Nikola Tesla in popular culture

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Nikola Tesla is portrayed in several books, films, comics, and video games. The Serbian-American engineer has particularly been seen in science fiction, where his inventions are well suited; while often exaggerated, the fictionalized variants build mostly upon his own alleged claims or ideas. A popular, growing fixation among science fiction, comic book, and speculative history storytellers is to portray Tesla as a member of a secret society, along with other luminaries of science. The impact of the technologies invented by Nikola Tesla are a recurring theme in the steampunk genre of alternate technology science-fiction.

Tesla was known to have became reclusive in the later years of his life. Consequently, although he lived until 1943, audio or video footage of Tesla himself is scant or non-existent.[1]



To Mars With Tesla; or, the Mystery of the Hidden World by J. Weldon Cobb (1901) is an adventure where Tesla, aided by Young Edison (Thomas Edison's fictional nephew) and a couple of scientists, seeks to communicate with Mars.[2]

Tesla, alongside Professor Challenger, plays a major role in Ralph Vaughan's four Sherlock Holmes/H. P. Lovecraft crossovers, The Adventure of the Ancient Gods (1990) The Adventure of the Dreaming Detective (1992), "The Adventure of the Laughing Moonbeast" (1992) and Sherlock Holmes and the Terror Out of Time (2001).[3][4]

In Generation Tesla (1995), published in Serbia, Tesla evades his own death by transferring himself to another plane of existence. In 2020 he resurrects a number of humans slain by the evil Kobalt, transforming them into superhumans who can counter the threats of such villains. He is founder and mentor of super-hero team Generation Tesla.[5]

In Wonder of the Worlds a novel by geomorphologist and author Sesh Heri published in 2005 by Lost Continent Library, Tesla journeys to Mars with Mark Twain and Harry Houdini to retrieve a stolen crystal and confront Kel, the emperor of the Red Planet, on the eve of the Martian invasion of Earth.

Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo[6] is a comic book series about a robot that was invented by Nikola Tesla, which also features fictionalised representations of other scientists such as Carl Sagan and Thomas Edison.

Tesla is one of the main characters in The Tesla Legacy, a novel by Australian author Robert G. Barrett (2006).[7] In the novel, Tesla builds a 'doomsday machine' hidden in the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales that could disrupt all wireless communication on Earth.

Tesla is the narrator and 'Watson' proxy in Ron Horsley's Sherlock Holmes novelette "The Polyphase-Powered Man" (2002).

Tesla is one of the major characters of Jacek Dukaj's novel Ice.

The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt (2008), is a novel blending fact with fiction. It centers on the relationship between Nikola Tesla and a maid at the New Yorker Hotel.

Tesla is an important supporting character in Christopher Priest's 1995 novel The Prestige (he is portrayed in Christopher Nolan's 2005 film adaptation by David Bowie). In the story, Tesla builds a machine that is intended to enable physical teleportation for use in the stage act of magician Robert Angier. The machine is flawed, and merely creates a duplicate of the original item or person. Tesla improves the machine, but warns Angier to destroy it. His mountain laboratory is destroyed by Edison's henchmen and Tesla is forced to leave Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The novel Goliath by Scott Westerfeld depicts Tesla when the crew of the airship Leviathan come across the blast zone of the Tunguska event. Tesla had come to the site to research the blast and claims it was caused by a weapon created by him, the Goliath. Towards the end of the book it is revealed that the event was caused by a meteor after all, but Tesla was too unhinged to believe it.

Paul Malmont’s novel The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown launches during World War II with a dying Tesla secreting the key to a mysterious device called Wardenclyffe Tower. The tower ultimately excites the interest the staff at the "Philadelphia Experiment" U.S. Navy laboratory. The staff members include Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp.[8]

Tesla plays a key role in the 2014 novel The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy by writer Jacopo della Quercia. Tesla is depicted as a secret engineer for the US government during the Taft administration and is nearly killed after stumbling upon an international conspiracy over his telegraph lines. Several of Tesla's lesser-known inventions, such as the teleautomaton, are featured prominently in the book, as is a fictional taser Tesla develops with Robert Todd Lincoln in the style of Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle—which served as the basis for the taser in real life. Built using a modified Browning Auto-5 shotgun, the weapon is referred to in the book as "Dr. Tesla's Electric Rifle."

