While there’s a lot of joy in rewatching vintage sci-fi movies with their low-fi effects and impossible dreams of future technology, they don’t quite excite me as much as new retrofuture movies do. I understand that may be confusing, how can a new movie be retrofuturist? Just like how many authors write steampunk stories or artists create posters that look like retro sci-fi art, movies can be made in a retrofuturistic style. These may be alt-history stories that take place in the past or visions of the future that align with the nostalgic predictions of yesteryear. There’s something about these nostalgic films that I can’t get enough of. This list captures some of my favorites. If I’ve missed one of yours, make sure to share it in the comments.
The Rocketeer (1991)
Watching The Rocketeer was my first foray into the world of retrofuturist movies. My dad bought a VHS copy of it in the discount bin at the video store and it became a favorite in my rotation. It’s sad for me to admit that this movie is considered “vintage” now, but it still meets the definition for this list. Based on the (not as great) comic book series, the movie follows pilot Cliff Secord who stumbles upon a top-secret jetpack. Things get a little crazy from there as he unravels a secret Nazi plot to rule the world by stealing the jet pack.
Set in the glitzy Hollywood of 1938, the style is a mix of decopunk and dieselpunk, mirroring the style of the original comic, which was published in the 1980s. The creator Dave Stevens created the character as a homage to the Saturday matinee serial heroes from the 1930s-50s and you can feel that in the movie as well. The classic art deco style of the original comics was used in a lot of the early promotional images as well.
The movie didn’t do so great at the box office thanks to viewers assuming it was a children’s movie because of the Disney name (it’s not) and the original movie poster (above) didn’t advertise the cast as well as it could have. But the visual effects are very slick for the early 90s and it is so fantastic to see Cliff take off in that jetpack that we’re still stuck waiting for.
Valentine’s Day is a divisive holiday, but whether you’re for or against a holiday of hearts and love, I think we can all agree that these cheesy vintage Valentines are “out of this world.” Featuring retro robots, vintage astronauts, and cheesy messages, these images are a nostalgic reminder of exchanging Valentines in elementary school. In addition to a nice trip down memory lane, many of these Valentines are perfect to print out and give to your beloved for a day of retro love.
This lady astronaut proclaims “You are out of this world!” (At least she’s dressed practically for space travel!)
A couple years ago, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a line of retro-style travel posters known as “Visions of the Future.” These vintage style posters were gorgeous imaginings of traveling to distant planets and systems. (The posters are available for free download here.) Like many vintage sci-fi fans, I fell absolutely in love with these imaginative posters advertising opportunities to travel to places I’d dreamed of, like Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.
I have such a sweet spot for retro-style art, especially advertising and illustrations from the 1950s and 60s. It’s not surprising that when I saw the covers for these ABC books illustrated by Greg Paprocki, they caught my eye.
The holiday shopping season is upon us and all the ads and websites pushing toys and gadgets for this year make me feel like we’re living in a technological dystopia. From the kid’s Think and Learn Smart Cycle that just looks like training for Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” to the FrontRow Wearable Lifestyle Camera that brings the surveillance state to your own body, I am missing simpler times. And of course, the simpler time I’m missing is from before I was born.
Tin toys first came into existence in the mid 19th century as a substitute for wooden toys. They were cheap to make from durable tinplate, manufactured in Germany originally and then in the US in the early 1900s. Once World War II started, the materials needed to produce the toys were diverted for the war effort and Japan became the main manufacturer of tin toys through the 1950s. After that, plastic toys became all the rage because they were cheaper to manufacture and easily met new government safety regulations. (Read all about their history on Wikipedia.)
Many parents and grandparents remember their tin toys fondly, especially the space and robot-themed toys that remain popular among vintage collectors today. Luckily, there are many retro-style tin toys still being manufactured today that are affordable for regular consumers looking for a little nostalgia. Good for kids, collectors, or a meaningful gift for Dad or Grandad, let’s take a walk down memory lane and enjoy these retro sci-fi themed tin toys.
