On-Screen Tesla: The Maverick Genius in Films & Television

‘I don’t care that they stole my idea …  I care that they don’t have any of their own.’


David Bowie as Tesla in The Prestige (2006)


Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the Serbian-American engineer has been depicted in science fiction, a genre which is well suited to address his inventions; while often exaggerated, and the fictionalized variants build mostly upon his fantastic ideas. A popular, growing fixation among science fiction, comic book, and speculative history storytellers is to portray Tesla as a member of some secret society, along with other luminaries of science. The impacts of the technologies invented by Nikola Tesla are also a recurring theme in the steampunk genre of alternate technology science-fiction. A troubled genius, the real-life ‘steampunk’ inventor Nikola Tesla will soon be depicted on our screens by indie fave Ethan Hawke. 


Tesla’s Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island in 1904


But…and you know this is coming…it’s far from the first time Tesla has been a character in the movies or TV.  Oh, no, not by a long chalk. Let’s take a look at some depictions of the man, some as recently as January 2020:


Dr Who: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror (2020, Goran Višnjic):

Nikola Tesla Meets the Doctor | Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror | Doctor Who

The Current War (2019, Nicholas Hoult):

The Current War “Tesla, Edison” clip l Out Now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download

The Tesla World Light (2017, Robert Vilar)

The Tesla World Light

Sanctuary (2008-11, Jonathon Young seasons 1-4):

Nikola Tesla - Sanctuary - One Liners

The Prestige (2006, David Bowie):

tesla dialoge -- the prestige (2006)

The Secret of Nikola Tesla (1980, Petar Božović ) badly dubbed – entire movie:

The Secret of Nikola Tesla (1980)

Tesla & The Bellboy (2008 short, Laurence Cantor):

Tesla & the Bellboy

The Murdoch Mysteries: The Tesla Effect (2010, Dmitry Chepovetsky):

Family Guy (2011, appearance only)

Family Guy Edison vs Tesla

Funny or Die (2010, John C. Reilly)

Drunk History vol. 6 w/ John C. Reilly & Crispin Glover



What’s the appeal of Nikola Tesla? Manifold in my opinion. A neglected genius who was ahead of his time, a man ripped off by inferior rivals, someone with multiple mental issues (a la The Good Doctor) who died in relative poverty, alone in a New York hotel room.


A tragic enigma.


Tesla with his “magnifying transmitter”



‘Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves.’

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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'