Frankenstein on film

Film adaptations and derivatives of Frankenstein are very common, as the following list makes clear, and they were produced with a number of different audiences in mind. But, whoever they may be aimed at, their number is a clear indication of the extent to which Shelley's novel has entered the popular consciousness.

The obvious question to ask about any adaptation is

  • How faithful is this to the original?

Although it is interesting, and sometimes amusing to identify what is omitted or changed, there are other, more challenging, questions to be asked. Some, for instance, concern the history and structure of the film industry:

  • Why was this film made at this time?
  • Who were its likely viewers?
  • What were the motives of the studio and the director?
  • What significance is there in the casting of the various roles?

Perhaps the most important questions relate to the way in which the story is interpreted, and here the answers to that original question about fidelity to the original can be reformulated as new questions:

  • Why might the director have omitted some parts of the plot (including some characters)?
  • Are there any ‘new' characters or incidents? Why are they in the film?
  • How is the story interpreted? Where does the emphasis lie?
  • How are the characters presented? Are they shown as more or less sympathetic than in the novel? Why?
  • What might the director's interpretation tell us about contemporary attitudes towards the issues raised by the novel, such as the origins of life, scientific ethics, the argument between reason and faith and the meaning of being human?

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. 1931

The Bride of Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. 1935

  • Regarded as the classic adaptations from the novel, both starring Boris Karloff as the monster – an image that has become closely associated with the novel, even though it bears little resemblance to the creature created by Frankenstein. The second film, which includes a scene between Byron and Mary Shelley, is particularly effective.

Son of Frankenstein. Dir. Rowland V. Lee. 1939

  • Following the success of Whale's films, Karloff again plays the monster and is joined by Bela Lugosi, another great horror film actor, as Frankenstein's mad assistant.

The Ghost of Frankenstein. Dir. Erle C. Kenton. 1942

  • Sequel to Son of Frankenstein, but with the cinema's third great portrayer of monsters, Lon Chaney, as Frankenstein's creation.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Dir. Roy William Neill. 1943

  • Offers two monsters for the price of one and brings together Chaney and Lugosi, who at last is able to play the monster, a part he always coveted.

The Curse of Frankenstein. Dir. Terence Fisher. 1957

The Evil of Frankenstein. Dir. Freddie Francis, 1964

Frankenstein Created Woman. Dir. Terence Fisher. 1966

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Dir. Terence Fisher. 1969

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Dir. Terence Fisher. 1973

  • A series of productions from the Hammer studio, famous for its horror films. Peter Cushing, who starred in many British horror films, plays Frankenstein in all five films.

The Horror of Frankenstein Dir. Jimmy Sangster. 1970 (EMI)

  • A loose British adaptation of the novel, with a title that suggests its intended audience.

Flesh for Frankenstein. Dir. Paul Morrisey. 1973

  • Directed by an associate of the radical American artist Andy Warhol; predictably exploitative.

Frankenstein: the True Story. Dir. Jack Smight. 1973

  • Originally shown on American TV in a longer version; fairly sensationalised, but makes use of the climax in the Arctic, shunned by many other film-makers.

The Rocky Horror Show. Dir. Jim Sharman. 1974

  • An entertaining cult movie that draws heavily on the myth of Frankenstein.

Young Frankenstein. Dir. Mel Brooks. 1975

  • Refreshingly comic version in which Gene Wilder decides to repeat his grandfather's experiment.

Gothic. Dir. Ken Russell. 1986

  • Dramatisation of the situation at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816, when Frankenstein was conceived and begun; not to be relied upon for historical accuracy!

Haunted Summer. Dir. Ivan Passer. 1988

  • Another film set in the summer of 1816.

Frankenstein Unbound. Dir. Roger Corman. 1990

  • Unsatisfactory adaptation of Brian Aldiss's novel (1974) of the same title.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. 1994

  • Most recent attempt at a ‘serious' adaptation of the novel; highly melodramatic, irritating and sometimes unintentionally comic, but very stylish.

Gods and Monsters. Dir. Bill Condon. 1998

  • Biographical study of the last days of James Whale, director of the two original Frankenstein films, with many flashbacks.
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