German Expressionism was an artistic movement that began in earnest at the start of the 20th century.

It is characterized by the use of twisted shapes, vivid colors, and jarring contrasts to create images with emotional intensity.

It was created in the early 20th century, primarily by German filmmakers such as Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and G. W. Pabst Among many other directors who worked in this style.

The artists used their work as a means to convey their thoughts about society at the time.

Their artwork showed deep feelings of anxiety, angst, and anger at the injustices they saw around them. They focused on those things which seemed most threatening to them: poverty, disease, insanity, war, and death.

This art form emerged from a time when Germany was changing, and it served to capture the mood of then-modern German culture.

These artists were inspired by German writers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer who promoted humanism in opposition to what they saw as nihilistic trends in modern society.



What Is German Expressionism?

German Expressionism in film is a movement that utilized distorted sets, strong contrasts of light and dark, expressionistic acting, and other devices to evoke moods through visuals.

German Expressionism was often used as a means of social criticism or commentary on the emotional state of Germany at the time.



What Is German Expressionism?

German Expressionism is a movement that began in the early 20th century and lasted until World War II.

German Expressionism had both positive and negative qualities. The style could be seen as reflecting the feelings of anxiety caused by WWI or it could also represent the optimism of post-WWI society.

This type of filmmaking has had an influence on Hollywood films to date with their use of shadows, stylized sets, and camerawork, expressionistic acting techniques, etc.

Including Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929) or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941).

The main goal for these directors was to provoke strong feelings from viewers through images on screen or sounds coming out of the cinema’s loudspeakers.

This style began in Germany, but it spread all over Europe as well as America during the Great Depression because many people felt lost or hopeless due to financial crisis so they looked for an outlet like expressionism, which made them feel more alive through distortion and experimentation with color.

It was at this time that many Germans were feeling intense anxiety, fear, and even anger about their country’s government.

Best Films Of German Expressionism

Let’s take a look at some of the best German expressionism films.


Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist film directed by Fritz Lang.

It was one of the most expensive films made in the silent era, and its production involved elaborate sets and innovative special effects.

The film presents a dystopian vision of an industrial society set in 2026, with high-rise buildings dominated by advertising billboards that bear resemblance to New York’s Times Square.

It has been deemed as a “masterpiece” by the Library of Congress and is often cited as one of the first films to combine science fiction with modern city life.

The cityscape in Metropolis reflects how society evolved from being based on agriculture to industrialization. The movie depicts many different themes, such as religion, power, social class, mass production, and the machine age.

It won multiple awards including Saturn Award Best.

The Complete Metropolis [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich (Actors)
  • Fritz Lang (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German Expressionist silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a classic horror film that was filmed in 1920 and is based on an old German story called “Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet (1913) by author, Hans Janowitz.

The movie itself has been remade many times but the original is still considered to be one of the best ever made, as it includes some of the most creative visuals seen on screen and has had a huge impact on modern cinema.

With angular, painted studio sets designed in a graphic style by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Röhrig.

The film’s deep shadows and distortions of perspective introduced to cinema the psychedelic techniques of German expressionist painting and architecture, launching a homegrown film movement and inspiring the stylizations of American horror and film noir.

The twist that all these grotesque vistas represent the delusions of a patient in Caligari’s insane asylum, sleepwalking his way through a reality beyond his mental grasp, paved the way for a psychological brand of narrative ambiguity that would creep into much subsequent horror.

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (4K Restored) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher (Actors)
  • Robert Wiene (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

From Morn to Midnight (1920)

From Morn to Midnight is a silent expressionist film directed by Karlheinz Martin based on the 1912 play From Morning to Midnight by Georg Kaiser.

It is one of the most radical films of the German Expressionist movement, being one of the most exuberating examples of the following experiment.

Scenes melting, faces appear and disappear, suggesting focus, capturing it in an informal way, which creates even more of a drastic contrast between the silence of the movie and the hardship at the time of its making.

Von morgens bis Mitternacht (aka From Morn to Midnight)
  • From Morn to Midnight ( Von morgens bis Mitternacht )
  • From Morn to Midnight
  • Von morgens bis Mitternacht
  • Ernst Deutsch, Erna Morena, Roma Bahn (Actors)
  • Karl Heinz Martin (Director) - From Morn to Midnight ( Von morgens bis Mitternacht ) (Producer)

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

Originally, The Golem: How He Came into the World was a book by Gustav Meyrink, that became a silent horror film and a leading example of early German Expressionism.