Robby the Robot Inspired Tin Toy
One of the most famous robots from the 1950s and 60s, this tin toy is based on Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. While it’s also available in red, the black version looks the most like the classic robot. This is a wind-up toy, but it’s meant for collectors to display rather than for children to play with. Continue reading “20 Retro Scifi Tin Toys to Take You Back to Simpler Days”
Starting in the 1950s, World Editions (an Italian publishing company) decided they wanted to break into the US market with a new sci-fi magazine. They create Galaxy Science Fiction which became a leading SF magazine of the time. The magazine was published monthly from October 1950 until its end in 1980. (You can read more about the history of the magazine on Wikipedia.) Continue reading “Vintage Magazine Galaxy Science Fiction Available Free Online”
Cartoonist Dan DeCarlo is most famous for his beloved characters created under the Archie Comics name, like Josie & the Pussycats or Betty and Veronica. Less known is the short-lived retro-futuristic comic book Jetta of the 21st Century. Released over three issues in 1952-1953, this comedic teen comic followed the exploits of teen girl Jetta Raye as she attended Neutron High School. Unfortunately, most of her problems revolved around her boyfriend Arky’s infidelity, with occasional bouts of technology gone awry.
Set 100 years in the future in 2052, the comic focuses on new gadgets and “a new kind of teenage talk.” Reading it now, this futuristic slang feels completely dated but deliciously fun if you love this kind of retro stuff.
Many people of my generation (and the previous one) are nostalgic about Disney, whether they have memories from going to Disneyland as a child, watching Disney Specials on TV, or fondly recalling the animated movies of your childhood. For me, though, most of my Disney nostalgia has to do with Walt Disney’s futurism, which all happened long before I was born.
This independent documentary by CM Films called Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: The Futurism of Walt Disney dives deep into the technologies Walt Disney used and developed over the course of his life. They cover his animation technology, his educational TV shows, and even the experimental city he originally envisioned EPCOT to be. The film utilizes vintage archival footage that any retrofuturist will love, while exploring the history of Disney’s visions and developments through expert interviews from people who worked on the projects.
The full-length documentary is available to stream for free on Youtube:
If you’re not as interested in the history of Walt’s animation achievements, the documentary starts discussing the development, construction, and early days of Disneyland at 48:30, and the futurism of Tomorrowland in the park and the TV show at 58:00. This section talks about how the TV show was designed to be “science factual” to show viewers technology in development and how we would travel in space. There’s beautiful vintage footage of these retrofuturist visions from the “Man in Space” TV program. Check out some awesome screencaps below:
I was browsing Pinterest when I saw this photograph that immediately caught my eye. I’m obsessed with retrofuturist predictions about homes, especially kitchens. In the 1950s and 60s, kitchens were still considered “the woman’s domain,” and most of the technology predicted for women was in this arena. We’ve often seen the smart kitchen with computers managing diet and perfectly prepared food emerging from hidden appliances. But rarely do we see what amazing technological predictions they had for cleaning the floor.
So this was a little more than a prediction, more like an invention that was ahead of its time. This robot floor cleaner was patented in 1957 by Donald G Moore. Controlled by a central console, you only need to press a button and the little robot appears and buzzes around just like the Roomba. It uses similar sensor technology and follows a preprogrammed path around the room so that the entire room is cleaned. One way it differs from the the Roombas on the market today, is one floor unit both vacuums and “mops.” Also, the design on the original is charming but very dated. Continue reading “Retrofuture Come True: The Roomba Predicted in 1959”
This vintage advertisement from 1958 features a vision of your personal flying car, and if you’re still waiting for this one with bated breath, don’t worry they’re working on it!
The advertisement, paid for by American’s Independent Electric Light and Power Companies, brags about how electricity will play a part in the higher standards of living thanks to the technology of the future.
One of their predictions is right on the money, since now children can “dial a library book, a lecture or a classroom demonstration right into your home–with sound.” (I don’t know that kids are much more interested in doing homework though.)
The rest of the predictions have not panned out: dishes washed without soap or water! Beds made at the touch of a button! And of course, the Jetson-style flying saucer car that plugs into any electric outlet for recharging.