Tesla plays a supporting role in the 2015 novel The Last American Vampire, by Seth Grahame-Smith. He aids the protagonist in the assassination of Rasputin.


Some researchers have suggested that the character of Nyarlathotep in H P Lovecraft's 1920 Nyarlathotep short story of the same name was inspired by Tesla.[9]

In John Case's 2006 thriller "Ghost Dancer", an evil genius tries to harness research by Nikola Tesla to build an ultimate weapon. Following his trail, the main protagonist comes to Belgrade and pays a visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum.[citation needed]



Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, (2003) by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, shows P. T. Barnum battling Tesla's sinister plans.[citation needed]

In The Five Fists of Science (2006) a graphic novel by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders, Tesla teams up with Mark Twain to battle Thomas Edison.[citation needed]

The Inventor: The Story of Tesla (2012) written by Ravé Mehta with art by Erik Williams, is a graphic novel based on the story of Nikola Tesla. It begins with Tesla's birth in Smiljan, continues through Tesla's battle with Thomas Edison during the War of Currents, and ends when J.P. Morgan pulls the plug on Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower project. Other major characters in the graphic novel are George Westinghouse, Mark Twain, Guglielmo Marconi, Lord Kelvin, U.S. President Herbert Hoover, and Swami Vivekananda.[10][11]

JLA: Age of Wonder (2003) is a two-issue mini-series from DC Comics' Elseworlds line, in which Superman lands in Kansas in the 1850s and emerges on the world stage at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. He teams up with Edison but ends up working with Tesla, who eventually deploys a death ray during World War I.[12]

In the comic book series Rasl by Jeff Smith, the ideas of Tesla are prominently featured as the foundation of travel between alternate realities. The story also features an alternate take on Tesla's biography and uses his journals as a plot device.[citation needed]

Tesla comic book series produced by Red Giant Entertainment features Nikola Tesla as he uses his greatest inventions to battle against a shadowy organization of the planet's most brilliant minds, who are bent on world domination.[13]

In "Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla" (2014) a 54-issue comic series by John Reilly, Tom Rogers, and Dexter Weeks in which Tesla works with HP Lovecraft to save Amelia Earhart and stop Cthulhu's Awakening.



In 1941, the first of Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons depicted Superman fighting a character named "Mad Scientist", which is very similar to Tesla[14][15] (a 1999 VHS release of the movie was titled Superman vs. Tesla[16]). They are now in the public domain and can be viewed in various locations, including the Internet Archive.[17]

The Secret of Nikola Tesla (Serbo-Croatian: Tajna Nikole Tesle) a 1980 Yugoslav film directed by Krsto Papić, notable for its inclusion of Orson Welles as banking baron J.P. Morgan, touches on Tesla's psychic powers and lost vision of the future.[18]

In 2006 David Bowie portrayed Tesla in the movie The Prestige in which one of the main characters of the film gets Tesla to develop a remarkable electro replicating device for him.

A new Tesla film, Tesla, was scheduled to be shot in Serbia and the US in 2014. The producers of the film made news by using part of their budget to make a $33,333 donation to help save Tesla's Wardenclyffe lab during a crowd-funding campaign started by the popular internet comic known as the Oatmeal.[citation needed]

Red Giant Entertainment's Benny Powell is working on a film adaptation of the popular comic book.[19]



Nikola Tesla (1977), Yugoslav TV series about the life of Nikola Tesla, in 10 episodes. Tesla was played by Rade Šerbedžija.[20]

Phenomenon: The Lost Archives (1998), a television series hosted by Dean Stockwell, Season 1 Episode 14 is an N. Tesla alternative-science documentary titled Lost Lightning: The Missing Secrets of Nicola(sic) Tesla (Apr 1998)

PBS television documentary Master of Lightning, (2000), with accompanying book by Cheney/Uth, and PBS website with historical timelines, teacher lesson plans, etc.

