When it comes to sci-fi, it doesn’t get more influential than this 1927 silent film. One of the most well-regarded movies ever made — and widely considered a cornerstone of the genre in film — it’s been adapted and reimagined countless times over the decades. That includes a 1984 version from Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder featuring a soundtrack with songs by Freddie Mercury and Pat Benatar, along with an anime retelling written by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo.
But the original version of Metropolis remains one of the most important science fiction dystopias of all time, and one that holds up almost a century later. Here’s why you need to watch it as soon as possible — and how to stream the movie for free online right now.
Metropolis’ influence extends far beyond its own adaptations and iterations though. The silent cinema classic was a clear influence on films like Blade Runner, Frankenstein, and Dr. Strangelove, and it’s been paid homage to over the years by different artists across multiple different mediums — including in comic books and pop music.
But none of the homages, imitations, or adaptations of Metropolis quite match up to the original. It’s a staggering piece of work, one that feels uniquely of its time and eternally relevant.
Made in 1927 during Germany’s Weimar Republic era, Metropolis is a 153-minute black-and-white film, and one of the biggest and grandest ever made during the silent era. It’s set in a futuristic city where the wealthy and privileged live above ground in proud skyscrapers, while the workers are forced to live underground and work grueling hours operating machinery that powers the city.
The film follows the son of the city’s powerful mastermind as he becomes invested in the plight of the workers and attempts to bridge the vast chasm separating the city’s classes. Throughout its runtime, Metropolis touches on themes of industrialization, poverty, economic inequality, and corporate apathy — subjects that were relevant in 1927 and remain so to this day.
The film doesn’t just communicate its themes through its narrative though. In fact, to distill Metropolis down to a simple plot synopsis is to rob it of much of its power.
The weight of Metropolis comes through the bombast of its musical score, the emotive faces of its characters, and the visual ache that throbs through the bones of every city worker. It’s in the film’s stark black and white photography, the smoke and steam shown billowing from the machines, the rigidity of its massive skyscrapers, and the way that the city’s buildings and machinery dwarf even the most powerful and privileged of its citizens.
Lang captures Metropolis’ many wonders with the grace and unerring vision of a true artist. The director and his team employed revolutionary (at the time) uses of miniatures and mirrors to create not only the titular city but also the feeling that its actors were physically present in its various miniature sets. The result is a gothic creation that feels strangely real and unreal at the same time.
Lang capitalizes on that surreal, almost nightmarish quality by injecting the film with several instances of hallucinatory magic, like the moment when a machine transforms in front of our very eyes into a religious temple eating the city’s workers. All combined, the film’s special effects and narrative combine to create a dreamlike vision of the future, one where the divisions that plagued society for years have grown even direr, but where hope is thankfully not lost.
Metropolis is a testament to the enduring quality of well-made films. It can’t just be read or talked about. It must be seen. Luckily, it’s never been easier to experience this all-time classic.
Metropolis is streaming for free right now on Kanopy in the U.S.