Lotte Eisner was born in Berlin to a prosperous Jewish merchant family. She attended gymnasium (high school) in Karlsruhe, and then studied archaeology, art history, and philosophy at the universities of Berlin, Freiburg im Breisgau, Munich, and Rostock, earning a Ph.D. in 1924. She worked on Italian archaeological excavations in 1924-1926, and then wrote arts reviews for the newspapers Literarische Welt and the Berliner Tageblatt. In 1927, at the daily Filmkuriers, she became the first woman film critic. As a Jew and a proponent of Expressionism, she had to flee the Nazi regime in 1933, and went to live with her sister in Paris. There she supported herself as a correspondent for the British Film World News, the Czech Internationale Filmschau and Die Kritik, also working as a secretary, nanny and translator. At the start of World War II, she was interned at the camp in Gurs, Aquitaine, for three months but escaped and worked as a cook in Figeac under a false name. Before the end of the war, she had begun working for film preservationist Henri Langlois. In 1945, she was appointed chief conservator for the Cinémathèque française in Paris, a post she held for 30 years. She became a naturalized French citizen in 1952. That same year, she published L'écran démoniaque: influence de Max Reinhardt et de l'expressionisme (The Haunted Screen), her most important book. She co-founded the Musée Cinémathèque with Langlois in 1972. After her retirement, she continued to write for the monthly Cahiers du Cinéma and La Revue du Cinéma. She was was the subject of at least two documentary films, Die langen Ferien der Lotte H. Eisner (The Long Vacation of Lotte H. Eisner, 1979) and La mort n'a pas voulu de moi (Death Did Not Want Me, 1984).