On the Steven Spielberg cartoon Histeria!, Nikola Tesla is featured in an animated piece where he looks and sounds like Christopher Walken.

Tesla was a crucial character in the pilot episode, "Power", of Murdoch Mysteries, and appeared in the last episode of the third season, entitled "The Tesla Effect". He was played on both episodes by Canadian Ukrainian actor Dmitry Chepovetsky.

In Sanctuary, a fictional version of Tesla is revealed to have been transformed into a semi-vampire as a result of being injected with vampire blood. He appears to be one of the primary antagonists of the series' first season, but becomes more friendly later on. He is played by actor Jonathon Young.

In Funny Or Die's HBO series, in a segment called "Drunk History" Duncan Trussell while intoxicated tells a story of Nikola Tesla's life and his encounters with Thomas Edison. Tesla is portrayed in the reenactment by John C. Reilly while Thomas Edison is portrayed by Crispin Glover.

On Season 9 Episode 15 of Family Guy Nikola Tesla was portrayed in cartoon form along with Thomas Edison.


A cartoon version of Tesla is alluded to in the Astrobase Go/Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros., in an episode titled "ORB". In this depiction, Tesla and the Avon Ladies attack the zeppelin of "The Guild" carrying Mark Twain, Eugen Sandow, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley. The Guild is depicted as the precursor of the show's antagonist group, the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Tesla uses in the attack a lighting gun, the "peace ray" that Tesla talked about making later in his life.[citation needed]

Nikola Tesla is a starting point and an inspiration in experimental animated interactive documentary Mechanical Figures by Helena Bulaja. The film presents technological and social development initiated by some of major Tesla’s inventions, from alternating current to radio, and includes interviews with some of the well known artists, scientists and writers who were inspired by Tesla in their work, such as Laurie Anderson, Terry Gilliam, Marina Abramović, Andy Serkis, Douglas Rushkoff, and Christopher Priest, who share their ideas and thoughts about Tesla and creativity.[citation needed]

Tesla's name was parodied in a 2011 episode of Sesame Street as a grouch professor named Nikola Messla (played by Jason Jones).



In episode #11 ("Die Hindenburg") of the German radio play series Offenbarung 23, which deals with conspiracy theories, Tesla, the circumstances of his death and his work with "death ray" weapons play a role.[citation needed]



Tesla is the subject of The Handsome Family's song "Tesla's Hotel Room". The song is featured on the duo's 2006 album Last Days of Wonder.[21]

The Human Abstract released the album "Midheaven (album)" which includes songs referring to Tesla and his struggles.[citation needed]

The electronic dance album RISE[disambiguation needed] (2013) by electro-pop band Renaiszance is themed after The Inventor: The Story of Tesla graphic novel created by Ravé Mehta. The first single and I Will Rise is written to Tesla's story and uses edgy electronic tesla coil sounds and dubstep in the production. RISE is produced by Ravé Mehta and co-written with his sister and Renaiszance lead singer Radha Mehta.[22][23]

Tesla is the subject of the song "Tesla" by the American band They Might Be Giants which appears on their 2013 album Nanobots.[24]

"Tesla" is the title of the last album the polish band Silver Rocket, whose main theme is the inclusion of an underrated scientist's genius (2008).[citation needed]

The rock band Tesla is named after him. They have referenced his life and works a number of times, such as in their debut album Mechanical Resonance (1986), their second album The Great Radio Controversy (1989) and the song "Edison's Medicine" (and accompanying music video), from their 1991 album Psychotic Supper[citation needed]

Russian synthpop band Tesla Boy, is named after Tesla.