Director Paul Wegener, who co-directed the film with Carl Boese and co-wrote the script with Henrik Galeen based on Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel.

It tells a story of Jewish mysticism and folklore about the golem, which is a creature made from earth or clay to protect Jews from persecution.

Critical reception for The Golem upon its initial release was positive.

The New York Times 1921 review praised its “exceptional acting” and “expressive settings”, the latter of which was compared to those of another early German expressionist horror film, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

The Golem: How He Came Into the World [Blu-ray]
  • Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck, Lyda Salmonova (Actors)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu is a 1922 silent film by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok and Greta Schröder as Ellen Hutter (the female protagonist).

The film tells the story of a Transylvanian nobleman who wants to move from his castle in order to find new blood and spread the curse, and of a real estate agent who shows him around town.

Nosferatu was released on October 18th, 1922 with no spoken dialogue but only title cards for dialogues that explained what was happening.

It is considered to be one of the first full-length feature films in cinema history without any audible dialogue sequences or sound.

The story follows the vampire Count Orlok of Transylvania as he travels to Germany, and his attempt to purchase a house in the small town of Wisborg.

The local real estate agent notices that Orlok’s face bears a resemblance to the image on an old painting hanging in one room of the house, which depicts a nobleman who was cursed for betraying his people by refusing them access to water from their land’s river.

Nosferatu: Kino Classics 2-Disc Deluxe Remastered Edition [Blu-ray]
  • Max Schreck (Actor)
  • F. W. Murnau (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Warning Shadows (1923)

Schatten – Eine nächtliche Hallucination (“Shadows – a Nocturnal Hallucination”, known in English as Warning Shadows) is a 1923 German silent film directed and co-written by Arthur Robison, and starring Fritz Kortner and Ruth Weyher.

It is undoubtedly an influential minor classic silent German expressionist film.

This film should be of interest to silent movie fans for several reasons.

First, it manages to tell an entirely visual story with no title cards included after the characters are introduced.

Second, it’s ridiculously gorgeous.

Third, we can get into all sorts of juicy discussions regarding the meaning of the film, the universe, and everything.

No products found.

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

Hands of Orlac is a 1924 silent film directed by Robert Wiene and starring Conrad Veidt.

A pianist’s hands are cut off in an accident, so he gets new hands from a surgeon who happens to be experimenting with grafting animal parts onto humans.

The pianist then starts murdering people because the new hands can’t tell right from wrong.

The movie was based on a novel written in 1910 by Maurice Renard, which tells the story of a concert pianist whose hands are brutally severed in an accident, but then transplanted to another man’s body (played by Veidt).

The Hands of Orlac is an early example of horror cinema that combines elements from both science fiction and crime genres.

It also exemplifies German expressionism with its dark visual style and sets reminiscent of surreal nightmares.

THE HANDS OF ORLAC [Orlac’s Hände] (Masters of Cinema) Blu-ray
  • The disk has English audio and subtitles.
  • English (Subtitle)

Waxworks (1924)

The film was directed by German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni and starred Hungarian actress Lya De Putti as Phil’s girlfriend Betty Lou.

It has been called one of the most significant movies in cinematic history because it created an entirely new style for filmmaking with its use of expressionism, atmospheric lighting, exaggerated shadows, and camera angles to create tension on screen.

A wax museum owner employs a poet (William Dieterle) to create stories for his pieces.

The poet dutifully pens disturbing tales, envisioning himself as a significant character in each story – a baker sentenced to death by the Caliph of Baghdad (Emil Jannings), a Russian prince contending with the deadly paranoia of Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt), and a man who is pursued through the haunting streets of London by Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss).

Waxworks (Flicker Alley) [Blu-ray + DVD]
  • William Dieterle, Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt (Actors)
  • Paul Leni (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Variety (1925)

Also known by the alternative titles Jealousy or Vaudeville is a 1925 silent drama film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont based on the 1912 novel The Oath of Stephan Huller by Felix Hollaender.

The film was heavily censored when it was released in America (except New York), by excising the entire first reel,  thus destroying the motivation of the tragedy, implying that the acrobat was married to his Eurasian temptress.

This film is believed to contain the first documentation of unicycle hockey – it features a short sequence showing two people playing the game.

