Tesla (2020 film)

Tesla is a 2020 American biographical drama film written and directed by Michael Almereyda. It stars Ethan Hawke as Nikola Tesla. Eve Hewson, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jim Gaffigan, and Kyle MacLachlan also star.[3]

Tesla 2020 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Almereyda
Written byMichael Almereyda
Produced by
CinematographySean Price Williams
Edited byKathryn J. Schubert
Music byJohn Paesano
Distributed byIFC Films
Release dates
  • January 27, 2020 (2020-01-27) (Sundance)
  • August 21, 2020 (2020-08-21) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$459,051[2]

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2020, and was released in selected theaters and via Premium VOD on August 21, 2020, by IFC Films.


The narrator tells how Nikola Tesla saw electricity when petting his cat. In 1884 New York City, adult Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), who doesn't seem to regard Tesla highly. He is told by a coworker that it may be because Edison's wife had just died. They get into a work confrontation and smash ice cream cones in each other's faces.

The narrator, revealed to be Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), appears with a laptop, saying that this probably is not how this happened. She tells when you Google Tesla, you get many results, but only three or four photos, and proceeds to tell more about his past and how he had his first flash of the motor he would invent. She notes when you google Edison, you get twice the results.

The narrator explains his previous troubles and financial poverty until he is finally able to pitch his idea to people who will pay him more than Edison. The narrator tells how Edison meets his second wife Mina (Hannah Gross) in 1885. Tesla continues work on his induction motor, assisted by his friend Anthony Szigeti from Budapest (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).

They reveal their spark-less motor to high praise, and Tesla eventually meets Anne, the daughter of JP Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz). Tesla presents his findings, and George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan) buys the patents. Tesla is brought to Pittsburgh to oversee production. Westinghouse updates Tesla on the rivalry between Edison's findings and Tesla's, Edison insists on his for the matters of execution. Edison says direct current is better and dismisses Tesla's alternating current.

Szigeti shows Tesla an invention he discovered, a compass, only to be told by Tesla that someone had beaten him to it, and he leaves town to seek other fortunes. Meanwhile, William Kemmler becomes the first person to be executed with electric induction. Edison blames the doctors. Tesla begins dating Anne – despite her father being one of Edison's funders.

After the World's Fair in 1893 is powered by Westinghouse/Tesla's machines, everyone sees Tesla's alternating current as highly viable. Edison meets with Tesla and admits he was wrong and asks him to work together. The narrator comes over and says the meeting never happened, and that Edison never admitted he was wrong and they never reconciled.

Westinghouse tells Tesla that Edison is sunk, but that their business is still failing, and that they need a JP Morgan-like merger. If Westinghouse pays Tesla what he is owed, he will be bankrupt. The only merger he could get requires Tesla to give up his horsepower clause, but then the entire country will be using his machines. Tesla chooses to tear up their contract and to go forward with the merger.

The famous traveling actress Sarah Bernhardt (Rebecca Dayan) performs her act and everyone goes to see her. After the performance, Tesla is attracted to Sarah, concerning Anne. Tesla and Edison have an uncomfortable and tense run-in where Edison is bitter and resentful of Tesla's success. Edison leaves with Sarah's group.

After discussing Tesla's work with her father, he asks whether Tesla is seeking an investor or a wife. Shortly after, Tesla tells Anne he is planning on moving to Colorado. There, he begins work developing the Tesla coil. Its debut is impressive and unsettling, blowing up the local generator, which Tesla offers to pay for.

Tesla once again sees Sarah when her tour comes through town and the two have an attraction. Tesla then presents his discoveries to JP Morgan showing him all the advantages his machines can provide. He is skeptical and doesn't like Tesla much, but invests 100,000 dollars into Tesla's work.

The narrator reveals Edison got out of the electricity business and goes into mining – which ends up in failure and loses him four million dollars. After Tesla gives an interview saying his equipment is picking up signals that could be from Mars, Anne confronts him about this idea, telling him that her father reads his interviews.

Tesla goes to Morgan to ask for more money; he is skeptical that Tesla's research is not going anywhere. Tesla explains he is developing technology to map brain waves. Morgan, who is playing tennis with Anne, dismisses him. In a fantasy sequence, Tesla sings “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”.

The narrator Anne asks Tesla if he remembers her face when she realized it was hopeless between them. She moves to the French countryside and starts working on creating health services and camps for children. She explains that Tesla outlives Edison, Westinghouse, Bernhardt, and Morgan and dies alone at 87. She says that maybe he overreached, or maybe the world we live in is one that Tesla dreamed first.



In February 2018, it was announced Ethan Hawke had joined the cast of the film, with Michael Almereyda directing from a screenplay he wrote.[4] The script was an updated form of the first feature he ever wrote, a Tesla biopic originally optioned to Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski that was never made. Almereyda "reinvented it for the present moment" adding details about Tesla that had been published since then and including changes based on other influences such as director Derek Jarman and author Henry James.[5]


Tesla had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2020, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Award.[6] Shortly after, IFC Films acquired distribution rights to the film and released it in selected theaters and via Premium VOD on August 21, 2020.[7]


Box office and VODEdit

Tesla grossed $93,147 in the United States and Canada,[8] and $365,904 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $459,051.[2] It made $42,165[2][8] from 108 theaters in its opening weekend.[9] That same weekend the film was the second-most rented on Apple TV,[10] before finishing 10th at Apple TV and ninth on Spectrum the following weekend.[11]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 58% based on 178 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Appropriately bold and ambitious, Tesla takes a number of risks that don't always pay off -- but Ethan Hawke's performance makes those flaws easier to forgive."[12] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[13]


  1. ^ "Tesla". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Tesla (2020)". Box Office Mojo. IMDbPro. Retrieved November 1, 2021.
  3. ^ Tesla|Sundance Film Festival|Consequence of Sound
  4. ^ Ritman, Alex (February 12, 2018). "Ethan Hawke to Play Nikola Tesla in Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  5. ^ Hipes, Patrick (July 10, 2020). "'Tesla' Trailer: Ethan Hawke Plugs In To Iconic Scientist In Michael Almereyda's Biopic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  6. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (December 4, 2019). "Sundance Unveils Female-Powered Lineup Featuring Taylor Swift, Gloria Steinem, Abortion Road Trip Drama". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  7. ^ Lang, Brent (April 6, 2020). "IFC Films Buys Ethan Hawke Drama 'Tesla' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Tesla (2020) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved November 1, 2021.
  9. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (August 22, 2020). "'Unhinged' Sees Increased Business On Saturday For $4M Opening As Exhibition Turns Lights Back On". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  10. ^ The Vanished Topped New VOD Releases|IndieWire
  11. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (August 31, 2020). "'Bill & Ted Face the Music' Tops Multiple VOD Charts as Chadwick Boseman Films Soar". IndieWire. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  12. ^ "Tesla (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  13. ^ "Tesla Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 18, 2020.

External linksEdit