Video games[edit]

Tesla's proposal of teleforce weapons and the destructive possibilities of massive electric arcs created by tesla coils have inspired many video game designers to create Tesla weapons and armors.


In the Command & Conquer Red Alert series of video games, Nikola Tesla is a scientist working for the USSR, and "Tesla" is the name of the technology the Soviets use to generate power and for their lightning-based weapons. Perhaps the most widely known example is the Tesla Coil defense structure, capable of sending short electric arcs towards oncoming units, also in their arsenal are Tesla troopers, who carry portable tesla coil based weaponry and tesla tanks, which have a large glowing blue sphere that ejects great bolts of electricity (Red Alert 2 version is a small tracked vehicle with a pair of forward-facing,miniature Tesla coils mounted on a turret).

Nikola Tesla is also one of the characters in the game Martian Dreams, by Origin, which is part of the Worlds of Ultima series.

Tesla is one of the main characters in the game "Dark Void", where he is kept in an alternate universe, like a 'skin' between universes, to which one can travel through the Bermuda Triangle. He uses his great intelligence to create a huge spaceship called the Ark, kept in another, tropical, Earth-like universe called the Void. The Ark can be used by others stranded in the alternate universe to defeat the post-singularity robotic AI that manifests itself as an army of anthropomorphic robots. After defeating the robotic menace, Tesla and the other protagonists return to the 'skin' universe, where Tesla stays to keep his youth and his inventions.


The historical background of the Fallout series of computer games is based on Tesla's inventions all working as expected and as if his physical theories were correct. Tesla Armor has high resistance to laser and plasma weapons. Also, there is a book within the game entitled Nikola Tesla and You, which raises the player's Energy Weapons skill. In "Fallout 3" Tesla armor is some of the strongest armor in the game and is designed with Tesla Coils and a field of electricity around the character.[citation needed]

Live theatre and opera[edit]

A number of live theatrical plays based on Tesla's life have been produced and staged worldwide.


TESLA an opera in progress by Carson Kievman with a libretto by playwright Thomas Babe originated at the Eugene O’Neil Music-Theater Conference in 1986 The libretto for this multimedia work was completed by Babe prior to his death from cancer on December 6, 2000. Two scenes were previewed to great critical success at the 2004 New York City Opera Vox Festival.

The Canadian theatrical company Electric Company Theatre took its stage production Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla on tour first starting in 1996. In August 2007, their production was again listed on their current performance schedule.

The Austin, Texas based theatrical collective Rude Mechanicals created and then produced Kirk Lynn's Requiem For Tesla in January–February 2001, and then presented again at the Fresh Terrain Festival in February 2003

Australian Composer Constantine Koukias wrote his two-act opera Tesla - Lightning in His Hand about the life and times of Nikola Tesla. It premiered at the 10 Days on the Island Festival in Hobart, Tasmania, in 2003.

In 2008 Discovery World, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, premiered Tesla Lives!, a theatrical show about the life and work of Tesla. The show features demonstrations of Tesla coils and a recreation of his 1893 presentation at the World's Columbian Exposition.[25]

In 2009 at the University of Chicago's University Theatre, Lee August Praley's "The Last Ninety Minutes in the Life of Nikola Tesla" premiered. The play was directed by Phoebe Holtzman

In 2010, Jim Jarmusch and the composer Phil Klein began preparing a non-traditional opera about Tesla.[26]

The 2011 opera, Light and Power by American composer Isaac Schankler and librettist Jillian Burcar deals with Tesla's conflicts with Thomas Edison – specifically, their rivalry over AC vs DC power.[27]

In 2013, the Nimbus Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, staged an original play about Telsa's life, titled Tesla. The play was written by Josh Cragun.[28]


Duncan Pflaster's play Sleeping in Tomorrow takes place in several alternative universes, one of which is a universe where Tesla's ideas were celebrated and implemented.[citation needed]

Nikola Tesla Day[edit]

