On a snowy night, a mysterious stranger, his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles, comes to a sleepy English town and lodges himself a room at the local inn. The stranger is not very interested in interacting with the locals, demanding to be left alone and isolates himself in his room, but he quickly becomes the talk of the town as it becomes evident that he conducts strange scientific experiments behind the closed doors. Eventually the stranger starts falling behind on his rent, and when one of his experiments makes a mess of the room, the inn keeper is finally fed up with his weird behaviour, and tries to kick the man out, only to be beaten up and thrown out by the man instead. The altercation attracts the attention of the local police constable, who gathers some villagers as backup in an attempt to take the man into custody. Far from intimated by this, the stranger starts laughing manically at his would-be captors, and takes off his goggles and bandages before the astonished eyes of the gathered men, revealing himself to be completely invisible underneath them.
From this point on, the story follows the invisible man's trail of destruction and terror across the land as he attempts to either find a cure for his condition or take over the country (whichever is more likely). He is eventually discovered to be a scientist named Griffin, who was engaging in some illicit experiments. His old girlfriend Flora is played by Gloria Stewart, 64 years before Stewart starred as the old Rose in Titanic.
A remake of the film, which was to star Johnny Depp in the title role, was tentatively planned for Universal's Dark Universe, but shelved indefinitely after The Mummy's poor performance at the box office effectively scrapped future plans for that franchise. It was later announced that the new Invisible Man would be instead produced as a standalone film in conjunction with Blumhouse, to be directed by Leigh Whannell (Upgrade) and starring Oliver Jackson-Cohen in the titular role, with Elisabeth Moss as his love interest Cecilia.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The subplot with Griffin's girlfriend Flora was created for the film.
- Adaptational Heroism: Quoth The Other Wiki:The film portrays Griffin more sympathetically than does the novel. The novel's Griffin is callous and cruel from the beginning, and only pursues the experiment for wealth and his ego. The movie shows Griffin as an honorable man who is misguided. His insanity is purely a side-effect of the invisibility drug, and his motivation for the experiment was a misguided desire to do good for science and mankind, born primarily out of his love for his fiancée.
- Adaptation Personality Change: Kemp has been altered from a decent, courageous man who serves as Griffin's nemesis to a cowardly jerk who hits on Griffin's girlfriend and spends most of the film in a state of blind panic.
- Badass Boast: Griffin gives one shortly after his unveiling:"An invisible man can rule the world. No one will see him come, no one will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and rape, and kill!"
- Bandaged Face: Griffin's disguise.
- Canon Foreigner: Flora and her father Dr. Cranley have no counterparts in Wells' novel.
- Composite Character: Dr. Kemp shares many of the characteristics and story roles as Thomas Marvel.
- Chemistry Can Do Anything: The cause of Griffin's invisibility is a vaguely-described chemical process, using a plant extract from India.
- Chroma Key: An interesting early example. For any scene of him partially dressed, Claude Rains wore a black velvet body suit and stood in front of a black background, to produce footage that was matted into the background.
- Conspicuous Gloves: The 1933 film is set in winter, so gloves don't really look that odd until Griffin goes indoors and doesn't take them off, or later on when he's wearing them with pajamas and a robe. The Vincent Price sequel (1940's The Invisible Man Returns) is set in warmer weather, so it looks a bit stranger for him to wear them in most instances. The title character of The Invisible Woman (also released in 1940) can get by with it more considering the social customs of the period included women wearing gloves (and hats, for that matter), so it doesn't stand out so much.
- Death by Adaptation: Dr. Kemp, who survived in the novel and goes off of a cliff in a car here.
- Demoted to Extra: Dr. Kemp. He was essentially the novel's Hero Antagonist. Not so here.
- Determinator: Griffin goes 15 miles, on foot, through the snow, naked to get to Kemp's house. When he finally gets there, he wants to sit down, and says he'll want food and sleep, but first he wants to go back to the inn he was staying at and get his notes. So they hop in the car and he prepares to go get naked in the snow again. (While they're driving, he at least has a blanket.) Not to mention the fact that he spent five years working all night every night on his invisibility serum. Apparently for Griffin, sleep is for the dead.
- Dirty Coward: Kemp. Griffin even calls him one as his escape attempt fails, right before Griffin sends his car over a cliff.
- Dying as Yourself: Griffin's sanity returns as he dies, and he also becomes visible again.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Kemp's car explodes when it goes over a cliff.
- Evil Laugh: Claude Rains cackles with the best of them.
- Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Griffin has a bunch of lab glassware on a table in his room at the inn — enough to make Mrs. Hall complain that her guest has "turned my best sitting room into a chemist's shop" — including a retort that seems to serve no purpose. The only piece of equipment he's ever seen doing anything with is a beaker he mixes something in.
- Harbinger of Impending Doom: The film has a disturbing moment where someone that Dr. Griffin has tried to utilize runs screaming into a small town: "The invisible man is coming!"
- Hates Everyone Equally: After he goes off the deep end, Griffin schemes to murder rich and poor men alike to show the public that he makes "no distinction" in his choice of victims.
- Invisible Stomach, Visible Food: The film doesn't actually show the trope, but Griffin mentions that any food he eats will be visible inside him until digested.
- Invisible Streaker: Griffin puts on clothes only when he wants to be seen, and even complains about how uncomfortable it is to run around nude in the English winter.
- Invisibility: Yes.
- Large Ham: Griffin, so very much.
- Laughing Mad: When Griffin reveals his invisibility to the villagers of Iping, he adds some laughter to it to truly shock them.
- Literal Ass-Kicking: When the police try to capture Griffin at Kemp's house, he gives one of them a kick on the rear.
- Mood Whiplash: A comedic scene where the Invisible Man chases the Iping villagers out of the pub ends with him suddenly murdering the police inspector by bashing his head in with a stool.
- Outside Ride: Griffin follows his target this way. Made easier by the fact that, well, he's invisible. Ignore the fact that he's also naked in the middle of winter hanging onto the side of a speeding car...
- Professor Guinea Pig: Griffin uses himself as the test subject of his experiments.
- Psycho Serum: Monocane, a drug used in Griffin's invisibility process, although it isn't until the sequel that insanity is officially confirmed as a side effect.
- Runaway Train: Griffin has the highest amount of deaths caused out of all the Universal Monsters, due to a train wreck he causes that sends the train off a cliff and kills a hundred people.
- Screaming Woman: Any excuse and Mrs. Hall is screaming like crazy.
- Stock Footage: The car and train crashes - both extremely well-executed model shots - were reused in a number of other Universal productions.
- This Was His True Form: Griffin becomes visible again upon his death.
- We Can Rule Together: Griffins grandiose plans for his reign of terror involve bullying Kemp into becoming his number two.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Averted, in this case. It is said that the essential ingredient of the invisibility serum is what causes the insanity.