Universal Monster Movies are a breed of films that have been around for nearly one hundred years. When you think of the most iconic horror movie moments, you are brought back to Bela Lugosi introducing himself as Dracula or the infamous scene where Frankenstein’s Monster throws a little girl in the lake in Frankenstein. They have a timeless feel to most of them. And with that notion of them being timeless, here are the 10 Universal Monster Movies that we are still drawn to right now, in 2023.
The Invisible Woman (1940)
The Invisible Woman is the sequel to the original 1933 film, The Invisible Man. The movie stars John Barrymore as Professor Gibbs, who has a science experiment go wrong on a gorgeous model (Virginia Bruce). However, a pair of gangsters plan to steal the professor’s machine but meet the wrath of the newly invisible woman.
Why The Invisible Woman Holds Up
Tonally, The Invisible Woman is a little different from the 1933 film, with an evildoer who has been given invisibility powers. There’s fun comedy in it that still makes for a great watch. Sometimes elements like that in a sequel don’t work. The film feels like it is capitalizing on both the gangster movies of the time and the slapstick humor that was popular as well. Hence, you bring in actor Shemp Howard into the mix, a man who is known as the underrated member of The Three Stooges.
The Invisible Woman is Not Currently Streaming Anywhere
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Dracula’s Daughter takes place after the murder of the famous vampire by Van Helsing. This time around, the film follows his daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). She has been attempting to rid herself of the vampire curse but continues to fail at it. She enlists the help of a psychiatrist, but then becomes thirsty for his blood.
Why We Think Dracula’s Daughter Still Holds Up
Universal Monster sequels are not known for being that great, except for a few. One of them is Dracula’s Daughter. It’s a film with some of the best-looking Gothic atmosphere in any film ever made with that sort of aesthetic. Film enthusiasts today have always taken notice of queer cinema undertones in a lot of these early horror films. Dracula’s Daughter is definitely something celebrated in that community for its subtle undertones of the Countess’s yearning for female companionship. We see through certain shots that have no dialogue that Marya longs for a connection with her female victims. And she finds her man-servant extremely annoying. It’s there for a reason, but audiences didn’t pick up on it in 1936.
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Creature From the Black Lagoon follows a group of scientists who find the missing link in the Amazon River. A creature that is part human and part fish escapes entrapment by the scientist and has plans of its own as it sets its sights on the beautiful fiancée of one of the scientists.
Why Creature from the Black Lagoon Makes the List
Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a film that many people feel is taking a massive nod from this 1954 classic. And with Del Toro’s masterclass of a film winning best picture at the Oscars a few years ago, it’s easy to say the impact of Creature From the Black Lagoon is still relevant today. It’s also a film that propelled the monster movie genre forward with drive in sci-fi thrillers. And lastly, out of all the Universal Monster films, nobody has been able to fully remake Creature From the Black Lagoon, thus adding to the timelessness of it all.
The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy is an early Universal Monster movie that stars Boris Karloff as the ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep, who is revived by a team of British archeologists. Once revived, he goes on the search for the reincarnated soul of his long-lost lover.
Why We’ve Included The Mummy
Despite an action franchise that started in the late 1990s and a Tom Cruise-led failed reboot, the original 1932 version of The Mummy holds up as one of the best of the Universal Monsters, mainly because of its star. Yes, Boris Karloff gave us the iconic appearance of Frankenstein’s monster that we all know and love today. But his acting range is on full display in this film.
His performance is hypnotic to watch as he lures an audience in and then betrays you with how terrifying he can be. This is also one of the first monster movies to incorporate new camera techniques. Up until then, filming was very stationary. The Mummy helped bring in a lot of camera movement to productions, a choice that only adds to the atmosphere of the overall film.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Claude Rains plays laboratory scientist Jack Griffin in The Invisible Man. He’s a scientist who has performed an experiment on himself that has ended in catastrophe, as the drug he has taken has turned him invisible. What it has also done is mess with his mind, making him aggressive and brash as he is trying to do whatever needs to be done to regain his appearance.
