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.
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”
I love a raygun as much as the next person, but this one may be just a little too weird for me. Behold: a nose trimmer that looks like an Atomic Raygun. It’s actually a nose and ear hair trimmer, but the cool part of it is that it looks just like a retro-style atomic raygun.
It seems really awkward to use since you have to hold it like a raygun and all, but all the reviews on it are pretty good. People not only love the novelty of it, but it seems to do a good job of removing unwanted hairs from your nose and ears. This is definitely the kind of thing that makes a fun gag gift and would look cool displayed in a bathroom. Continue reading “Get Rid of Unwanted Hairs with the Atomic Trimmer”
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.
I love rayguns. Not because I’m super into weaponry, but because I love a beautifully designs atompunk stylized raygun. Most often I only see them on magazine and book covers, relegated only to the imaginations of the past. But then I saw these amazing rayguns by Ryan Nagata and realized those imagined gadgets can actually be real. Well, as real as a replica.
Ryan is a director and artist living in Los Angeles. He makes many props and replicas, including some realistic Apollo space suits. As a part of 3F Studios he works with his collaborator George Edelman to make short films and web content.
Their stuff is impressive and definitely worth checking out if you’re into cosplay. I’m just amazed by these beautiful rayguns. Most are Ryan’s original design and he makes them because he loves the process of designing and building them. Unfortunately, they are not for sale, but you can check out this video of Adam Savage’s TESTED where he checks out these awesome pieces and learns more about Ryan’s process.
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.
I found this gem of a retrofuturistic movie clip today from the 1958 German film Bühne frei für Marika (translated to Stage Free for Marika). The musical comedy stars German triple-threat Marika Rökk as a former dancer who has recently divorced her husband and is trying to re-start her career. The only plot summary I could find was in German, and even with Google Translate it was a little tricky to figure out how this video comes into play, though it seems she’s starring in a sci-fi themed musical.
The clip is of a song called Mir ist so Langweilig (translated to: I’m so Bored). In it Marika is an alien girl living on a planet entirely populated by portly men with antenas on their heads. And they are boring. As she laments her uneventful existence, she notices through her telescope the awesome fun dance party people are having on Earth and takes off in a rocket to join in the fun. Continue reading “A Bored Alien Travels to Earth in a 1958 German Musical”