Steelpunk focuses on the technologies that had their heyday in the late 20th century. It has been described as being characterized by hardware over software, the real world over the virtual world, and mega-technology over nanotechnology; rather than grown, printed or programmed, artifacts in steelpunk are built (typically with rivets).

Examples include films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and Snowpiercer (2013), as well as those in the Mad Max, Tankgirl, Terminator, and Robocop film franchises; stories centered on comic book characters Barb Wire, Iron Man, and Stainless Steel Rat; and Heinlein juveniles novels.