Follow TV Tropes


Film / Metropolis

Go To
"Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many."

Metropolis is a silent 1927 German sci-fi film directed by Fritz Lang. Considered one of the forerunners of the genre, it was at the time one of the most expensive films ever made (it cost a bit over 5 million 1927 reichsmarks, a few tens of millions in current euros or dollars). The plot takes place in the year 2027 note  where society has divided into two sections: the underground lair of the workers and the skyscraper city of the elite. Freder, a member of the city's elite, falls in love with a worker's daughter named Maria, and the class confrontation between them is fueled by Rotwang, a Mad Scientist rival of Freder's father, city ruler Joh Fredersen.

Aside from its progressive storytelling, it is also known for being heavily fragmented, the results of both heavy Bowdlerization in its trip to foreign markets, and of poor preservation techniques back in the '30s (plus a little thing called World War II). For decades, up to 25% of the original footage was considered lost as a result. Several attempts have been made to reconstruct the film, most notably:

  • invoked An 83-minute, color-tinted 1984 restoration by composer Giorgio Moroder, who also wrote a new pop-influenced soundtrack that proved to be highly controversial. It was available on VHS and laserdisc at first, but was later taken out of production due to issues with music licensing. In 2011 Kino International, current holder of the rights to the film, released this cut on home video after successfully sorting out these problems.
  • A restoration commissioned by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in 1998, incorporating footage discovered in film archives around the world and a new recording of the original score. This version had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001 and was released on home video as the "Restored Authorized Edition" in 2003; it runs 124 minutes.
  • The Complete Metropolis, a restoration based on a full copy of the original film that was discovered at a museum in Argentina in 2008. Although heavily damaged, it confirmed the exact running order of scenes, which could only be guessed at in earlier projects. Footage from both this copy and a second one archived in New Zealand was cleaned up as much as possible and integrated into the 2001 version, but two scenes (of a monk preaching and a fight between Rotwang and Fredersen) were too damaged to be of use. This version runs about five minutes short of Lang's original cut, as opposed to nearly an hour short in some earlier versions, with title cards inserted to describe the missing scenes. It made its big US debut at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in early 2010 and on television on Turner Classic Movies in November 2010. This nearly complete, 148-minute version was released on DVD and Blu-ray in late 2010.

This Troperiffic film is either the Trope Codifier or possible Ur-Example for approximately 76.5% of science fiction tropes. Among many, many other things, it's the first movie to have a robot in it.note 

Not to be confused with the anime film of the same name, which does take elements from here as well as a manga by Osamu Tezuka, which was itself Suggested by..., but not adapted from, this movie.

Works it has inspired:

  • The titular character Dr. Strangelove, played by Peter Sellers, is described as being inspired by Metropolis' Rotwang, with both having a black-gloved artificial hand and white hair, and being mad scientists with obsessions towards females.
  • The French animated film The King and the Mockingbird takes place in the city-state kingdom of Takicardia; which is inspired by Metropolis. The upperclasses live in skyscrapers, while the poor living in the undercity have never even seen the sun. The movie also features a robot at its climax.
  • The anime film and manga Metropolis (2001).
  • invoked Blade Runner in particular is considered a Spiritual Successor to this film. In particular, special effects supervisor David Dryer used the eponymous Skyscraper City of Metropolis as a template for Blade Runner's cyberpunk setting.
  • Tim Burton's Batman duology took inspiration from this film's aesthetics for the look of Gotham City. In the first film there's even a Cathedral Climax.
  • An Elseworlds one-shot that combined this Metropolis with Superman's.
  • Singer Janelle Monáe's Metropolis series of Concept Albums.
  • A musical theater adaptation.
  • Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine album, which includes a track titled "Metropolis", a nod to the film.
  • Space's album Give Me Your Future makes several shoutouts to Metropolis throughout the lyrics and artwork. Like Kraftwerk, it also boasts a song a with the same title.
  • A mad scientist named Rotwang appears in Tiger & Bunny — complete with Robot Girl creation.
  • Mekanique, a DC comics robots villainess featured in Infinity, Inc. and All-Star Squadron, is supposed to be the (time traveling) creation of Rotwang (and is obviously based on Robot!Maria.)
  • The Canadian graphic novel series Mister X is a psychedelic adaptation complete with the Club of Sons.
  • The transformation sequence was elaborated and refined in Frankenstein.
  • The city of Metropolis in the Ratchet & Clank series is heavily inspired by this film.
  • Footage of Metropolis is prominently featured in the extinct Epcot attraction Horizons in a segment looking at depictions of the future in film.
  • The music video for Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" is inspired by and uses actual footage from Metropolis, with Freddie Mercury's face superimposed over the robotic Maria's at one point. Only fitting really, Mercury was involved in composing the 1984 release.
  • The M Machine's Metropolis is a Concept Album (split into two EP's) largely inspired by the film.
  • Madonna's video for "Express Yourself", uses imagery from Metropolis, casting her as both the Moll of a wealthy man in love with a handsome worker, and as a suit-clad business-woman herself. It quotes the film in a title card at the end: "Without the heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind".
  • Swedish post-metal band Cult of Luna was inspired by the film (as well as German Expressionism) to create their sixth album Vertikal,which has several of the film's themes all over it.
  • Before Tomorrowland, a prequel novel to Disney's 2015 film Tomorrowland features a robot-making villain named after Rotwang, though in-universe, Lang named the character after him, having once been colleagues within the Plus Ultra organization.
  • Metopolis, an Italian Disney Comics adaptation featuring Minnie Mouse as Maria and Mickey as Freder. Set to be localized into English by Fantagraphics in 2024.
  • Spider-Man (1967) used Rotwang as an evil scientist's character design in two episodes, just changing the colors from a black outfit & glove to a white lab-coat and red glove (and green skin).
  • Except for the heads and chests, the recent redesign of Doctor Who's Cybermen borrows heavily from the film's Robot. An audio episode starring Christopher Eccleston, "Monsters in Metropolis", featured the Cybermen themselves on the set of the film.
  • The original Ralph McQuarrie concept art of C-3PO looked nearly identical to a male version of robot-Maria, who also inspired the design of RoboCop and The Terminator with the idea of a robot wearing a human disguise.
  • An illustration of a robot character in Urban Jungle: Astounding Science looks almost identical to robot-Maria. Except that, this being a World of Funny Animals, she's a cat.