Why We Still Love The Invisible Man
James Whale could do no wrong with implementing great themes in this film, as he did just that in his previous works like The Old Dark House and Frankenstein. At 90 years old, this film has not lost a step in the iconic image of The Invisible Man. Claude Rains gives us one of the best performances in the history of the genre, and the visual effects laid the groundwork for techniques we still use today in cinema. And through all the cool effects, the message of H.G. Wells’ story is not lost on what humans would do if they could not have any consequences for their actions.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
A classic horror comedy, if there ever was one. Comedy duo Abbott and Costello play freight handlers in Florida who come across giant boxes that are going to a horror museum. However, inside the giant packages end up being all the Universal Monsters.
Why Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Still Holds Up
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a staple of the Universal Monster movies, as it helped coin the phrase and/or subgenre “gateway horror.” It’s a film to watch year after year with the kids that is spooky, but not very scary. Abbott and Costello are a timeless comedic duo who line up perfectly with the gothic tone of these characters. Many parents have shown this to their kids, and so on and so on, thus making it a classic to this day.
The Wolfman (1941)
In The Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr. plays Larry Talbot. A man who has returned home to his father’s estate after the passing of his brother. Things take a dark turn when Talbot is bitten by a werewolf, and thus he begins to morph into one on a full moon.
Why We’ve Included The Wolfman
The Wolfman is, yes, a monster movie. But any great monster movie is, at its core, also a great character-driven drama, and The Wolfman is just that. Lon Chaney Jr. gives a career-defining performance as the troubled Larry Talbot. A man who seems like a good man is corrupted by not being able to tame the beast inside of him. And lastly, the best of the best in terms of Universal Monster movies thrive in the gothic atmosphere of the films. The Wolfman is one of the movies in this franchise that does it the best.
Release Date February 14, 1931
Director Tod Browning , Karl Freund
Runtime 1hr 15min
Dracula has Bela Lugosi dawning the cape and an iconic image of the famous count that is visited at his dark Transylvania castle by British estate agent, Renfield. Dracula has his sights set on buying an estate in London and enslaving Renfield. The two sail to London, where Dracula then preys on many people in the city at night.
Why Dracula Belongs Here
Tod Browning’s direction of the Bram Stoker classic novel is labeled as the general starting point for what would become the world of Universal Monsters. Some are divisive about this statement, but for the sake of this list, a lot of people label Dracula as one of the first American horror films. Its timing is precise, as it hit at the beginning of “talkies” in movies. The set design of Dracula must have wowed audiences in 1931, as it still holds up to this day. And let’s face it, when we think of what Dracula looks like, we think of Bela Lugosi in this film.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, Frankenstein tells the story of a scientist who plans to create life by using the body parts of the deceased. In his laboratory, he creates a living, breathing creation. But the monster is confused and an emotional mess as he escapes and wreaks havoc on many of the villagers nearby. Dr. Frankenstein must now confront his creation and destroy something that didn’t ask to be born.
Why Frankenstein Is a Classic
Like Bela Lugosi in Dracula, many of us have the iconic image of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster engraved into our minds. Frankenstein still holds up today for many things. For starters, it’s a beautiful movie to look at. The cinematography by Arthur Edeson is stunning to look at. James Whales’ themes of an outcast being hit so close to home for a film that is nearly one hundred years old. The themes of life and death and man versus nature have been duplicated a lot over the history of cinema, no matter the genre. And it is maybe the most prevalent here in Frankenstein.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Bride of Frankenstein
Release Date April 20, 1935
Director James Whale
Following the fallout from Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein has Dr. Henry Frankenstein recovering from the mob attacks on him and his creation. He partners back up with long-time mentor, Dr. Pretorius and goes back to work on another creation. Here he is forced into the situation of creating a mate for the monster.
The Bride of Frankenstein Totally Holds Up
Right now, in 2023, Bride of Frankenstein is a film that fires on all cylinders with themes that are being expressed both in this film and in the original source material by Mary Shelley. It’s a movie that deals with gender, social, racial, and religious implications. The Monsters’ bride also represents free will and free choice for a woman, based on the climactic scene when she shows her utterly repulsed expression upon meeting her mate. Frankenstein, for all its glory, is just a step under Bride of Frankenstein in terms of the sophisticated way it sends its message to its audience. A lot of the points in the movie are still passionately argued to this day.