Variety (Varieté) (1925)
  • Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Lya De Putti (Actors)
  • Ewald André Dupont (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Student of Prague (1926)

The Student of Prague (German: Der Student von Prag) is a 1926 German Expressionist silent film by actor and filmmaker Henrik Galeen, starring Conrad Veidt as Balduin, The Student, and Werner Krauss as Scapinelli.

For Balduin, going out to beer parties with his fellow students and fighting out disputes at the tip of the sword have lost their charms.

He wants to find love; but how would he, a penniless student, ever dare look up to any woman worth of loving?

Absorbed in his dreary thoughts and indifferent to the advances of Lyduschka, Balduin is unexpectedly offered a fortune by the mysterious money-lender Scapinelli – but on a strange condition…

Student of Prague Collection (1913 & 1926 Versions) (Silent)
  • Paul Wegener, Conrad Veidt (Actors)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

What Was The Purpose Of German Expressionism?

The movement was a reaction to Impressionist art that had been popular at the time.

These paintings were typically dark with heavy use of black lines and shading that created an emotional mood for viewers.

Expressionist artists often use bright colors for intense emotions like happiness or anger.

One popular artist who draws heavily from German expressionism is Edvard Munch whose most famous work was “The Scream” which depicts the feeling of anxiety among many people during World War I and II with its strong lines, sharp angles, deep shadows, contrasting colors and an overall sense of terror expressed through facial expressions.

The purpose of German Expressionism was to reflect on the state of society after World War 1 as well as convey personal emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, despair, and loneliness.

Expressionist artists often had strong political views, which they put on display through their artwork.

Works from this period were influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch, or “Superman.”

German Expressionist Film Portrays A Subjective, Emotional World

The German expressionist style of the film is a unique art form that developed during the Weimar Republic in Germany.

This style of filmmaking can be seen in movies such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and Metropolis.

German Expressionist Film Portrays A Subjective, Emotional World by Carlotta Ramsey-Boltz.

It is characterized by an emphasis on expressive cinematography through light and shadow as well as exaggerated acting styles, sets, props, and costumes.

The goal of these stylistic devices is to elicit strong emotions from the audience while also telling a story or conveying a message about society at the time.

This genre is often considered to be one of the most influential film movements in history because it paved the way for future horror films such as Nosferatu and Frankenstein, as well as classic Hollywood movies like Casablanca (1942) and Citizen Kane (1941).

These ten German Expressionist films are perfect to watch for anyone interested in seeing how this movement has influenced cinema.

Expressionism Film

German Expressionism found its reflection in different areas of cinematography and filmmaking, music as well as art.

In the early 1900s, German Expressionism was a popular art style in Europe.

This movement originated as an offshoot of Impressionism and had many similarities to Cubism, which is also from this era.

One of the most famous artists who created artwork in this style was Max Beckmann.

The term “German expressionist” is often used interchangeably with “Expressionist,” but it has more specific meaning than just any work that shows emotional intensity or distortion of form and space like other types of Expressionism do.

The term was coined in 1919 by German art critic Richard Muhler when he used it to describe paintings from artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch.

The artist’s individual technique will determine whether they are classified as German Expressionists or not; for example, Otto Dix’s paintings were all done using heavy brushstrokes whereas Beckmann would use a much lighter way of applying the dye.

You can find more information on expressionist artists here:

Expressionism film is one of many art forms that has risen to prominence in recent years with unique and innovative takes on traditional filmmaking techniques.

This blog post will explore some of the most compelling examples of expressionist film, from American independent films to German masterpieces, as well as provide insight into how these films were made!

Notable Filmmakers Of German Expressionism

Influenced by artists like Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh, filmmakers created eerie images that shocked audiences with their intense use of light and shadow.

This artistic style became an influential force on both Western art-house movies and Hollywood productions alike.

The most notable filmmakers associated with Expressionism are Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene, Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim, Max Ophuls and Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Their work includes: Metropolis (1927) and Nosferatu (1922)

German filmmakers of this era were looking to challenge what was being shown on screen and break away from what had been done before with their camera work, lighting techniques, and innovative editing.

These key elements are still used today by directors such as Wes Anderson who has said he admires the way these filmmakers “use design to tell stories.”

The movement was started in 1919 by Fritz Lang (director) and Robert Wiene (director).

They were both a part of a group called “The Berliner Buhne” which helped to promote this particular art form.

There are many notable filmmakers in German Expressionism including Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F. W. Murnau, and Giorgio de Chirico.

Ready to learn about more Film History & Film Movements?