The Ur-Example and/or Trope Codifier for the following sci-fi movie conventions:

Consequently, many find that Metropolis Is Unoriginal: The film's tropes, characters, visual style, and special effects have been mimicked to the point of exhaustion. Ironically, on initial release, the plot was criticized for borrowing heavily from Victorian melodramas and other sci-fi stories; H. G. Wells in particular felt he'd been plagiarized. So some of it may be even older than people think.

Shows examples of:

  • Absurdly Cool City: Partially inspired by New York City's Art Deco artstyle, the city of Metropolis has many elevated highways and towering skyscrapers with the imposing Tower of Babel, Metropolis's tallest building, as its central structure.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: A minor one. In the film, Freder's line "Father! Father! Will ten hours never end??!!" seems to just be him finding the work unbearable. The book establishes that Freder's father actually is responsible for calling the work off, and he is late due to having visited Rotwang. This is not the case in the film, where the shift ends even without him present.
  • Aerith and Bob: The names of the characters are a mixture of everyday names, phonetic spellings, nonstandard names and surnames:
    • Gyorgy (or Georgy) is a Hungarian version of George.
    • Fredersen is a Scandinavian or Low German surname.
    • Names like 'Joh', 'Hel' and maybe even Josaphat (an outdated Hebraic name, shorted version of Jehosaphat) are completely out of circulation.
      • Joh is short for Johann and Hel might be short for Helene.
  • An Aesop: "There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Specifically, labor and management have to learn to work together.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) wants to use Robot Maria (Brigitte Helm) to sow dissension in the workers' movement, but the robot, and her maker C. A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), have different ideas.
    • While this trope is played completely straight in some versions of the movie, where it's said that Rotwang and Fredersen have lost control of the robot, the original version actually subverts it. The robot is working just as intended. She just happens to take orders from Rotwang, who is an Omnicidal Maniac. It still counts as this trope from Joh Fredersen's perspective, since it's implied that the robot's mechanical nature is the cause of her Lack of Empathy and her Undying Loyalty towards her creator. A human henchwoman might not have been quite as willing to carry out his plan.
  • All There in the Manual: Zig-Zagged. Neither the the film nor the book ever specify the year of the setting, at least if one goes by the original versions since subsequent editions of the film/book, none of which approved by Fritz Lang or Thea von Harbou, will sometimes add a random futuristic year to the setting and call it a day. However, the program for the 1927 London premiere estimates that the story takes place "one hundred years hence". This would mean that the story takes place around 2027, give or take a few years.
  • Alternative Calendar: The workers' day has 20 hours (and their work takes ten), the rich people's the usual 24.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Freder (Gustav Fröhlich). It could be the fact that he seems to have the strangest affinity for hugging and caressing every human being he comes across, gender be damned.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Josaphat (Theodor Loos), who returns Freder's affection to him and, unlike Freder, never shows any interest in women.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Robot Maria.
  • Argentina Is Nazi Land, on a meta level: This is where the last known copy of the uncut film was discovered; it's a German movie that was popular with Hitler; you do the math.
  • Artificial Limbs: Rotwang's right hand, which he somehow lost in the process of making Maria. According to the book, he lost it in a laboratory accident.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Grot (Heinrich George) finally manages to get the workers to realize they've made a terrible mistake in destroying the machines and flooding the worker city by asking them where their children are. As they've left their kids in the worker's city, the workers don't take this well, though thankfully Freder and the real Maria are able to rescue all of the children before they drown.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Maria reinterprets the story of the Tower of Babel as a failure of labor relations. A preacher also quotes Revelation Chapter 16 in a missing scene, which is later reprised in flashback during Freder's fever dream.
  • Background Halo: Maria gets this quite a bit, especially as she is preaching to the workers in the catacombs.
  • Big Blackout: The entire city of Metropolis experiences a blackout after the workers destroy the Heart Machine, which subsequently causes the other machinery to malfunction and collapse.
  • Big Electric Switch: Rotwang's lab has several of them, and the robot Maria overloads the Heart Machine by throwing one on its control panel.
  • The Big Guy: Grot aka the Guardian of the Heart Machine, and The Thin Man (Der Schmale, Fritz Rasp), the main enforcer of Fredersen's schemes.
