Eternal Gardens & Wretched Hives

Representation of Cities in Science Fiction Films

  • Phillip M. Crosby Temple University


ABSTRACT: Cities and the cinema have been inextricably linked ever since Louis Lumière filmed workers leaving his family’s factory in 1895. Lumière’s cinématographe was smaller and lighter than Thomas Edison’s kinematograph, enabling it to be easily moved about the urban environment. This would eventually lead to the development of the “city symphony” genre—epitomized by films like Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929)—which portrays the everyday urban life of rapidly-growing and quickly-changing cities. While these early films examined the city as a subject in itself, more recent films—especially in the science fiction genre—have used cities and urban environments as tools to reinforce the thematic elements of the film. As perhaps the most influential form of popular culture of the twentieth century, film is one of the primary avenues through which the public is exposed to ideologies of the modern city. Furthermore, recent research has shown that film may strongly influence the opinions and perceptions of an audience. As a result it is essential that scholars of the built environment recognize the role that film plays in developing the cultural understanding of urban spaces. Thus, this paper will examine three common themes from science fiction films that have implications for our understanding of cities—the stratified city, the segregated city, and the synthetic city.i Through the analysis of cinematic spaces this paper will show how the ideas of thinkers like Friedrich Engels, Georg Simmel, Mike Davis, Trevor Boddy, Frederic Jameson, David Harvey, Rem Koolhaas, and Charles Waldheim have been disseminated to the public. This paper will also discuss how these films may be used in an academic setting to engage students in discussions of urban issues that can oftentimes be difficult to grasp in the abstract.


KEYWORDS: Film, Cities, Urbanism, Science Fiction, Pedagogy

How to Cite
Crosby, P. (2018). Eternal Gardens & Wretched Hives. ARCC Conference Repository.