How “Metropolis” Shaped Sci-Fi & Society as We Know It

Introduction: The Timeless Appeal of “Metropolis”


As one of the most iconic sci-fi movies ever, “Metropolis” (1927) continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences today. This masterpiece by Fritz Lang, set in a futuristic city ruled by an elite class, explores the dangers of social inequality and the power of technology. But beyond its themes, “Metropolis” also significantly impacted science in terms of the real-life science within the movie and the science that came after it.

This article will examine the science and societal impact of “Metropolis,” exploring its themes, characters, and imagery. We’ll also investigate the real-life science and technologies that inspired or were inspired by the movie. By the end of this article, you’ll better understand why “Metropolis” is not just a classic movie but a cultural and scientific landmark.

Section 1: The Real-Life Science within “Metropolis”

“Metropolis” may be a work of fiction, but it contains some elements of real-life science and technology. The movie was made during significant technological progress, reflecting the era’s optimism and anxiety. Here are some examples of the real-life science within “Metropolis”:

The Tower of Babel and the Skyscraper Craze

One of the most striking features of the movie “Metropolis” is the towering skyscrapers that dominate the city skyline. This imagery reflects the Skyscraper Craze of the 1920s when architects and engineers were competing to build the tallest and most impressive buildings. The idea of a towering city also echoes the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which symbolizes the dangers of hubris and ambition.

The Maschinenmensch and the Birth of Robotics

The Maschinenmensch, or “Machine-Human,” is the iconic robot that plays a central role in “Metropolis.” Karel ńĆapek, the Czech writer who coined the term “robot” in his 1920 play “R.U.R.,” inspired this robot with his real-life experiments. The Maschinenmensch was played by an actress in a costume, but its design influenced the development of real-life robots, such as the ASIMO and Atlas robots.

The Science of Eugenics and the Dangers of Social Engineering

“Metropolis” depicts a society divided between the wealthy elite living in luxury high above the ground and the impoverished workers, who toil in the city’s depths. This society is a product of social engineering, with the ruling class using technology to control the population. This idea reflects the real-life science of eugenics, which was popular in the early 20th century and advocated for the selective breeding of humans to improve the gene pool.

Section 2: The Impact of “Metropolis” on Science Fiction and Society

“Metropolis” is not just a visual and thematic masterpiece; it’s a movie that has significantly influenced science, technology, and society. Here are some examples of the impact of “Metropolis”:

The “Mad Scientist” Archetype

“Metropolis” introduced the archetype of the “mad scientist” to popular culture. The movie’s main villain, Rotwang, is a brilliant but unhinged scientist who creates the Maschinenmensch and plans to overthrow the ruling class. This archetype has since become a recognizable staple in science fiction, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove. And our very own host, “Mad Scientist” Ray.

The Influence on Science Fiction Film

“Metropolis” paved the way for many science fiction films that came after it. Its vision of a dystopian future has inspired countless movies, from “Blade Runner” to “The Matrix.” The movie’s themes of technology, social inequality, and rebellion are still relevant today and continue to inspire filmmakers and audiences. This movie was also one of the inspirations for the book Neuromancer. William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, said that the movie’s depiction of a future city divided between the wealthy and impoverished influenced him. He also admired the movie’s visual style and its use of special effects.

The Legacy in Science and Technology

“Metropolis” also had a significant impact on science and technology. Its futuristic city and towering skyscrapers influenced the urban planning of cities worldwide. The movie’s depiction of robots and artificial intelligence inspired researchers to develop real-life robots that could assist humans in various tasks.

Here are some real scientific examples of how Metropolis has influenced science and technology:

Urban planning

Fritz Lang, a German architect and filmmaker, designed the futuristic city of Metropolis. The city’s towering skyscrapers and vast underground factories were inspired by the real-world cities of New York and Chicago. Metropolis’s depiction of a city divided between the wealthy and impoverished has also influenced urban planners worldwide.


The robot Maria in Metropolis was one of the film’s first depictions of a humanoid robot. Maria’s ability to learn and grow inspired researchers to develop real-life robots to assist humans in various tasks. Today, robots are used in multiple industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and customer service.

Artificial intelligence

Metropolis’s depiction of artificial intelligence was also ahead of its time. The film’s portrayal of Maria as a dangerous and destructive force has influenced how we think about the potential dangers of AI. Today, AI is used in various applications, from self-driving cars to facial recognition software. It is important to remember that AI is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. It is up to us to ensure that AI is used for the benefit of humanity, not its destruction.

In addition to these specific examples, Metropolis has dramatically impacted our understanding of science and technology. The film’s depiction of a future world where technology has advanced to the point where humans and machines are becoming increasingly integrated has helped us to imagine the possibilities of the future. Metropolis is a reminder that technology is not something to be feared but rather embraced. With careful planning and responsible use, technology can help us to create a better future for all.

The Social Impact

“Metropolis” was also a cultural phenomenon that reflected its time’s social and political issues. The movie was released during the Weimar Republic, a period of political and economic turmoil in Germany. It reflected the anxieties of a society struggling with social inequality, class conflict, and technological progress. The movie’s message of unity and reconciliation has resonated with audiences for decades and has become a symbol of hope and social progress.

Conclusion: The Timeless Significance of “Metropolis”

In conclusion, “Metropolis” is not just a classic movie; it’s a cultural and scientific landmark. Its themes, characters, and imagery inspire filmmakers and audiences today. The movie’s influence on science fiction, urban planning, robotics, and social progress cannot be overstated. If you haven’t seen “Metropolis” yet, we highly recommend you do. And if you’re already a fan, subscribe to our newsletter and listen to our podcast episode “Movie: Metropolis (1927)” to get more insights and perspectives on this timeless masterpiece.

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