Frankenstein's Best Movies and Where to Watch Them – CBR – Comic Book Resources

The Frankenstein novel essentially invented science fiction, making its movies carry a heavy legacy. Here are the ones that manage it.
The family of Frankenstein movies is perhaps one of the best-known in all cinema. Adaptations of Mary Shelley's work and original sequels all, the novel about the monster that is more human than the world he is born into is one of the foundational writings of science fiction and serves as one of the greatest inspirations of tropes and scholarly nuance since William Shakespeare. It's a novel that has been mistreated and well-adapted dozens of times, and horror as a genre owes it a great debt.
As far as popular culture goes, Frankenstein has had a presence since its inception. However, it truly took off with the invention of film. It has always been relatively easy to cite the creation of horror as a genre and its close kin as instrumental to the development of film as a whole. However, Frankenstein is uniquely situated. For this reason, direct adaptations and proclaimed sequels of the source material, excising the hundreds of movies that feature The Sharp-Featured Man but aren't related to the novel, should be watched for their historical value, if nothing else. With that in mind, here are some of the greatest Frankenstein movies of all time and where to watch them.
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Much like the controversial Nosferatu silent film and its relationship to Dracula, Frankenstein adaptations began in the silent film era. The Edison Kinetograph "Frankenstein" short film clocks in at a mere 12 minutes, which makes it controversially minor to say it serves as a major adaptation of Frankenstein, though short films are still major points in horror. Given that it was filmed merely 22 years after the very first film, it deserves a watch, especially since it's available anywhere public domain video is housed, such as YouTube. It's the one film on the list without a rating, but it's also the only one that was actually produced by Thomas Edison, which means that, even though Rotten Tomatoes may have no say, it's worth a look as a historical artifact alone.
Famously chosen over Dracula's Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff's sympathetic patchwork man was one of the first Universal creature features and served to cement the studio's monstrous mastery. A direct adaptation of the book that added features to make the monster more pronouncedly horrifying, this piece began a collaboration between the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises that led, in part, to today's confusion as to the monster's name. It's an essential piece of monster cinema and horror cinema, and Karloff's face is still directly associated with the monster to this day. Even without all of that, the movie sits at a rare 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out its contemporary, Dracula.
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Adapting one of the less-seen aspects of the Frankenstein mythos, The Bride of Frankenstein invented most of the prominent aspects of the titular bride, who only gets a brief mention in the original novel. Strangely half-sequel, half-adaptation of the source material, Bride of Frankenstein redefined what a horror sequel was and what it could mean to a series. Still one of the most-beloved sequels ever produced, it boasts a significant 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which, though lower than its classic predecessor, is higher than nearly any other adaptation of Frankenstein… or any other movie.
Hammer Horror was essentially a direct answer in the 1950s to Universal's dominance over all things monster, and it started with (who else but) Frankenstein. A paltry 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes belies the film's distinct spirit and brilliant casting, with Peter Cushing playing Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as his creation. It's definitely cheesier and more horror-focused than many other adaptations, but it's well worth a watch if only to see these two actors before they became the unparalleled greats they are known as today. The classic horror film is currently streaming on HBO Max and has a long list of sequels for those who love the world.
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It's not typical to include sequels in this sort of article, and it's even less common to include parodies without that being the specific focus. However, Mel Brooks' adaptation/sequel, Young Frankenstein, is as much a parody as it is a love letter to Universal's first adaptations. It manages to be a Frankenstein with a happy ending that includes a very different lesson on being monstrous but doesn't lack the overall appeal of the original, even as it is incredibly jocular. It's a great movie for a non-spooky Halloween night in. Its Rotten Tomatoes score, a certified fresh 94 percent, is within striking distance from Universal's adaptation. It also partook in the nascent trend of horror being in black and white long after it was common, an artistic choice that much horror still emulates to this day. It may have influenced this aspect of horror industry-wide. Then again, maybe it didn't. Call it a "hunch."
Robert De Niro as The Sharp-Featured Man is one of several decisions that make this adaptation languish at a rotten 42 percent. However, for those looking for an accurate adaptation of the original book and a throwback to traditional filming styles à la its companion piece, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a very good adaptation. It keeps the original spirit of the novel in making the monster well-spoken and intelligent, even as his qualities are monstrous and often malevolent. The plot and pacing are subpar (movie adaptations of novels are often sped up and simplified for a reason), but the cast is brilliant, especially an early standout performance from Helena Bonham Carter, who steals every scene she's in and demonstrates a rarely-mined depth.
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Great stories often resonate well beyond their time, and Frankenstein (2015) is a great example of this principle. Moving the novel into the modern day with minor changes and giving the female characters a bit more agency, Frankenstein is an adaptation that truly pulls from the original to make the same point but in today's world, forcing the audience to come to terms with the fact that this isn't some story linked solely to Victorian England; it could just as easily fit in this day and age, with society's hatred of the "other" just as prominent. It's not a fun romp through science fiction like the others. It's cold and painful, but at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it's well worth the watch.
Frankenstein is deeply interwoven with both horror and science fiction, so it's not surprising that its adaptations are splendiferous. What is surprising is their consistent quality and the influence that many have had upon not just society but the way that the original novel is viewed. Though not every Frankenstein is available for everyone, it would be a great idea to watch whichever ones are available and consider them, much like the novel, in the scheme of how and why they were made and just what they can teach.
Benjamin Bishop is a freelance writer for CBR and a linguist. He worked in literary criticism and focuses on the intersections of linguistics and popular culture. He strongly identifies with Pokémon, the Muppets, and any book he manages to get his hands on.
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