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Alberich puts on the Tarnhelm and vanishes; illustration by Arthur Rackham to Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold

Invisibility in fiction is a common plot device in stories, plays, films, animated works, video games, and other media, found in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. In fantasy, invisibility is often invoked and dismissed at will by a person, with a magic spell or potion, or a cloak, ring or other object. Alternatively, invisibility may be conferred on an unsuspecting person by a sorcerer, witch, or curse. In science fiction, invisibility is often conferred on the recipient as part of a complex technological or scientific process that is difficult or impossible to reverse, so that switching back and forth at frequent intervals is less likely to be depicted in science fiction. Depending on whether the science fiction is hard science fiction or soft science fiction, the depictions of invisibility may be more rooted in actual or plausible technologies (such as depictions of technologies to make a vessel not appear on detection equipment), or more on the fictional or speculative end of the spectrum.


Main article: Invisibility

Invisibility can be achieved by any number of different mechanisms, including perfect transparency without refraction, mechanisms that reroute light particles so that the subject is not apparent to viewers, and mind control techniques that cause the viewer's minds to simply edit out the subject. In the case of magic, often no attempt at explaining the mechanism is even used. In addition, there are many instances of imperfect invisibility such as cloaking devices in science fiction or the near-invisibility of fantastical creatures that are "out of phase" with this reality. In paranormal fiction, there can also be partial invisibility in that some people, such as psychics, may see invisible creatures or objects while others do not.

Special effects

Strictly speaking, invisibility does not show up and so itself is not the subject of any special effects techniques, but the interaction of invisible subjects with the visible world does call for special effects, especially in the case of invisible people wearing visible clothing. Early films and television shows used wires and puppetry to simulate the existence of an invisible person, along with some scenes that used a matte process to delete certain elements in favor of the background. In The Invisible Man the initial shots swathed the actor's head in a black velvet hood and shot this against a black velvet background. Later, CGI techniques and green screens allowed for greater variety, such as showing rain drops on invisible man Chevy Chase in Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

Historical examples

Main articles: Cap of invisibility, Cloak of invisibility, and Ring of Gyges

Superhero fiction

The supernatural ability to turn invisible has become a popular superpower in superhero media, one of the most notable users being Marvel Comics' Invisible Woman, a member of the Fantastic Four.

The power of invisibility is occasionally linked to the ability to create force fields, as seen with Invisible Woman and Disney Pixar's Violet Parr.


The power to become invisible through scientific methods appeared in 1900s cinema. These films were influenced in some degree by H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man (1897).[5] The earliest known film featuring an invisible man is Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900).[6] Other early examples includes Les Invisibles (1906) in which a scientist creates a concoction which makes whoever who drinks it disappear from view. Other early examples include Le voleur invisible (1909) and The Invisible Wrestler (1911). The 1908 film The Invisible Fluid by Biograph Company features a scientist who creates a fluid that a young boy takes to help steal a cash register and invade police.[7] There are other silent films with invisible men characters derived from Wells' novel rather than fantasy-oriented narratives.[8] The concept of invisibility has been seen in non-science fiction films usually as a temporary element, such as cloaks of invisibility in films like Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen (1924).[9]

Universal Pictures made the novel into a film series in the early 1930s.[10] Universal would also explore invisibility in three of their film serials: The Vanishing Shadow (1934), Flash Gordon (1936), and The Phantom Creeps (1939).[11] In the late 1930s, Universal began making sequels to their horror films along with Joe May's The Invisible Man Returns (1940).[12][13] Film critic Kim Newman described that Universal's later Invisible Man films setting how the next Invisible Man films were going to play out with characters becoming invisible through a scientific formula, all while other plot elements happen such as crime-oriented stories or spy stories.[12] The series also added a key plot element to the majority of later "invisible man" themed films that being invisible drives the invisible person insane.[14] This is seen in later films such as The Invisible Man Appears (1949), The Invisible Maniac (1990) and Hollow Man (2000).[15]

Universal had made several remakes of their older horror film properties with the remake of The Mummy (1999) and The Wolfman (2010) and after the financial failure of The Mummy (2017), they had licensed their properties to the independent company Blumhouse Productions for The Invisible Man (2020).[16] The film was released to positive reception from critics.[17]

Television shows


Comic books

Video games


Metaphorical use of the concept

See also


  1. ^ In Republic book 10, Socrates refers to the ring as belonging to Gyges himself, not his ancestor, as Glaucon states in Book 2. For this reason, the story is simply called "The Ring of Gyges".
  2. ^ Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p 332 W. W. Norton & company, London, New York, 2004 ISBN 0-393-05848-4
  3. ^ Edith Hamilton, Mythology, p 29, ISBN 0-451-62702-4
  4. ^ Gantz, Jeffrey (translator) (1987). The Mabinogion, p. 80. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044322-3.
  5. ^ Rhodes 2018, p. 316.
  6. ^ Newman 2021, 00:04:02.
  7. ^ Rhodes 2018, p. 317.
  8. ^ Newman 2021, 00:04:30.
  9. ^ Newman 2021, 00:01:06.
  10. ^ Newman 2021, 00:05:00.
  11. ^ Glut 1978, p. 139.
  12. ^ a b Newman 2021, 00:10:28.
  13. ^ Newman 2021, 00:11:18.
  14. ^ Newman 2021, 00:05:44.
  15. ^ Newman 2021, 00:07:05.
  16. ^ Newman 2021, 00:21:18.
  17. ^ "The Invisible Man (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Archived from the original on April 17, 2021. Retrieved July 31, 2023.