Nikola Tesla in popular culture
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) is portrayed in multiple forms of popular culture. The Serbian-American engineer has particularly been depicted in science fiction, which genre is well-suited to address his inventions; 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 impacts 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 become reclusive in the later years of his life. Consequently, although he lived until 1943, audio or film footage of Tesla himself is scant.
- 1 Board games
- 2 Books
- 3 Comics and graphic novels
- 4 Events and holidays
- 5 Film
- 6 Music
- 7 Online
- 8 Radio
- 9 Stage productions
- 10 Television
- 11 Video games
- 12 References
- 13 External links
- 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.
- Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo 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.
- J. Weldon Cobb's novel To Mars With Tesla; or, the Mystery of the Hidden World (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.
- In geomorphologist and author Sesh Heri's novel Wonder of the Worlds (2005), published 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.
- 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), Tesla and Professor Challenger plays major roles.
- Tesla is one of the main characters in The Tesla Legacy, a novel by Australian author Robert G. Barrett (2006). 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.
- In Ron Horsley's Sherlock Holmes novella, The Polyphase-Powered Man (2002).Tesla is the narrator and "Watson proxy".
- 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.
- Tesla plays a key role in the novel The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy (2014) by Cracked.com 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."
- Seth Grahame-Smith's novel The Last American Vampire (2015), Tesla plays a supporting role; he aids the protagonist in the assassination of Rasputin.
- In John Case's thriller Ghost Dancer (2006), 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.
- Some researchers have suggested that the character of Nyarlathotep in H P Lovecraft's short story "Nyarlathotep" (1920), was inspired by Tesla.
Comics and graphic novels
- Howard Chaykin and David Tischman's comic series Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, (2003), shows P. T. Barnum battling Tesla's sinister plans.
- In the eight-issue Serbian comic book series Generation Tesla (1995), created by writer Milan Konjević, and artists Siniša Radović and Zdravko Zupan, 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.
- In Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders' graphic novel The Five Fists of Science (2006), Tesla teams up with Mark Twain to battle Thomas Edison.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Jeff Smith's comic book series Rasl, Tesla's ideas 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.
- Red Giant Entertainment's comic book series Tesla 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.
- 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.
Events and holidays
Nikola Tesla Day
Tesla's birthday, 10 July, has been suggested by some to be World Tesla Day, Nikola Tesla Day, or simply, Tesla Day. Some organizations celebrate Tesla Day informally on 10 July. However, The Tesla Memorial Society wrote letters to several officials asking to commemorate 10 July as international Nikola Tesla Day.
- In 1941, the first of Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons depicted Superman fighting a character named "Mad Scientist", which is very similar to Tesla (a 1999 VHS release of the movie was titled Superman vs. Tesla). They are now in the public domain and can be viewed in various locations, including the Internet Archive.
- The Secret of Nikola Tesla (1980; Serbo-Croatian: Tajna Nikole Tesle), a Yugoslav film directed by Krsto Papić and 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.
- David Bowie portrayed Tesla in the movie The Prestige (2006), in which one of the main characters gets Tesla to develop a remarkable electro replicating device for him.
- An independent Tesla film, 'Fragments from Olympus-The Vision of Nikola Tesla', 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. The story of Wardenclyffe and the effort to save it was the subject of a documentary from the same filmmakers called "Tower to the People-Tesla's Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues."
- Red Giant Entertainment's Benny Powell is working on a film adaptation of the popular comic book.
- Disney's Tomorrowland depicts Nikola Tesla as one of four members (with Thomas Edison, Gustave Eiffel, and Jules Verne) of a group of inventors called Plus Ultra, dedicated to finding dreamers and inventors who wanted to create a better future. Plus Ultra later discovers an alternate dimension in which the titular City of Tomorrow is constructed.
- 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.
- The Human Abstract released the album Midheaven (album), which includes songs referring to Tesla and his struggles.
- 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" are written to Tesla's story and use 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.
- Tesla is the subject of the song "Tesla" by the American band They Might Be Giants which appears on their 2013 album Nanobots.
- Tesla is the last album the polish band Silver Rocket, whose main theme is the inclusion of an underrated scientist's genius (2008).
- 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
- Russian synthpop band Tesla Boy, is named after Tesla.
- In the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History, in season 2, Tesla is depicted in a rap battle against Thomas Edison.
- The Oatmeal, a website created by Matthew Inman, contains a section on "Why Nikola Tesla Was The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived"
- 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.
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's two-act opera Tesla - Lightning in His Hand, about the life and times of Nikola Tesla, 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.
- In 2009, Lee August Praley's The Last Ninety Minutes in the Life of Nikola Tesla premiered at the University of Chicago's University Theatre. The play was directed by Phoebe Holtzman
- In 2010, Jim Jarmusch and the composer Phil Klein began preparing a non-traditional opera about Tesla.
- The opera, Light and Power (2011) 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nikola Tesla (1977), Yugoslav TV series about the life of Nikola Tesla, in 10 episodes. Tesla was played by Rade Šerbedžija.
- 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 a segment of the HBO series Funny Or Die, 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.
- 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.
- Tesla's name was parodied in a 2011 episode of Sesame Street as a grouch professor named Nikola Messla (played by Jason Jones).
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 features in The Order: 1886, and aids the main character in the game set in an alternate history 1886
- 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.
- Virtual World, LLC virtual reality game centers in the 1990s were ostensibly operated by an organization called the Virtual Geographic League, which had been founded in 1897 by Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell with the purpose of exploring other dimensions and alternate futures via "Tesla pods."
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