The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 American silent horror film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney in the title role of the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make the woman he loves a star. The film remains most famous for Chaney's ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere. The film was released on November 15, 1925.
The picture also features Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis and Snitz Edwards. The last surviving cast member was Carla Laemmle (1909–2014), niece of producer Carl Laemmle, who played a small role as a "prima ballerina" in the film when she was about 15.
In 1953, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.
The film opens with the debut of the new season at the Paris Opera House, with a production of Gounod's Faust. Comte Philippe de Chagny and his brother, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny are in attendance. Raoul is there only in the hope of hearing his sweetheart Christine Daaé sing. Christine has made a sudden rise from the chorus to understudy of Mme. Carlotta, the prima donna. Raoul visits her in her dressing room during an interval in the performance, and makes his intentions known that he wishes for Christine to resign and marry him. Christine refuses to let their relationship get in the way of her career.
At the height of the most prosperous season in the Opera's history, the management suddenly resign. As they leave, they tell the new managers of the Opera Ghost, a phantom who is "the occupant of box No. 5," among other things. The new managers laugh it off as a joke, but the old management leaves, troubled.
After the performance, the ballerinas are disturbed by the sight of a mysterious man in a fez prowling down in the cellars, and they wonder if he is the Phantom. Meanwhile, Mme. Carlotta, the prima donna, has received a letter from "The Phantom," demanding that Christine sing the role of Marguerite the following night, threatening dire consequences if his demands are not met. In Christine's dressing room, an unseen voice warns Christine that she must take Carlotta's place on Wednesday and that she is to think only of her career and her master.
The following day, in a garden near the Opera House, Raoul meets Christine and asks her to reconsider his offer. Christine admits that she has been tutored by a divine voice, the "Spirit of Music," and that it is now impossible to stop her career. Raoul tells her that he thinks someone is playing a joke on her, and she storms off in anger.
Wednesday evening, Christine takes Carlotta's place in the opera. During the performance, the managers enter Box 5 and are startled to see a shadowy figure seated there, who soon disappears when they are not looking. Later, Simon Buquet finds the body of his brother, stagehand Joseph Buquet, hanging by a noose and vows vengeance. Carlotta receives another peremptory note from the Phantom. Once again, he demands that she say she is ill and let Christine take on her role. The managers get a similar note, reiterating that if Christine does not sing, they will present Faust in a house with a curse on it.
The following evening, despite the Phantom's warnings, a defiant Carlotta appears as Marguerite. During the performance, the large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling is dropped onto the audience. Christine enters a secret door behind the mirror in her dressing room, descending into the lower depths of the Opera. She meets the Phantom, who introduces himself as Erik and declares his love; Christine faints, and Erik carries her to a suite fabricated for her comfort. The next day, she finds a note from Erik telling her that she is free to come and go as she pleases, but that she must never look behind his mask. Christine sneaks up behind the Phantom and tears off his mask, revealing his deformed skull-like face. Enraged, the Phantom declares that she is now his prisoner. She pleads with him to sing again, and he relents, allowing her to visit the surface one last time.
Released from underground, Christine makes a rendezvous with Raoul at the annual masked-ball, at which the Phantom appears in the guise of the "Red-Death". Raoul and Christine and flee to the roof of the Opera House, where she tells him about her experiences under the Opera House. Unbeknownst to them, the Phantom is listening nearby. Raoul plans to whisk Christine safely away to London following the next performance. As they leave the roof, the mysterious man with the fez approaches them. Aware that the Phantom is waiting downstairs, he leads Christine and Raoul to another exit.
The following evening, during her performance, Christine is kidnapped by the Phantom. Raoul rushes to her dressing room, and meets the man in the fez, who reveals himself to be Inspector Ledoux, a secret policeman who has been tracking Erik since he escaped as a prisoner from Devil's Island. Ledoux reveals the secret door in Christine's room and the two men enter the catacombs of the Opera House in an attempt to rescue Christine. They fall into the Phantom's dungeon, a torture room of his design. Philippe has also found his way into the catacombs looking for his brother. Phillipe is drowned by Erik, who returns to find the two men in the torture chamber.
The Phantom subjects the two prisoners to intense heat; the two manage to escape the chamber by opening a door in the floor. In the chamber below, the Phantom shuts a gate, locking them in with barrels full of gunpowder. Christine begs the Phantom to save Raoul, promising him anything in return, even becoming his wife. At the last second, the Phantom opens a trapdoor in his floor through which Raoul and Ledoux are saved.
A mob led by Simon infiltrates the Phantom's lair. As the mob approaches, the Phantom attempts to flee with Christine in a carriage meant for Raoul and Christine. While Raoul saves Christine, the Phantom is thrown by the mob into the River Seine, where he drowns. In a brief epilogue, Raoul and Christine are shown on their honeymoon in Viroflay.