Tesla's birthday, 10 July, has been suggested by some to be the World Tesla Day or the Nikola Tesla Day, or simply, Tesla Day.[29]

Some organizations celebrate Tesla Day informally on 10 July.[30]

The Tesla Memorial Society wrote letters to several officials asking to commemorate 10 July as international Nikola Tesla Day.[31]

Google honored Tesla on his birthday on 10 July 2009 by displaying a Google Doodle in the Google search home page, that showed the G as a Tesla coil.[32][33]


  • In the alternate World War I setting in the board game Tannhäuser, Nikola Tesla is a major figure in the Russian Matriarchy faction, where his inventions have not only been used to create deadly weaponry but also harness the power of other worldly forces.
  • In the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History, in season 2, Tesla is depicted in a rap battle against Thomas Edison.[34]
  • The Oatmeal, a website created by Matthew Inman, containing a section on "Why Nikola Tesla Was The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived"


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  2. ^ "Tesla Memorial Society of New York – "To Mars with Tesla; or, the Mystery of Hidden Worlds", a Science Fiction Tale from 1901, Tesla and the Exploration of Cosmos". 1997-07-04. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  3. ^ "Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Characters – T". 2003-03-01. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  4. ^ "Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Story Summaries – V". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  5. ^ "Generacija Tesla". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  6. ^ "". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  7. ^ "Robert G. Barrett – Trifecta". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  8. ^ Dirda, Michael (2011-07-21). "Books". The Washington Post. 
  9. ^ Will Murray, "Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep", Lovecraft Studies No. 25 (Fall 1991); cited in Robert M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle, p. 9.
  10. ^ "New Comic The Inventor Electrifies Nikola Tesla’s Mad Genius" - Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  11. ^ "Happy 156th Birthday Nikola Tesla! A Conversation With Graphic Novelist Ravé Mehta at Comic-Con" - Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  12. ^ Cached article
  13. ^ "Red Giant Entertainment Reveals First Look of 'Tesla'". May 31, 2013. 
  14. ^ Walter Laqueur (8 July 1999). The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. Oxford University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-19-028361-2. 
  15. ^ Nikola Tesla; David Hatcher Childress (1993). The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla. Adventures Unlimited Press. pp. 247, 248. ISBN 978-0-932813-19-0. 
  16. ^ Charles H. Hapgood (December 1999). Mystery in Acambaro. Adventures Unlimited Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-932813-76-3. 
  17. ^ "Internet Archive: Details: Superman". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  18. ^ Tajna Nikole Tesle (1980)
  19. ^ >
  20. ^ Nikola Tesla (1977)
  21. ^ Murphy, Matthew (July 5, 2006). "The Handsome Family: Last Days of Wonder". Retrieved April 24, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Conversations With José James, Otis Taylor, Erin Boheme and Renaiszance's Radha & Ravé Mehta, Plus an Unknown Component Video" - Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  23. ^ "Renaiszance: A Brother, a Sister, Music, Art + Science" - Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  24. ^ ""Tesla" by They Might Be Giants is Educational and Awesome". Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  25. ^ "Tesla Lives!". Tesla Lives!. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  26. ^ Breihan, Tom (August 20, 2010). "Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch Talks ATP". Retrieved August 20, 2010. 
  27. ^ [1], retrieved 2011-07-02
  28. ^ "'Tesla' review: Illuminating production so stuffed with facts the story gets short-circuited." by Rob Hubbard, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 14, 2013.
  29. ^ "How are you planning to spend your Nikola Tesla Day?". 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  30. ^ "REPORT: Tesla Days and Tesla Science Foundation Conference". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  31. ^ "Nikola Tesla Day". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  32. ^ "Nikola Tesla's Birthday". Google. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  33. ^ Wardrop, Murray (10 July 2009). "Nikola Tesla: Google commemorates birthday of pioneering electrical engineer". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  34. ^ "Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 2.". Retrieved 2013-03-11. 

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