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German Expressionism was an artistic movement that started before World War I in Germany, and culminated in the 20s with Expressionist cinema. It was an extremely influential genre that demonstrated cinema could be an art form, and not just entertainment. These films were a major contributor to the Horror genre and important precursors of Film Noir.

While the movement thrived in Weimar Germany, the Nazis were virulently opposed to expressionism, and even had a huge touring art exhibit dedicated to making fun of expressionist art. Persecution led to the movement's decline, and many expressionist artists fled to the States or other friendly countries to escape oppression.

Expressionism tends to be characterized by showing the subconscious feelings of the characters and making them the surface of the work. The audience will be shown not what is strictly, naturally real (in fact, painters intentionally avoided it), but an abstract view of what the characters feel is real. Artists preferred to use large shapes and thick outlines rather than natural shading and colors. Shapes are stretched and twisted, and the subjects are portrayed in grim, tense poses. Such art is generally portrayed as fairly dark.

Translating this art style into movies usually involved surreal set designs, dialog that dispenses with naturalism to let the characters' inner motivations and thoughts be stated with brutal honesty, and stark lighting effects. A strong, nightmarish atmosphere tends to prevail.

Much modern art, and modern film in particular, is heavily influenced by German Expressionism: films like Edward Scissorhands, Dark City, and Batman Returns are extremely expressionist, and almost any movie that have a nightmarish city, a machine-like bureaucratic government, or an evil AI owes a little to German Expressionism.


Notable artists included:

  • Fritz Lang
  • Friedrich W. Murnau
  • Robert Wiene
  • Carl T. Dreyer
  • Joe May
  • Paul Wegener
  • Arthur Robison
  • Paul Leni

Notable films included:


Notable tropes made by, codified by or named after German Expressionism include:


Other tropes frequently associated with the genre:

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