  • Big Word Shout: "MOLOCH!"
    • "BABEL!" "BABEL!" "BABEL!"
  • Bizarrchitecture: Rotwang's house. With doors that open and close on their own, it's also a Mobile Maze - and noticeably Bigger on the Inside, as several reviewers pointed out.
  • Brain Fever: Freder appears to fall victim to this after seeing Robot Maria embrace his father. It puts him out of action for ten days.
  • Bribe Backfire: The Thin Man offers to let Josaphat name his price for leaving his apartment so that Freder can't meet up with him as arranged. Josaphat angrily refuses and throws the Thin Man's money back in his face.
  • Burn the Witch!: "Burn the witch!" On a pyre made of I-beams and burning automobiles. Too bad she's a robot.
  • Cathedral Climax: Freder and Rotwang fight atop a cathedral.
  • Character Tics: Robot-Maria's jerking her shoulders, whiplashing her neck and squinting her left eye a bit. Rotwang has a habit of raising his left eyebrow whilst thinking, Freder grabs hold of anybody who happens to be nearby when he rants, and Joh grabs his hair with his hands on the rare occasions that he gets scared.
  • Clothing Damage: Textbook male example, nearly four decades before Kirk.
  • Collapsing Lair: The Workers' city gets destroyed by a flood after the workers destroy the Heart Machine.
  • The Constant: Rotwang's house is beyond ancient, and sticks out like a sore thumb wedged in among the skyscrapers. It also has a secret door leading to The Catacombs.
    • The very gothic cathedral, which also seems to be centuries older than the other houses in the city, counts as well.
  • Cool Car: The Rumpler Tropfen-Auto. Probably a greater percentage of the total production run of them were destroyed for Metropolis than Dodge Chargers were for The Dukes of Hazzard.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: With the Paternoster Machine turned into a metaphorical clock that is going backwards, all the while threatening to overload and explode.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The upper class' city.
  • Cyberpunk: The Ur-Example since it existed in 1927 before Blade Runner, AKIRA, Bruce Bethke's short story Cyberpunk, and Neuromancer created, named, and codified the genre in the 1980s. In hindsight, Metropolis anticipated most of the cyberpunk tropes. Like modern cyberpunk works, the setting is a Japanese-influenced, neon-lit city where the low-class workers spark a rebellion against the upper-class elite. The protagonists fit the cyberpunk rebel archetype as Freder is the ruler's son who dissents against his father while Maria is a visionary who leads the workers' revolution. If that is not enough, there is also a Mad Scientist with an Artificial Limb who unleashes a Killer Robot on Metropolis to incite more chaos. The only computer featured in the movie is Joh's ticker tape printer, but in true retrofuture fashion, it is treated as advanced technology that gives Joh Fredersen updates on the state of his factories and even provides him with a Video Phone to communicate with the foreman Grot.
  • Damsel in Distress: Maria, captured and imprisoned by Rotwang.
  • Darker and Edgier: Fritz Lang admitted after making the movie that saying "The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!" is too simplistic of a way to deal with labor-management relations. The musical took this statement and ran with it, choosing to go with a complete Downer Ending where the mutual hate between both classes combines to doom the entire city but a small handful of survivors, mostly Maria's students.
  • Death by Childbirth: Freder's mother died giving birth to him, which is another reason Rotwang eventually decides on revenge against the Fredersens.
  • Deathly Dies Irae: The score for this Silent Movie included a daunting rendition of Dies Irae to accompany the master of Metropolis's order to have his son followed and reported on.
  • Designated Victim: Maria. She goes from being a worker trapped in an underground city, to being attacked and kidnapped by Rotwang, to being trapped in the (now flooding) underground city again, to being chased by an angry mob, to finally being attacked by Rotwang yet again. Poor girl can't catch a break.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The workers don't bring their children along during their uprising and after they destroy the Heart Machine, the worker city floods. Cue Grott finally managing to get their attention and asking them...where are your children? If it weren't for Freder and the real Maria, none of the kids would have survived the flooding.
  • Die Laughing: A rather dark example. The False Maria starts laughing maniacally when she is taken to be burned alive and doesn't stop until she is killed by the fire.
  • Diesel Punk: Despite the cyberpunk themes, this is the movie's main punk aesthetic as it was released in The Roaring '20s when dieselization was beginning to supersede the steam engine. Most of the cars are of the Rumpler Tropfenwagen model, and the air transportation consist of biplanes, monoplanes, and zeppelins. The city landscape is inspired by 1920s New York, which itself has skyscrapers built in the Art Deco style.
