Sunrise won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first ever Oscar ceremony in 1929. In 1989, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. In a 2002 critics' poll for the British Film Institute, Sunrise was named the seventh-best film in the history of motion pictures.
Sunrise was made by F. W. Murnau, a German director who was one of the leading figures in German Expressionism, a style that uses distorted art design for symbolic effect. Murnau was invited by William Fox to make an Expressionist film in Hollywood.
Titles are used sparingly in the movie. Previously, in Germany, Murnau had made a film called The Last Laugh which told its story with only one title card (to explain the ending). In Sunrise, there are long sequences without titles, and the bulk of the story is told through images in a similar style. Murnau makes extensive use of forced perspective throughout the film. Of special note is a shot of the City where you see normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and little people in the background along with much smaller sets.
The film is also notable for its groundbreaking cinematography (by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss), and features some particularly impressive tracking shots that influenced later filmmakers. These innovations have led some to call it the "Citizen Kane" of American silent cinema.
One excellent example of this cinematography is the scene in which, after the abortive murder attempt, the man and wife take the trolley into the city. In this trip the characters must make the emotional journey from fear and distrust to a renewed relationship, while making the physical journey from the country to the city.