steampunk, however, it can be seen in some steampunk works. Just remember that the time travel device needs to be mechanical and not digital/ electronic.
  9. The Paranormal – The paranormal is not traditional steampunk, however, the crossover between the genres is common. The villain in steampunk is normally a man made creation as opposed to being a mythical creature, demon, vampire, etc. 
  10. Advanced Technology – Technology that is advanced for its time is a standard theme throughout steampunk. The technology must be mechanical in nature, such as the analog computer.

If you’re interested in steampunk movies, why not check out our guide to the best steampunk movies, and see if you can find a new favorite?

So, let’s take a look, is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea steampunk?

What Elements of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Are Steampunk?

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is often cited as one of the best known Steampunk movies of all time.

This movie features a highly advanced submarine, the Nautilus, whose technology is decades ahead of the time period.

The Nautilus is a 70 meters (230 feet) long, armor-plated vessel, capable of sinking any ship. It is equipped with a 12,000 volume library as well as a formidable art collection, something unheard of for its time.

The structure of the Nautilus, with its exposed rivers, is very steampunk-esque.

Moreover, the movie is set during the Victorian era.

What Elements of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Are NOT Steampunk?

In the original text, Nemo’s submarine is said to be powered by electricity, however, in the film, it is implied that the vessel is powered by nuclear energy. It could be argued that nuclear power is actually steam power, with the radioactive materials turning a turbine as they heat the water.

Furthermore, some purists would argue that the time the book is written is not sufficiently distant from the Victorian era to be classed as steampunk. Instead, this could be classified as Victorian science-fiction as it was effectively written in the present time and not reflecting the ‘historical’ setting that is normally found in steampunk.

Finally, the clothing aesthetic seen in 20,000 Leagues is not that we would normally attribute to those seen in Steampunk.

So, Overall Is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Steampunk?

Overall, yes, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is considered to be steampunk. There are a couple of elements of the movie, which we have discussed above which give some cause to argue that it deviates from some of the key elements of steampunk. However, we’re happy that there is more than enough there to make this movie steampunk (and awesome!).

What are your thoughts? Is the movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea steampunk? Let us know in the comments below what your opinion is and why.

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