  • Digital Destruction: Thankfully averted in The Complete Metropolis. A special feature on the restoration included on the Kino DVD release shows how the usual computerized 'clean-up' process for old films (which compares each frame to the one before and after to eliminate blemishes on the record) could make fast-moving objects (like a running man's legs) disappear. Therefore, the automated process was carefully supervised, and manual operations and techniques used to ensure that detail was not lost.
  • Disney Villain Death: Rotwang goes plunging off a cathedral roof.
  • Ditzy Genius: Maria again. She is an amazing orator with the political will and ambition to push for equality among the upper and lower classes... and when sufficiently frightened she has a tendency to run with arms flailing away from safety, bouncing into walls along the way.
  • Easily-Overheard Conversation: Rotwang boasts to the imprisoned Maria about how he's taken revenge on Joh Fredersen by sabotaging his plans. Fredersen, standing outside Rotwang's house, hears everything. Cue fight scene, and Maria's chance to escape.
  • Elves vs. Dwarves: Rich, hedonistic millionaires against poor, dirty underground workers. It's basically this trope. Even if both classes are human this time. The novel outright says that the worker's children has dwarf-like faces.
  • Eternal Engine: The entire underground is some sort of Steam and Flame Factory.
  • Evil Knockoff: Evil Robot Maria is a copy of Maria the angelic social worker.
  • Evil Plan: Initially shown to be Joh Fredersen, though it turns out that Rotwang was the real Chessmaster behind the near-destruction of Metropolis.
    • In the book however, the plan was Fredersen's. Though it was arguably less evil, as his goal was to improve his city, not simply getting revenge.
  • Exact Words: As the workers are rushing up from their city to destroy the machines, one woman triumphantly shouts, "Not one man or woman remain behind!" She's right, but all the kids get left back and nearly drown when the city floods.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Apparently, if the machines(especially the heart machine) are left unwatched for just a few minutes, they blow themselves up with lots of sparks and arc lightning thrown out. The workers don't really have to do anything to completely knock out all power to the city.
  • Explosive Overclocking: The Heart Machine after the robot Maria and the workers overload it.
  • Eye Tropes: In Yoshiwara, during Robot Maria's dance, there's a montage of eyes watching her.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: A variation. The story is of course set in the fictional city of Metropolis, but the book then goes on to establish that Joh Fredersen is recieving the evening exchange reports from New York and London when Freder interrupts him in his office.
  • Fanservice: Sure, the scene of robotic Maria dancing provocatively while topless except for large pasties shows just how different she is from the real girl; but it is also definitely fanservice, and there is even a flashback to it later it the film for no real reason.
  • Femme Fatale: The Machine Man.
  • The Film of the Book: Von Harbou's novel was written in coordination with the film.
  • Flying Car: Possibly, as far as its usual sci-fi portrayal goes; the planes dashing between buildings may not look like cars, but seem to fill the same role, and similar shots remain popular today.
  • Futuristic Superhighway: Establishing shots of the city show some eleven lanes of traffic on the ground (separated by a train track) criss-crossed by some absurdly high elevated roadways and railways.
  • German Expressionism: One of the most famous examples.
  • Gloved Fist of Doom: Rotwang wears a black glove over his artificial hand.
  • Gonk: In a film where everyone looks uniform, Rotwang — the Mad Scientist with fuzzy hair, bulging eyes, and a hunchback figure — really stands out. The same is true for his house, which appears to be hundreds of years old.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: The apparently European city contains a nightclub called the Yoshiwara, which is also the name of the Red Light District of Tokyo.
  • The Grim Reaper: He has a statue along with the Seven Deadly Sins in the cathedral. When Freder falls sick, he has a dream of it coming alive, and advancing on him with its scythe.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Georgy steps in front of a knife meant for Freder.
  • Hide Your Children: Played with. Children appear early in the movie when Maria shows them the Eternal Gardens, but they seemingly disappear afterwards, not even appearing during the revolution which supposedly includes everyone in the workers' city. Turns out that the workers DID forget about them and that they are now trapped in the rapidly flooding city with no way of getting out. It's up to the heroes of the film to rescue them.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty:
    • Every scene between Rotwang and Maria. Especially the one before the transformation sequence. It doesn't help that the next time we see them, Maria is naked, unconscious and strapped to a table.
