"Metropolis" the film and its Influence

The why's of how the 1927 silent movie Metropolis influenced Science Fiction and future films.

Lisa J. Hogan

9/1/20232 min read

Metropolis and its Influence on Science Fiction

and Future Film

Released in 1927, Fritz Lang's trailblazing film "Metropolis" is based on the 1925 novel by his then wife Thea von Harbou. It stars Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and Brigitte Helm. “Metropolis” remains a timeless masterpiece that not only defined an era of cinema but also set the stage for countless future films. Through its revolutionary visual effects, thematic depth, and visionary storytelling, "Metropolis" left an indelible mark on the film industry and continues to influence filmmakers to this day.

Set in a dystopian future, the film depicted a futuristic sprawling urban dystopian city divided into distinct classes: the wealthy elite who lived in luxury above ground and the oppressed working-class toiling in subterranean factories. Freder, the wealthy son of the city master, and Maria, a saintly figure to the workers, attempt to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes in their city and bring the workers together. The film's sets, designed by Erich Kettelhut, were monumental in scale and complexity, creating a strikingly stunning depiction of a futuristic urban landscape. Miniatures, elaborate sets, and pioneering special effects were used to bring the world of "Metropolis" to life, creating a optically stunning depiction of a futuristic urban landscape.
Metropolis saw a mixed reception. Critics found it optically beautiful and powerful with its futuristic design and gothic styled scenes. Some critics accused its story of being naïve, silly, trite, and its politics communistic.

However, the influence of Metropolis" helped pioneer the science fiction genre, inspiring future filmmakers to explore dystopian societies, technological advancements, and their impact on humanity. The film's exploration of the dangers of unchecked industrialization and social inequality set a template for many science fiction narratives that followed. The film's innovative use of visual effects and intricate set design had a far-reaching impact on the aesthetics of cinema. Filmmakers started experimenting with elaborate sets, special effects, and miniatures to create immersive worlds, paving the way for iconic films like "Blade Runner," "Star Wars," “The Fifth Element,” "The Matrix” and many more. The Art deco movement of the time informed the appearance of the city. "Metropolis" also embraced the German Expressionist style, characterized by distorted architecture, dramatic lighting, and abstract visuals. "Metropolis" imagery has made a lasting impression on popular culture. The iconic image of Maria, the film's android-like character, has been referenced and parodied in countless films and TV shows, as well as the “Mad Scientist”, showcasing the lasting impact of the film.

"Metropolis" is evidence of the creative possibilities of film and the power of vivid storytelling. Its influence on future films is immense, shaping the visual language of science fiction, dystopian narratives, and cinematic spectacles. Fritz Lang's masterpiece not only displayed the technical advancements of its time, but also highlighted the timeless themes that continue to resonate with audiences today. As filmmakers continue to draw inspiration from it, "Metropolis" remains a guiding light that shines a path toward new and impactful storytelling in the world of books and cinema.

“Metropolis” is now regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. It is ranked 35th in Sight & Sound's 2012 critics' poll. In 2001, they inscribed the film on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, the first film to be distinguished.

On 1 January 2023, the film's United States copyright expired, entering it into the public domain.

It is an awe-inspiring silent movie and I highly recommend it for an afternoon when you can pop some popcorn and cuddle up on the couch with your beverage of choice.