Who said it? Ethan Hawke’s ‘Tesla’ or Tesla-worshipping Elon Musk?

A new arthouse biopic reveals so much about the figure who inspired Elon Musk’s car company, one might have difficulty telling the two inventors apart.

Who said it? Ethan Hawke’s ‘Tesla’ or Tesla-worshipping Elon Musk?
[Photos: courtesy of IFC Films (Hawke); Flickr user Daniel Oberhaus (Musk); TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay]

Google wasn’t around in the days of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, but it proves a useful mechanism for telling the two men apart.


In the boringly titled new biopic Tesla, starring a dour Ethan Hawke, the action is occasionally broken up by anachronistic narration from the future. In a couple such instances, the narrator character, Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), compares the Google search results of the two inventors, with Edison having nearly double the amount of results as Tesla at 65 million. (Double-checking the movie’s findings reveals that Edison has 68 million to Tesla’s 56 million, an impressive edge still, but nowhere near double.)

Considering how much better at self-promotion Edison was than Tesla, it’s something of a surprise that the latter is whom noted egomaniac Elon Musk named his car company after.

“It’s a sociological fact that Elon Musk took the Tesla name and launched Nikola Tesla into the stratosphere,” Marc Seifer, author of Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla told the Seattle Times a few years ago, giving short shrift to the band Tesla, David Bowie’s performance as Nikola Tesla in 2006’s The Prestige, and, you know, the invention of the alternating current motor (which literally puts the AC in AC/DC).

As Musk himself said in a 2008 interview, Tesla deserves “a little more play than he gets in current society,” but “on balance, I’m a bigger fan of Edison than Tesla . . . Edison brought his stuff to market and made those inventions accessible to the world.”

Knowing the public-facing Elon Musk, nothing makes more sense than the fact that he would value Tesla’s scientific contributions more than Edison’s but admire Edison more overall, for his marketing savvy.


Musk is much closer in grandiosity to Edison, who is known and beloved by history, than to Tesla, who was on the cover of Time magazine in 1931 but died a poor man in 1943, after years of projects falling apart over financial difficulties. Like Tesla, Musk is responsible for advancing critical technologies like easy electronic payments (PayPal), electric cars (Tesla), and the ability to make Tom Cruise movies in space (SpaceX).

Like Edison, though, his ego may ultimately hinder him.

Musk’s ego manifests in a lot of ways, whether it’s mistakenly assuming he has his finger on the youth pulse, smoking a blunt with Joe Rogan, making a bunch of embarrassing predictions about coronavirus that endanger his workers’ safety, starting a dating site exclusively for owners of his electric cars, and going to court over accusations of pedophilia at heroic strangers for no reason.

Watching the new Tesla movie, however, which is out on VOD today, one can see why this inventor made an impression on Musk as well. As played by a middle-parted, husky-voiced Ethan Hawke, Nikola Tesla always carries himself like he’s deeply pained to be doing whatever it is he’s doing—the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon—though he’s similar to the more upbeat Musk in that they both have the utmost conviction in the significance and boldness of their own ideas.

In fact, the two are so similar in that regard, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the pair’s words apart.


Have a look below at 11 quotes that originated with either the cinematic version of Nikola Tesla, or his outlandish modern-day acolyte, Elon Musk, and see if you can tell from whence they came.

  1. “The principles I have discovered will cause a revolution so great that almost all values and all human relations will be profoundly modified.”
  2. “I believe that I may be the first person who has ever heard the sound of one planet greeting another.”
  3. “That [device] will do the work of the world. It will set men free.”
  4. “The ancient Egyptians were amazing, but if aliens built the pyramids, they would’ve left behind a computer or something.”
  5. “The best machine is the one with the fewest parts.”
  6. “Aliens built the pyramids obvi.”
  7. “I see machines as an extension of people, not the opposite of people.”
  8. “Is nature a gigantic cat, and if so: who strokes its back?”
  9. “There’s a billion-to-one chance we’re living in base reality.”
  10. “All my dreams are true.” [In response to someone else describing something that might make all of one’s dreams come true.]
  11. “Oh btw I’m building a cyborg dragon”










Answer key

  1. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  2. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  3. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  4. Elon Musk in a tweet.
  5. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  6. Elon Musk in a tweet.
  7. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  8. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  9. Elon Musk on stage at Recode‘s Code Conference.
  10. Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) in the movie Tesla.
  11. Elon Musk in a tweet.