    • The scene where he chases Maria up to the top of the cathedral is arguably even worse. It may have looked bad before, but you could easily argue that it was not what it looked like. Here, he actually seems to be trying to rape her.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Most participants get a chance to do really stupid things to further the plot, however, Joh Fredersen is worst. He is supposedly some sort of genius who created and runs Metropolis but he consistently makes idiotic decisions. Fredersen fires his right-hand man sending him into the workers' hellish abode. Needless to say, if a man knows a lot about you, it is a very bad idea to make him your enemy, let him live and send him to a place where you suspect a revolution is brewing. Then he trusts in Rotwang's loyalty and sanity despite the fact that evidence for doing the opposite is staring him in the face. Fredersen came alone to Rotwang. If Rotwang wanted revenge he could have just killed him then and there. Fortunately for Fredersen Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? doesn't seem to occur to Rotwang. Fredersen deliberately provokes a rebellion and lets the workers run amok among absolutely vital machinery for the purpose of having an excuse to strike them down, but doesn't seem to have a clue how to do the latter.
    • The workers do many stupid things in the third act. They completely fail to realise that their leader is clearly Not Herself (made worse by the fact that Freder - who, at this point, has met her a total number of twice - realises it almost immediately), they forget about their children and leave them behind in their city (even though they were specifically instructed to bring their sons along), and they destroy huge machines without thinking about the consequences (which even Grot calls them out on). This can, however, be somewhat justified by Robot-Maria being The Corruptor, and intending to cause havoc through the workers ("Let's watch the world go to the Devil!").
    • Georgy (#11811) doesn't help Freder's efforts too much after trading places with him. Instead of going to Josaphat's apartment as promised, he finds a huge wad of cash in his (Freder's) pocket and spends the night at Yoshiwara. He stumbles out the next morning with a bad hangover and promptly gets caught by the Thin Man, who takes Josaphat's address from him and goes on to scramble Freder's plans even further. The only thing Georgy does right is to save Freder from being killed by the workers, at the cost of his own life.
  • Idle Rich: Most of the upper class seem to be this. Freder starts out this way, but he gets better rather quickly.
  • Industrial Ghetto: The workers live in an underground city of featureless concrete buildings. During their work shift, they move to an upper underground level to operate the machinery and generate power for Metropolis.
  • Industrialized Evil: Every day is the same bleak routine for the workers. Report to the machine rooms, perform unrelenting physical labor for ten hours, go home filthy and exhausted, lather, rinse, repeat. And if they're lucky, they won't collapse from overwork or be injured/killed when a machine blows its top.
  • Interrupted Suicide: After he's fired, Josaphat staggers out of Fredersen's office, pulls a gun out of his pocket, and lifts it to his head. Freder gets to him just in time.
  • Jerkass Realization: See Shaming the Mob below.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: Rotwang's robot is a prototype of a race of robots intended to eventually replace the human workers. This doesn't actually come to pass though. Instead, she replaces Maria more directly...
  • Kill It with Water: The workers inflict this on their own city by destroying the machines, which causes the city's water reservoirs to burst and flood the place. If not for Maria, Freder, and Josaphat, the workers' kids would have drowned as well.
  • Laser-Guided Karma
    Fredersen: I must know! Where is my son?!
    Thin Man: Tomorrow, thousands will ask in fury and desperation: "Joh Fredersen, where is my son?"
  • Leitmotif: Pretty much each character and event. Gottfried Huppertz's original score, as reconstructed and recorded in 2003 (and again in 2009), features these significantly. Freder, his father, Rotwang, Maria, Robot Maria, the machines of Metropolis, the nightclub-goers in Yoshiwara, and the uprising workers all have their own recurring themes.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Fredersen has dark hair throughout most of the film, up until he sees Freder and Rotwang fighting atop the cathedral. By the time the fight is over and Rotwang has fallen to his death, most of Fredersen's hair has gone white from shock.
  • Loudness War: Giorgio Moroder's version, which served as the test run for the HPS-4000 cinema sound system, comparable to IMAX in terms of its acoustic power. Moroder, known as the founding father of disco, wanted to bring the sonic energy of dance clubs into the movie theater. The songs as heard in the film are mixed far louder and with more dynamic range than they are on the original soundtrack album.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: The Club of the Sons members start killing themselves and each other over the Maria Machine.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Rotwang wants to destroy the city because Freder's mother chose the city's ruler over him. And then died giving birth to said ruler's son.
