From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Retro-futurism)
Jump to: navigation, search
Detail of Superbia (1577) by Bruegel, science fiction avant-la-lettre
Detail of Superbia (1577) by Bruegel, science fiction avant-la-lettre

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Retro-futurism, retrofuturism or retro-future (terms combining "retro" and "futurism" or "future") can refer to two distinct concepts:

  • A return to, and an enthusiasm for, the depictions of the future produced in the past (most often the early through mid 20th century), both in science fiction and in nonfiction futurism of the time, which often seem dated by modern standards.

This article focuses entirely on the first definition.

The word retrofuturism was coined by Lloyd Dunn in 1983, according to a fringe art magazine published from 1989-1993.


Characteristics and examples

The setting of retro-futuristic stories is sometimes a utopian society; its spirit of optimism and embracing of the status-quo is a contrast with cyberpunk, although in many cases the utopianism is presented in an intentionally ironic or campy light.

Retro-futuristic stories need not always be set in the future; in some cases they may be set in alternate versions of the past in which the dreams of science fiction writers and illustrators were a reality, as with the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, set in an alternate 1939. Some also use "retro-futurism" to describe stories set in a largely recognizable past or present, but in which during the course of the story some "futuristic" technology reminiscent of older science fiction stories is introduced by a brilliant inventor or alien species, as in The Rocketeer or The Iron Giant.

Some steampunk works can be seen as retro-futurism, based on a 19th-century vision of futuristic technology. However, in many cases steampunk involves steam-powered versions of more advanced technologies that we know about today but which did not figure in 19th-century visions of the future, such as the mechanical computers of The Difference Engine, whereas retro-futurism typically is based on the visions of actual science fiction of the time.

There are also many works which take styles and genres of past eras and place them in a futuristic setting, such as the Old West elements in Firefly or the 1940s film noir elements in Blade Runner, but these would not generally be seen as retro-futuristic because they are not based on a specific past era's vision of the future.

Notable filmic precursors

These films and cartoons have heavily influenced the visual styles of retro-futurism.

Retro-futuristic films/television

Notable literary precursors

Retro-futuristic music videos

Design and arts

A great deal of attention is drawn to fantastic machines, buildings, cities, and transportation systems. The futuristic design ethic of the early 20th century tends to solid colors, streamlined shapes, and mammoth scales. It might be said that 20th century futuristic vision found its ultimate expression in the development of googie or populuxe design. As applied to fiction, this brand of retro-futuristic visual style is also referred to as Raygun Gothic.

Notable artists


main:Googie architecture

Retro-futurism has appeared in some examples of postmodern architecture. In the example seen at right, the upper portion of the building is not intended to be integrated with the building but rather to appear as a separate object - a huge flying saucer-like space ship only incidentally attached to a conventional building. This appears intended not to evoke an even remotely possible future, but rather a past imagination of that future, or a reembracing of the futuristic vision of googie architecture.

Books on retro-futurism

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Retrofuturism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools