On February 12, 1912, the camera rolls for the first time in Babelsberg – Danish director Urban Gad is shooting Der Totentanz (The Dance of the Dead) starring Asta Nielsen, thus marking the birth of Studio Babelsberg, the oldest film studio in the world.
After the end of the World War I, the production company Deutsche Bioscop Gesellschaft merges with the German branch of the French film studio Éclair “Decla” to create “Decla Bioscop” in Babelsberg.
In 1921, Decla Bioscop becomes part of Universum Film AG (Ufa), which was founded in 1917. In order to accommodate the production of Metropolis, Ufa builds a sound stage still in use to this day, "Marlene-Dietrich-Halle" in 1926.
By building the "Tonkreuz", Germany's first sound stage, the studio ushers into a new era, producing the first German language sound film in 1929, Melody of the Heart starring Willy Fritsch.
In 1930, the studio celebrates the premiere of The Blue Angel by Josef von Sternberg starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings.
The economic recession at the end of the 1920s drives UFA close to bankruptcy. After the Nazis took power in 1933, the "Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda" commissions a number of Nazi-propaganda pictures. Filmmakers like Josef von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder and film stars like Marlene Dietrich leave Germany to try their luck in Hollywood.
The production of entertainment still remains the Studio's main function, in order to distract the German audience from the terrors of war. During this era, the studio produces pictures such as Münchhausen (Baron Munchhausen) and Feuerzangenbowle. The stars of the time are Zarah Leander, Heinz Rühmann and Hans Albers.
Due to Joseph Goebbel's decree that entertainment is part of the war effort, the German film industry keeps production going until the last days of the war in 1945. In August of 1945, the studio lot becomes subject to allied law and is occupied by the Soviet military administration until 1947.
After the end of World War 2, the studio is immediately put back to work. On May 4, 1946, filming begins on Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers Are Among Us starring Hildegard Knef. On May 17, 1946, the German-Soviet stock corporation DEFA (Deutsche Film AG) is founded. The studio becomes the exclusive location for feature film production in the GDR and, with about 2,500 employees, advances to one of the largest employers in the region.
From 1946 to 1990, DEFA produces more than 1.200 feature and television pictures of various artistic and political color, including Das kalte Herz (1950), Der Untertan (1951), Die Geschichte vom kleinen Muck (1953), Nackt unter Wölfen (1963), Das singende, klingende Bäumchen (1957), Das Kaninchen bin ich (1965), Spur der Steine (1966), Die Legende von Paul und Paula (1973), Solo Sunny (1980), and Coming Out (1989). In 1976, Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar) becomes the only GDR film production to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.
In August 1992, Treuhand sells the former DEFA studios in Babelsberg to the French corporation Compagnie Générale des Eaux (that would later become Vivendi Universal).
Over the next 12 years, the parent company invests around €250M in the film studio, thus creating the infrastructure that allows the studio to prevail in today’s market.
In July 2004, Vivendi sells Studio Babelsberg to the investment company FBB - Filmbetriebe Berlin Brandenburg GmbH, with Dr. Carl L. Woebcken and Christoph Fisser as shareholders. In spring 2005, the company is converted into a stock corporation.
2007 is the most successful financial year since privatisation in 1992 – 12 German and international feature films are produced, including The Reader, Valkyrie, The Bourne Ultimatum.
In 2009, Quentin Tarantino and Roman Polanski – two of the world's most famous directors – work in Babelsberg. The films Inglourious Basterds and The Ghostwriter receive international acclaim and recognition after their cinema releases.
In 2010-2011, Studio Babelsberg produces films such as Unknown, The Apparition, Hanna, Chicken with Plums and The Three Musketeers 3D.
In 2012, Studio Babelsberg celebrates its 100th anniversary. The restored version of the first Babelsberg motion picture, Der Totentanz (The Dance of Death) is shown at the ceremony on 12 February. The anniversary is accompanied by numerous events and special exhibitions, among them at the Filmmuseum Potsdam, at the Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and during the Berlin International Film Festival.
In 2013, several international productions (The Book Thief, The Monuments Men, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Voices) bring a myriad of stars to Babelsberg including George Clooney, Wes Anderson, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Damon, Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel.
In 2014, Studio Babelsberg celebrates three world premieres in the Berlinale Competition for the first time in its history. In the same year, Studio Babelsberg co-produces The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Point Break and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies among others.
In 2015, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is awarded four Oscars: Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier), Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero) and Best Music, Original Score (Alexandre Desplat).
In 2016, Studio Babelsberg opens one of the largest and most modern backlots in Europe, the Neue Berliner Straße/Metropolitan Backlot. The flexible backlot can be converted to every city of the world with four streets of houses in different architectural styles and several courtyards. Babylon Berlin is the first project to be filmed here.
With the fifth season of Homeland (2015), the first international high-end series comes to Babelsberg. Subsequently, more and more productions are created for streaming services, including Berlin Station (2016-2019), Sense8 (2016), Counterpart (2017 – 2019) and Dark (2017 – 2020).
In 2018, Potsdam is classified as MediaTech Hub. Volucap at Studio Babelsberg, the first volumetric capture studio on the European continent, is one of its flagships. The circular studio, equipped with 32 cameras, makes immersive VR and AR projects possible. Studio Babelsberg also co-produces Isle of Dogs, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Charlie’s Angels.
In 2019, Isle of Dogs is nominated for the Oscars in two categories. In the last 20 years, Studio Babelsberg productions received 48 nominations at the Academy Awards and were awarded a total of 15 Oscars in different categories.
In 2020, two major international productions are successfully completed: Uncharted with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg and the fourth installment of the Matrix series, directed by Lana Wachowski. Studio Babelsberg names its largest sound stage (Stage 20) "Rainbow Stage" in honor of the filmmakers and LGBTQ+ activists Lana and Lilly Wachowski, sending a clear message for tolerance, respect and diversity.
In 2021, DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage opens at Studio Babelsberg. It is one of Europe's largest permanently installed LED studios for virtual film production. The stage offers a 180.5-feet-circumference and a 23-feet-high LED wall consisting of 1470 state-of-the-art 2.3 LED panels, an LED ceiling and a worldwide unique ‘Revolving Stage’. Instead of the green/blue screen and a complex post-production process, digital backgrounds can now be created in advance as a 3D world and displayed on the LED wall in real time for filming. The Netflix series 1899 is the first project to be filmed in the studio.
In 2022, Studio Babelsberg will celebrate its 110th anniversary.