  • Ludd Was Right: A human rebellion stopped when the workers realize they are dependent on the machines for their lives.
  • Mad Scientist: Rotwang. Again, one of the first, and the best.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Rotwang's house.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: The film contains one of the most explicit and extreme examples in fiction. The real Maria is passive, saintly, and demure, whilst Robot-Maria is an evil, hyperactive seductress. The former is (obviously) named after the original Madonna, the Virgin Mary, whilst the latter is repeatedly compared to the Whore of Babylon from the Book of Revelations. Less overtly, compare Maria's modest dress and job caring for children with the more revealing outfits of the upper-class women who flirt with Freder.
  • Magic from Technology: Robot Maria's transformation. Of course, Rotwang's whole theme has all the trappings of a wizard as well as a scientist...
  • Magic Versus Science: This is Rotwang's whole theme. Inside a giant future Mega City is a little thatched cottage inside of which is a pentagrammed Mad Scientist Laboratory inside of which is a man dressed in robes with a robot hand. Robot Maria's transformation makes him practically a necromancer. In fact the whole film is both a pioneer of sci-fi and very heavy on biblical imagery.
  • Male Gaze: Dramatically demonstrated with the montage of eyes watching Robot Maria during her striptease.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Mega City: Metropolis seems to be pretty big. The book describes it as having fifty million inhabitants.
  • Mickey Mousing: Frequently in the original soundtrack. Unlike most examples, it's Played for Drama rather than comedy. Since the music is the only sound the movie has, it sometimes doubles as sound effects.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Rotwang only loves one thing more than Hel, and that is wild gesticulation. Robot-Maria shares his liking for it, too.
  • Monologuing: Rotwang loves this.
  • Mobile Maze: Rotwang's house. The doors can be completely sealed on a whim, which he uses against Freder and Maria at different points.
  • Morality Chain: In the novel, Hel for both Joh Frederson and Rotwang. She not only kept both men from killing each other (though you could hardly blame them, what with their love triangle and all), she also made sure both men didn't let power go to their heads.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Rotwang is a bad guy.
  • The Morlocks: H. G. Wells got one up on Metropolis with this plotline, but Fritz Lang is more sympathetic.
  • Necromantic
    Joh: Let the dead rest in peace, Rotwang. She's as dead for me as she is for you.
    Rotwang: She isn't dead for me, Joh Fredersen! For me, she lives! [gesticulates wildly]
  • Nightmarish Factory: The machine city is a bad place. Steam, heat, noise, people working to (and past) the point of exhaustion, and equipment that can fail in spectacularly hazardous ways if not kept running just so.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Machine Man is actually a Fembot.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Something of a plot point: The "M-Machine" that Freder stumbles upon during his trek through the underground city overheats and explodes, injuring or killing everyone stationed at it. The dead and wounded are casually hauled off and a new set comes in to take their place. Witnessing this scene is what makes Freder sympathetic to the workers' plight. Case of Truth in Television and Justified Trope: Safety-oriented machine design, safe operation rules and reimbursements for incidents are relatively modern concepts. Work conditions depicted in the movie were not so different from the work in early 20th-century factories.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Rotwang wants to kill the Fredersens and destroy the city
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Joh's spy is called "The Thin Man" or "Slim" in English, and "der Schmale" (the thin one) in the original German titles.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: When the robotic Maria pushes the workers to riot.
    Freder: Maria talks of peace, not murder! This is not Maria!
  • Overclocking Attack: To destroy the Heart machine. Grot tries to stave off Robot-Maria with a big wrench.
  • Prayer Pose: In the first sequence in the underground cathedral, Frieder is kneeling with clasped hands and backlighting to create a halo effect.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Robot-Maria.
  • Raygun Gothic: The future will be Art Deco.
  • Red Right Hand: Rotwang. As he says: "Isn't it worth the loss of a hand to have created the workers of the future?"
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: In some versions of the edit, Rotwang really just wants his lover back.
    • Subverted in The Complete Metropolis, where it's clear that he doesn't mind his robot being used for unethical means. He just doesn't want Joh Fredersen to take her away from him.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Rotwang originally wanted the robot to replace Hel, before Joh ordered him to make it into a duplicate of Maria. Of course, Rotwang seemed to think that she actually was Hel.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Well, the workers don't really want to kill their masters, just blow up the machines. But they don't think it through very well...
  • Ridiculously Human Robot / Robot Girl / Robot Me: Futura/Robotrix/Fake Hel/Fake Maria/Machine Man/etc.
  • Rings of Activation: When Rotwang activates his Robot Woman and has her take on the appearance of Maria, the transformation is accompanied by glowing rings that surround her, and travel up and down her body.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Freder and Rotwang have one on the cathedral.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Being an expressionist silent film, this gets very overt and heavy-handed at times.
    • Crosses surround the heroes, and pentagrams surround the villains.
    • Metropolis is likened to Babel throughout the film.
    • Characters even hallucinate allegorical scenes out of the Old Testament. For example, Freder hallucinates the factories' machinery as Moloch, a god known for requiring child sacrifices, after the machinery injures the workers operating them.
    • The real Maria is named after, and appears as, a saint much like the Virgin Mary; while the false (robot) Maria appears symbolically as Satan and as the Whore of Babylon.
    • The underclass are living underground, literally below the upperclass, who live in skyskrapers.
    • The sheer size of the Hel statue—which dwarfs both Rotwang and Fredersen—is obivously meant to show Rotwang's devotion to her, but it also shows the power she still holds over both men, even in death.
  • Say My Name: A rare silent example occurs after Maria's kidnapping, where Freder runs through the city "shouting" Maria's name via intertitle cards.
  • Schizo Tech: Owing mainly to Zeerust. Notable in the use of ticker-tape machines and 1920's era automobiles everywhere. Specifically, consultation of the ticker tape causes Fredersen to immediately contact the Foreman on a flatscreen video phone/surveillance monitor.
  • Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains: Exaggerated and justified. The Real Maria works as a priestess, the False Maria works as a stripper.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Fake Maria is seen as the epitome of this. Statues of the seven deadly sins are shown and even animated during a dream sequence, while she sits on top of a statue of a seven-headed dragon.
  • Shaming the Mob: Foreman Grot finally manages to calm down the rioting workers and make them realize what they've done in flooding their own city by saying "Where are your children?!"
  • Shout-Out: Georgy catches a Yoshiwara flyer that has loose German translations of quotes from two famous literary figures:
    • The author Oscar Wilde ("The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it").
    • The Persian poet Omar Khayyam ("In Paradise, they tell us, Houris dwell, / And fountains run with wine and oxymel: / If these be lawful in the world to come, / Surely 'tis right to love them here as well.").
  • A Sinister Clue: Rotwang's left hand.
  • Smash Cut: As the workers' revolt begins, Fredersen sits in his high-rise office, gazing over the neon-lit splendor of Metropolis. Cut to the Heart Machine, the city's main power station, that the workers have just destroyed — on fire, buried in debris, shorting out everywhere — and then back to the skyline as the power grid completely fails.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Giorgio Moroder's version is a love it or hate it, cult adaptation. Featuring Jon Anderson (of Yes), Pat Benatar, Adam Ant, "Destruction" by Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Cycle V and Moroder himself. Yes. Hard to find.note 
  • Spot the Imposter: Happens at one point in the novel, where both the real and false Maria call out to Freder. Though this is before the robot's transformation, so Freder only hears the Marias and doesn't actually see them.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Director Fritz Lang later claimed he intended this film to be anti-Nazi propaganda (the party was still rising to power during the time this film was released). Ironically, the Nazi Party loved the film because it considered itself to be the heart that would mediate between the head and the hand, causing Lang to despise his own work. Lang's wife Thea von Harbou, who co-wrote the Metropolis script and had written the original novel, joined the Nazi Party in the early 1930s. The couple divorced not long after that. While Lang emigrated to America soon after the Nazi takeover, von Harbou remained in Germany and made movies for the Nazis until the end of World War II also brought an end to her career.
  • Standard Snippet: The "Dies Irae" theme figures heavily in the original soundtrack by Gottfried Huppertz, as does a tweaked version of the Marseillaise, which plays during the workers' revolution.
  • Steampunk: Kind of. While there is plenty of retrofuturistic technology, only the factories' machinery actually count as steampunk. Unlike modern steampunk stories, the movie is very cynical about steampunk technology and portrays the factories' machinery as an evil god that consumes the bodies of the factory workers.
  • Team Mom: Maria is this for all the children in the workers' city, and arguably for the adults too.
