Top Film Adaptations of Frankenstein: from the Early Icons to Dark Re-imaginings
Like his peers Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein's Creature has been featured extensively in film – both adaptations of the source novel and as a stock character in original plots: over eighty unique films in total. The following is an annotated list of the most notable adaptations.
THE EARLY ICONS
1910, starring Charles Ogle and Augustus Philips.
This silent film was the first adaptation of the story, produced by Edison Studios. Running at 14 minutes, it’s a quick watch. The plot includes Jekyll/Hyde elements and features some clever use of the Doppelganger motif.
1931, starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Mae Clarke.
As much as I would like to eviscerate this film for eternally associating the Creature with a bumbling, flatheaded ogre, the movie is a cinematic masterpiece, highlighting themes of otherness, scientific ethics, and isolation vs. human fellowship. Karloff’s mute performance -- deeply vulnerable and childlike in spite of his grotesque appearance -- and that of Clive’s egomaniacal “Henry” Frankenstein are superb. James Whale’s beautiful photography pulls ably from German expressionism, and his vision is startlingly forward thinking.
The Bride of Frankenstein.
1935, starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Elsa Lanchester.
Opening with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who doubles as the venomous Mate), Percy, and Lord Byron huddled together during a lightning storm, this sequel is even better than the original, following the Creature’s development from stupid brute to brokenhearted reject. This plot wrings out some of the novel’s best subtext, delves deeply into its themes of social otherness, and is considered a queer masterpiece for its exploration of gender, use of camp, and exploration of sexual isolation and otherness. Of all the films listed here, this is the best piece of cinema: it is beautiful, deeply spiritual, thematically inventive, and tragic from start to finish. Here we see Karloff's Creature reach his pathetic apotheosis.
OTHER NOTABLE UNIVERSAL ADAPTATIONS:
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The Curse of Frankenstein.
1957, starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing,
and Hazel Court.
Following several Universal sequels, this Hammer Film was the first serious attempt to adapt the novel since Karloff. Hammer’s first color film was controversial for its gore, brutality, and amorality. Lee’s grotesque Creature was less relatable than Karloff’s, and Cushing’s Victor was more of a rational sociopath than Clive’s raving psychopath, which more accurately reflects Shelley’s disturbing, narcissistic protagonist.
OTHER NOTABLE HAMMER ADAPTATIONS:
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
Frankenstein: The True Story.
1973, starring Michael Sarrazin, Leonard Whiting,
and Jane Seymour.