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10 Best Movies of Fritz Lang: Legacy Collection of the Master of Darkness

10 Best Movies of Fritz Lang: Legacy Collection of the Master of Darkness

Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang may have passed away in the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, he will never be really gone.

Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to meet the Master of Darkness, and to witness his unique visual style, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of his movies.

But which ones should you watch?
Well, if that’s the very question lurking in your mind right now, then you came to the right place. We’re just about to present the 10 Best Movies of Fritz Lang.

If this is your first ride on the time-travelling FrameTrek Wagon, here’s what this is all about:

We choose a topic, in this case: “Best Movies of Fritz Lang”, and we set sail for a journey, where the bricks of the trek are made of movie frames, and each stop represents a magnificent achievement in Film.

The Best Movies of Fritz Lang is an episode of FrameTrek’s Hall of Legends: A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest artists of World Cinema, and their most significant works.


Meet Fritz Lang, the Master of Darkness

(1890 – 1976)

Fritz Lang working

Fritz Lang, also known as the Master of Darkness, was one of the most influential filmmakers of the Silent Era, both in the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Also, his later works were integral to the emergence and evolution of the Film-Noir genre.

He created an unprecedented movie style by combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques. His films were predominantly dark both visually and in tone.

Each picture has some sort of rhythm which only the director can give it. He has to be like the captain of a ship.

Fritz Lang

Despite being recognized as a genius, Lang also earned the reputation for being a tyrant on set, because of his abusive behavior.

He was quite unhappy when a scene didn’t come out exactly the way he wanted it to, and would often take out his frustrations on his cast and crew.

Since he was famously difficult to work with, he became one of the most personally disliked directors at the time, and many actors refused to work with him.

Lang was a collector of primitive art, and he usually wore a monocle, but most likely only for dramatic effect. It is also interesting to note, that all of his films feature a shot of his hand.

He was one of the few artists of the Silent Era, who were able to make the transition from silent to talking pictures. His first talkie, entitled simply M, became a success and is now a renowned masterpiece of the early sound era.

Adolf Hitler and his inner circle were impressed by Lang’s films, thus privileges and opportunities were offered to him, despite the fact that he was Jewish.

He choose to flee Germany instead and moved to Hollywood, where he began a 20 years long career, during which he made mostly successful, but still underappreciated films.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Fritz Lang, but this article concentrates on his Top 10 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, a director is as good as his greatest achievements. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Lang, is through watching his best films as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of Fritz Lang carry you to forgotten lands of Silent Era and Film-Noir!

See FrameTrek's definition of 'Best' and the story behind this List (click to expand) ↴

How to define ‘Best’?

That’s a pretty good question, since ‘Best’ is relative. A movie can be considered being among the best for multiple reasons, such as: Critical Acclaim, Audience Feedback, Box Office Performance, Awards and Nominations, Iconic Status, Popularity, Watchability, and even Personal Preference, or for being part of a famous list such as the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die or Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list – or because that particular movie defined its era, or because it was a defining achievement of the artist(s) involved.

So how did we pick the Top 10 Movies of Fritz Lang?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! Fritz Lang directed so many excellent films, that it’s almost impossible to build a “Top 10 List”, without leaving some of his great movies out of the spotlight. We did our best though.

While composing the Best Films of Fritz Lang list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph above, and then some.

We believe that the movies that made the cut should not compete with one another any further, so we will just present them in the order they were released in.

If you watch these movies in a chronological order, you will embark on a cinematic journey through Fritz Lang’s life, following him from the start of his career to the end.



Presenting the 10 Best Films of Fritz Lang

Chronologically


Destiny (1921)

Der müde Tod (original German title)

Destiny (1921), Best Movies of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent German Expressionist fantasy romance film.

Story: When a woman’s fiancé disappears, Death gives her three chances to save him from his fate. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The concept for the portrayal of Death came from Lang’s childhood experience of suffering from high fever in bed, envisioning a dark stranger approaching him to take him away.

Why is Destiny among the greatest movies of Fritz Lang?
✓ Received positive reviews from audiences and critics, who praised its art direction, photography, and special effects.
✓ An influential silent classic. Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchcock (among others) were deeply impressed and inspired by this film.


Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (original German title)

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), Best Films of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent German crime thriller film starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge.

Story: Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse sets out to make a fortune and run Berlin. Detective Wenk sets out to stop him. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Fritz Lang originally wanted the actress portraying Venus to be completely nude, but he didn’t like how the woman’s pubic hair looked, so he ordered her to shave it off. The actress indignantly refused, sending Lang into a tantrum.

Why is Dr. Mabuse the Gambler among the greatest films of Fritz Lang?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from audiences and critics, who praised its plot, technical effects, Klein-Rogge’s performance and Lang’s direction.


Die Nibelungen Duology (1924)

Die Nibelungen Duology (1924), Top Movies of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent German epic fantasy adventure film duology.

Story: Siegfried sets off on a magical journey, to win over Kriemhild, the beautiful princess of Worms. On his way to her, he fights and kills a dragon and bathes in its blood. This makes his skin invulnerable to chopping or stabbing. But little does he know that his future adventures might still cost his life.

Between Frames:
✪ The dragon that appears on the screen is not a miniature, but a full-scale, 60 feet long puppet.

This duology is often called the “Lord of the Rings of the Silent Era”, and rightly so. They both have a classic myth-like source material and they were both made into staggering fantasy films.

Why is Die Nibelungen Duology among the best movies of Fritz Lang?
✓ It is such a colossal story that to do justice to it, director Fritz Lang decided to release it in two parts, totaling 5 hours. It is often referred to as the Lord of the Rings of the silent era.
✓ One of the most popular and most influential movies of the 1920s, and a timeless classic.


Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis (1927), Top Films of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent German expressionist science-fiction drama film.

The story is based on the classic sci-fi novel of the same title, first published in 1925, written by Fritz Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou. Would you like to read the book?

Story: In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Between Frames:
✪ The robot costume was so uncomfortable to wear and so hard to breath in, that Brigitte Helm fainted on set in the middle of a scene. This costume inspired the design of C-3PO in Star Wars.
✪ It was such an expensive project, that it nearly pushed Universum Film studio into bankruptcy.
✪ More than 37000 extras were included, a city model was built, and shooting required more than a year.

A visually awe-inspiring science fiction classic from the silent era.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Metropolis among the best films of Fritz Lang?
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list, and it is also inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
✓ Chosen by Premiere magazine as one of the “100 Movies That Shook the World” and selected by the Vatican in the “art” category of its list of 45 “great films”.
✓ The world’s first feature-length science fiction movie.


M (1931)

M (1931), Greatest Movies of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

German crime thriller starring Peter Lorre.

Story: When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Fritz Lang’s cruelty to the actors was legendary. Peter Lorre was thrown down the stairs into the cellar over a dozen times, until the perfect shot was taken.
✪ Lang asserted that he cast real criminals for the court scene in the end. Reportedly, 24 cast members were arrested during filming.
✪ Peter Lorre couldn’t whistle well so the whistling heard in the film was actually done by Fritz Lang, who felt his own off-key whistling very appropriate.

A landmark psychological thriller with arresting images, deep thoughts on modern society, and Peter Lorre in his finest performance.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is M among the top movies of Fritz Lang?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and it is considered to be one of the greatest German Expressionistic films.
✓ Received widespread critical praise for its cinematography, use of sound, and Lorre’s performance.
✓ This is Fritz Lang’s first sound film, and he stated that this was his favorite of all of his films.



The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Greatest Films of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

German crime-thriller film starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge.

Story: A new mysterious crime wave tantalises the city. When Berlin police inspector Lohmann starts to investigate, all clues seem to point to the infamous Dr. Mabuse. The only problem is, that Dr. Mabuse has been locked up in an insane asylum for almost a decade.

Why is The Testament of Dr. Mabuse among the top films of Fritz Lang?
✓ Modern reception of the film is favorable with critics, while the film has influenced filmmakers including Claude Chabrol and Artur Brauner.
✓ The character of Dr. Mabuse inspired multiple future movie villains, including the 2008 version of the Joker in The Dark Knight portrayed by Heath Ledger.


Fury (1936)

Fury (1936), Best Movies of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

American crime drama film-noir starring Spencer Tracy.

Story: When a wrongly accused prisoner barely survives a lynch mob attack and is presumed dead, he vindictively decides to fake his death and frame the mob for his supposed murder. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Fritz Lang threw smoke bombs into the riot scene to rile up his actors. One of them struck the actor Bruce Cabot, who had to be physically restrained from punching the director.
✪ Spencer Tracy got on so badly with Fritz Lang that he vowed he would never work with the director again.

This was Fritz Lang’s first American movie, having arrived from a year in Paris after he fled the Nazi regime in Germany.

Why is Fury among the greatest movies of Fritz Lang?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
✓ One of the most popular and successful movies of the 1930s, now considered a classic.


The Woman in the Window (1944)

The Woman in the Window (1944), Best Films of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

American crime drama film-noir.

Story: When a conservative middle-aged professor engages in a minor dalliance with a femme fatale, he is plunged into a nightmarish quicksand of blackmail and murder. (IMDB)

The term “film noir” originated as a genre description, in part, because of this movie.


Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street (1945), Top Movies of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

American film-noir tragedy.

Story: When a man in mid-life crisis befriends a young woman, her venal fiancé persuades her to con him out of the fortune they mistakenly assume he possesses. (IMDB)

Local authorities of multiple cities banned this film entirely, for being “licentious, profane, obscure, and contrary to the good order of the community”.

Why is Scarlet Street among the greatest films of Fritz Lang?
✓ This film is in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound collection of the Library of Congress.
✓ One of Fritz Lang’s personal favorites of his own films.


The Big Heat (1953)

The Big Heat (1953), Top Films of Fritz Lang
Where to Watch?   More info

American crime thriller film-noir.

Story: Tough cop Dave Bannion takes on a politically powerful crime syndicate. (IMDB)

Why is The Big Heat among the best movies of Fritz Lang?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and preserved in The Academy Film Archive.



The end of Fritz Lang’s Story

Fritz Lang old

The constraints of the Hollywood studio system forced Lang to simplify his visual style and follow the actual trends.

His worldview became increasingly pessimistic, his health declined with age, and he was slowly losing his sight. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) was his final project as a director.

Lang died from a stroke in 1976. He was nearly blind at the time of his death.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Fritz Lang, you may want to read Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast by Patrick McGilligan.


…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 10 Greatest Films of Fritz Lang

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

10 Best Movies of Fritz Lang
Legacy of the Master of Darkness
Destiny 1921
Destiny (1921)
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler 1922
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)
*Part of the Collection: Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse and M Cinematic Universe
Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen Duology 1923
Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen Duology (1924)
Metropolis 1927
Metropolis (1927)
M 1931
M (1931)
*Part of the Collection: Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse and M Cinematic Universe
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse 1933
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
*Part of the Collection: Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse and M Cinematic Universe
Fury 1936
Fury (1936)
The Woman in the Window 1944
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Scarlet Street 1945
Scarlet Street (1945)
The Big Heat 1953
The Big Heat (1953)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

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