  • Technicolor Science: In a black and white film no less. Rotwang's lab when he is transforming his mechanical girl has milky white liquids, transparent liquids, and dark colored liquids all boiling and bubbling away in strangely shaped glass containers.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Josaphat's BSOD after being fired by Fredersen. He's so shocked and unable to focus that he can't find the doorknob on his way out.
  • Thunderbolts and Lightning: The destruction of the machines.
  • Title Drop:
    • Rotwang talking to Joh Fredersen calls the city "your metropolis".
    • In a restored scene, the Thin Man can be seen reading a copy of the Metropolis Courier, he also carries checks of the Metropolis Central Bank.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Or rather wrenches and lanterns. For the workers and upper classes respectively (although the latter did not initially intend anything destructive. But once they collide with the workers...).
  • The Tower: "Gigantic, unimaginably huge, looms-over-everything" variety.
  • Tower of Babel: Referenced, with significant alterations. Maria's retelling alters the facts and changes the moral. The hubris is inverted ("And on the pedestal these words appear: 'Great is the world and its Maker, and great is Man!'") and retribution comes from paying too much attention to the idea and ignoring the workers. There is no confusion of tongues, but another clever inversion ("The praises of one became the curses of another. Although they spoke the same language, they could not understand one another's words"). The New Tower of Babel at the heart of the city is absolutely untouched by the destruction, and the divided classes are reunited.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The backstory of Rotwang, Hel, and Joh. It didn't end well.
    Joh: Surely a mind like yours must be able to forget...
    Rotwang: (shaking a fist in Fredersen's face) I only ever forgot one thing in my life: that Hel was a woman and you a man!
  • Underground City: The Workers' city is located in the depths below the actual city of Metropolis.
  • Urban Segregation: Again, almost a Trope Codifier, with the rich living in an opulent city filled with skyscrapers while the workers live in a mass of featureless concrete buildings deep underground.
  • Video Phone: How Fredersen communicates with Grot.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Rotwang, after Joh Fredersen ambushes and beats the crap out of him.
  • We Will Use Manual Labour in the Future: In an audio commentary it is suggested that this is intentionally done by the city's leaders, so they have better control over the lower classes. In reality, machines are supposed to make life easier and be able to function without humans.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Georgy (11811), the worker Freder takes the place of at the dial machine. His story was expanded on in the footage that was later cut. He is supposed to have Freder's chauffeur drive him to Josaphat's apartment, but after finding a lot of money in the pockets of his borrowed clothes, he spends the night at Yoshiwara instead. The next morning, the Thin Man catches Georgy and sends him back to his station; later, when the workers start rioting, Georgy protects Freder and is stabbed to death.
    • Much of the lost footage also pertains to the Thin Man, who follows Freder, Georgy, and Josaphat at Joh Fredersen's behest.
    • Most of this footage was found in Argentina in 2008 and restored then spliced into the then current version. There are still two scenes missing but the new version with the extra found footage is considered to be as complete as it'll ever be to the 1927 premier.
  • While Rome Burns: The happy crowd from the Yoshiwara club while the city is being blacked out by the workers' revolution.
  • Witch Hunt: Literally.
  • Wolverine Publicity: The Machine Man is the only character who appears on many of the movie's posters. She has a pretty important role in the story - and an iconic look - but she isn't the main character. It might make some sense on a symbolic level. She is implied to be the Whore of Babylon, who is said to represent a city, and the robot could be seen as a personification of the city of Metropolis.
  • World of Ham: The actors, the extras, the soundtrack, the set design, the special effects and even the title cards all ham it up. Counts as Tropes Are Not Bad for many viewers, as this is precisely what makes the movie epic.
  • Yes-Man: Josaphat. Until he fails Fredersen for the last time.
  • You Are Number 6: Workers are assigned ID numbers, shown on their caps and the placards at the entrances of their apartment buildings. The only one to get a specific name is Georgy (#11811).
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Yeah, you read that right. In 1927. The realism of Robot Maria's appearance is field-tested by taking her to Yoshiwara and having her do a striptease for the patrons. She's a big hit.
  • Zeerust: Doubly so for the '80s New Wave soundtrack version.


Video Example(s):


Rotwang's Robot

Rotwang gives his new robot the appearance of Maria.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / MadScientist

Media sources: