fbpx Fall Movie Preview, Steampunk Edition: No steampunk blockbusters are on the horizon, but it looks like a good season for period dramas | The Steampunk Explorer

Fall Movie Preview, Steampunk Edition

No steampunk blockbusters are on the horizon, but it looks like a good season for period dramas

Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla
Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla in The Current War. Photo: Dean Rogers

This time of year, it’s customary for media outlets to offer previews of movie releases slated for fall. We decided to get in on the act, but with a steampunk twist. None of these films really qualifies as “steampunk,” but they all have elements that will likely appeal to steampunk fans.

Six are period dramas set in the 19th or early 20th century, of which three are inspired by actual historical events. I’m including The Addams Family because, well, it’s The Addams Family. Another is an outlier that’s here for reasons I shall explain.

Downton Abbey

Opens: Sept. 13 in the UK, Sept. 20 in the U.S.

Director: Michael Engler

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Simon Jones, Geraldine James

Set in autumn 1927, the film is a follow-up to the events in the popular television series, which traced the story of the wealthy Crawley family in Yorkshire between 1912 and 1926. The story this time revolves around a visit by King George V and Queen Mary to the family’s estate. Much of the original cast returns. Director Michael Engler also directed four episodes of the TV series, including the finale.

The Current War

Opens: Oct. 4 in the U.S. (opened July 26 in the UK)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland

This film tells the story of the battle between Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Shannon) over electric power transmission in America. Nicholas Hoult plays Nikola Tesla, who teamed with Westinghouse to promote alternating current. Tom Holland (of Spiderman fame) stars as Samuel Insull, who was Edison’s personal secretary.

An early version of the film received mixed reviews after it was screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It was slated for theatrical release in Nov. 2017, but was pulled in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.

Since then, Gomez-Rejon has added five scenes and cut its running time by 10 minutes. The revised film opened July 26 in the UK, and reviews so far are largely negative.

Lantern Entertainment acquired the film in a bankruptcy auction last year along with other assets of The Weinstein Company. 101 Studios is the U.S. distributor.


Opens: Oct. 4

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen

On the web: https://www.joker.movie

Joker is a stretch for a steampunk preview even given the loose rules for this one. But after watching a couple trailers, I’m invoking editorial privilege. Billed as a psychological thriller, it’s not steampunk in any way, shape, or form. But many steampunk fans will be compelled to see what appears to be a riveting performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

Set in 1981, it follows the transformation of Arthur Fleck from failed stand-up comic to the Batman villain we know and fear. It’s meant as a standalone story, not part of a new Batman franchise. Joker was screened Aug. 31 at the Venice International Film Festival and has earned substantial — though not universal — critical praise.

The Addams Family

Opens: Oct. 11

Directors: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Allison Janney

On the web: https://www.addamsfamily.movie

Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, and the rest of the Addams clan return to the screen as 3D animated characters. In this one, they move to New Jersey and contend with a reality TV host played by Allison Janney. Snoop Dogg plays Cousin Itt. Naturally, it’s being released just in time for Halloween.

The Lighthouse

Opens: Oct. 18

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

On the web: https://a24films.com/films/the-lighthouse

I saw a trailer for The Lighthouse in a theater and first thought it was an art house re-release of a 1930s film. But no, it’s a 2019 horror flick, filmed in black and white and set in the 1890’s, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson portraying two lighthouse keepers. It premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival and has garnered critical acclaim.

It’s the second feature film directed by Eggers, following The Witch (2015).


Opens: Nov. 1

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Jennifer Nettles, Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monáe, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Clarke Peters

This biopic tells the story of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in 1849 and later led hundreds of other slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The film will have its world premiere Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Aeronauts

Opens: Dec. 6

Director: Tom Harper

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Phoebe Fox, Himesh Patel

Another tale ripped from the history pages, The Aeronauts is the story of pilot Amelia Wren (Jones) and meteorologist James Glaisher (Redmayne), who embark on a historic balloon adventure in 1862. Glaisher was a real historical figure whose 1862 flight broke the world altitude record. Wren is a composite of multiple real people, including Henry Tracey Coxwell, who accompanied Glaisher on the record-breaking flight.

The movie premiered Aug. 30 at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, and is slated to screen Sept. 8 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Early reviews are positive. It hits movie theaters Dec. 6 and then Amazon Prime on Dec. 20. Amazon Studios is the distributor and one of the production companies behind the film.

Little Women

Opens: Dec. 25

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk

This one falls outside the autumn time frame, but it’s generating a lot of early media buzz. Directed by Greta Gerwig, it will be the eighth movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic about four sisters in New England after the Civil War. This one will focus on their early adult lives with flashbacks to their childhoods. Ronan has the lead role as Jo March, who was portrayed by Katharine Hepburn in the 1933 version and Winona Ryder in 1994.

This story was updated with info about the UK opening of The Current War.

Keep up with news in the world of steampunk. Sign up for our free weekly Steampunk Digest, delivered to your inbox.

The Steampunk Explorer is on Patreon. A monthly pledge of $1 or more supports our work and provides access to premium content. Get the details here.

Stories by Category: