Nikola Tesla in Film and TV

Nikola Tesla had a major impact on the development of the modern technological age. His influence and legacy remain pervasive and enduring. His life and inventions have been the subject of movies and of television series. He has also been the subject of plays such as Tesla, An Evening with Genius written by J. Michael Newlight and Frank Tabbita and ‘The Dangers of Electric Lighting” by Ben Clawson. Nikola Tesla has appeared as a historical figure and as a fictionalized character.

Two new movies have been planned to chronicle his life and impact. One is Tesla, Ruler of the World by Serbian screenwriter Vladimir Rajcic and Oscar-winning Croatian producer Branko Lustig, who won Oscars for Schindler’s List and Gladiator. Christian Bale is slated to play Nikola Tesla. Rade Serbedzija and Lolita Davidovich are also part of the cast. This movie was announced in February, 2011. The movie is in the pre-production stage.

Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla as portrayed by Miro Besic in a scene from the trailer for the film Fragments from Olympus: A Vision of Nikola Tesla (2013).

A second movie featuring Nikola Tesla is Fragments from Olympus: The Vision of Nikola Tesla (2013), starring Miro Besic as Nikola Tesla, Leo Rossi as Henry, and Sean Young as Dorothy Skerrit and directed by Joseph Sikorski. In this fictionalized account set during World War II, the FBI seeks to seize the papers on the particle beam research experiments conducted by Nikola Tesla to develop a “death ray”. The production company is Colossal Molehill Productions. The screenplay is by Joseph Sikorski and Michael Calomino which is based on declassified U.S. documents and the life of Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla makes this statement from the screenplay: “Let the future tell the truth. The present is theirs. The future is mine.”

Nikola Tesla has been portrayed in both films and in TV during the last 40 years. He has been portrayed by actors ranging from Yugoslavian-born Rade Serbedzija to musician David Bowie and comedy actor John C. Reilly.

David Bowie played Nikola Tesla in the 2006 film The Prestige directed by Christopher Nolan which starred Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine. Hugh Jackman, as magician Robert Angier, goes to see Nikola Tesla at his Colorado Springs laboratory, which is shown encircled by a high-voltage electric fence.

Serbian actor Petar Bozovic played Nikola Tesla in the 1980 Yugoslavian film Tajna Nikole Tesle, The Secret of Nikola Tesla, which co-starred Orson Welles as J. P. Morgan, Strother Martin as George Westinghouse, Dennis Patrick as Thomas Edison, and Oja Kodar as Catherine Johnson. The film documents his life and career from the time of his arrival in the U.S. up to the construction of the Wardenclyffe Tower which was financed by J. P. Morgan. This film was directed by Krsto Papic and was produced by Zagreb Film.

Jon Barker played Nikola Tesla in the play “The Dangers of Electric Lighting” by Ben Clawson as featured in the November 5, 2011 New York Times with James Glossman as Thomas Edison: “Edison and Tesla Spat in ‘The Dangers of Electric Lighting’. A War of Currents and Rival Geniuses. Ben Clawson’s “The Dangers of Electric Lighting” details the marketing battle between Thomas Edison and his former employee Nikola Tesla.”

Jon Barker is on the right as Nikola Tesla with James Glossman as rival Thomas Alva Edison.

Ukrainian-born actor Dmitry Chepovetsky, right, played Nikola Tesla in the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries which debuted in 2008. The series is set in Toronto during the 1890s.

John C. Reilly played Nikola Tesla in the Drunk History TV series created by Derek Waters which debuted in 2007. He was featured in Volume 6 in Season 2 in 2010. “On January 7th Duncan Trussell drank a six pack of beer … then a half a bottle of absinthe … and then he discussed an historical event …” Crispin Glover was Thomas Edison. Craig Anstett was Mark Twain. Jeremy Konner was the director. “Tesla was the electric Jesus.”

David de Vries appeared in the 2009 film Megahertz (MHz) by Anam Cara Productions as Nikola Tesla. Royce Mann played Nikola Tesla as a youth, the Young Tesla. The film features Jordan Graye as disc jockey Brigh Montgomery who meets Nikola Tesla in the afterlife. The film examines the emergence of radio and how it impacted both of their lives. The movie was directed by Lee Pepper. The screenplay was written by Jordan Graye with Eddy Von Mueller. Knight Berman, Jr. composed the score for the film, A Score for Tesla: Music from the film Megahertz. The movie was shot in Atlanta, Georgia.

Rade Serbedzija played Nikola Tesla in a 10 part Yugoslavian mini-series from 1977 entitled Nikola Tesla produced by Televizija Zagreb. The series was directed by Eduard Galic and written by Ivica Ivanec. Ljuba Tadic played J. P. Morgan, Petar Bozovic played Sava Kosanovic, while Thomas Alva Edison was played by Boris Buzancic.

Tygh Runyan was Nikola Tesla in the 2008 film My Inventions directed by Robert Holbrook. The 2008 Nikola Tesla biopic My Inventions is a short and succint portrayal of Nikola Tesla as a youth and in old age.

John Burnside was the Elder Nikola Tesla in the 2008 film short My Inentions written and directed by Robert Holbrook.

Laurence Cantor, right, was Nikola Tesla in the 2008 black and white film short Tesla & the Bellboy directed by Timothy Ziegler. Tesla & the Bellboy is a short film on Nikola Tesla during his final years in his New York City apartment. He is confronted with “The Bill” in his hotel room. He shows the bellboy the death ray that he has developed.

Gary Marzolf played Nikola Tesla in the 2009 film Tesla the Accumulator directed by Emil Novak. A trailer for Tesla the Accumulator (2009) was released. This fantasy film is a mix of the real life of Nikola Tesla and American gothic horror. It is based on The Accumulator, a comic by Queen City Bookstore owner Emil Novak. The film was made in Buffalo, New York.

In Tesla: Tripping the Light Electric (2000), Nikola Tesla was played by Gregory Wagrowski in a film short directed by Lance Acord.

Finnish actor Tuomas Hiltunen played Nikola Tesla in the 2005 film short The Visionary*- (*Tesla} written and directed by Joel Shapiro for TriColor Films.

Swiss-born actor Gian Franco Tordi, above, played Nikola Tesla in the whimsical 2009 sci-fi fantasy film short Tesla the Superman written and directed by Robert Terry produced by Rings of Saturn Entertainment. The plot centers around the construction of the Wardenclyffe Tower and the fire that destroyed his laboratory. The plot conflates the two events which were two distinct events separated by several years. Mark Twain is played by Michael Wise. Nikola Tesla is quoted: “There’s a significant difference between Superman and myself, and only one: Superman doesn’t exist. … The future belongs to me.” According to the script, Nikola Tesla was the model for the “mad scientist” who seeks to destroy Metropolis with an energy canon in the 1941 Superman cartoon film short directed by Max Fleischer. The focus was on the Death Ray or Death-Beam that Nikola Tesla was supposed to have invented. After his death, the FBI seized his documents concerned that they may fall into enemy hands.

Serbian actor Svetozar Cvetkovic portrayed Nikola Tesla  in a 1993 Yugoslav TV movie produced by Radiotelevizija Beograd (RTB) directed by Slavoljub Stefanovic-Ravasi entitled Tesla.

Miodrag Miki Krstovic, above, portrayed Nikola Tesla in the 2001 Yugoslav TV movie Tesla ili prilagodjavanje andjela produced by Radiotelevizija Beograd (RTB). The entire film consists of a dialogue in the form of an interview between Nikola Tesla and a reporter named John Smith, played by Boris Komnenic, in front of a screen and in exterior scenes. The director was Slobodan Z. Jovanovic. The writer was Stevan Pesic. The last segment features a reenactment of scenes from Nikola Tesla’s youth.

Stacy Keach was Nikola Tesla in the TV biopic Tesla: Master of Lightning directed by Robert Uth in 2000 produced by New Voyage Communications.

Nikola Tesla has even been portrayed as a vampire. Canadian actor Jonathon Young played Nikola Tesla as a vampire in the Canadian TV series Sanctuary which premiered in 2008 in Canada, the US, and the UK.

As more and more movies and TV series feature Nikola Tesla, a more accurate and objective evaluation and assessment of his role in the development of the modern technological age will emerge.