Is Waterworld Steampunk?

Is Waterworld 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 Waterworld 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: Waterworld

Studio: Universal Pictures, Gordon Company, Davis Entertainment

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Story By: Peter Rader, David Twohy

Release Date: July 28, 1995 (United States)

Main Actors: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper

Synopsis: The polar ice caps have melted, and the earth is covered by water. The remaining people travel the seas, in search of survival. Several different societies exist. The Mariner falls from his customary and solitary existence into having to care for a woman and a young girl while being pursued by the evil forces of the Deacon.

What Makes a Movie Steampunk?

Before we answer the question, is Waterworld 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 Waterworld steampunk?

What Elements of Waterworld Are Steampunk?

Erm…..I’m struggling here – help me out?! Waterworld is often referenced as being a steampunk movie because of the clothing.

However, for me, I do understand where people are coming from, but I would say that the look as a whole has elements of steampunk in it – natural materials, handstitched together, etc, however, the structure of the clothing is more rigid and less flowing than in traditional steampunk aesthetic.

Although set on water, the clothing is not made from elements from the sea to fit into the seapunk or oceanpunk genres, for me it is more ‘Mad Maxstyle which would put it into the dieselpunk genre.

So, let’s look at the elements which we would not consider to be steampunk in Waterworld.

What Elements of Waterworld Are NOT Steampunk?

Although the exact year that the film takes place is never specifically mentioned, production designer, Dennis Gassner has suggested it is set in the future in 2500. this would take it well outside of the Victorian era in which steampunk is normally set, and therefore not retro-futuristic.

There’s a gang of villains called Smokers, some of the guns that are used by this group post date the Victorian ear too.

Waterworld is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, well, that is what we assume, despite people not being able to remember what the world was like pre-living on water.

This is not in keeping with the vibe of steampunk, which is much happier. Steampunk depicts a generation that is excited about the world and the possibilities it has to offer, there is an element of whimsy that goes along with the inventions and desire to explore.

Waterworld is much darker, again, more aligned with the grit and struggle which you would expect to see in steampunk.

Furthermore, in Steampunk, the inventions are new and only accessible to a few. The technology in Waterworld is accessible to all and not just a few, it seems well established and not something new that society is experimenting with.

Finally, let’s discuss the elephant in the room…

There is NO STEAM!!

There is a big oil tanker that appears to be where the inhabitants fuel their vehicles from. Waterworld cannot be steampunk without steam!

So, Overall Is Waterworld Steampunk?

Waterworld is missing far too many elements to be classified as a steampunk movie. Instead, for me, this movie fits more comfortably into the dieselpunk aesthetic.

What are your thoughts? Is the movie Waterworld steampunk? Let us know in the comments below what your opinion is and why.

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