The 10 Best Universal Monster Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes


Without Universal’s monster movies, the horror genre wouldn’t be what it is today. Not only have these films helped to define the horror genre, but they’ve also become important cultural touchstones. From their unique character designs to their slow-moving camera shots, Universal’s monster movies have set the precedent for suspense and terror. Decades later, each of these films is still referenced in pop culture, even spurning a revival of the monster franchise. Here are 10 of the best Universal monster movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

10 Creature from the Black Lagoon – 80%

creature from the black lagoon 1954

Creature from the Black Lagoon is about a group of scientists who find a creature, also known as the Gill-man, in the Amazon rainforest. The creature begins killing the scientists off after learning they fear him, but soon falls in love with Kay, a female scientist also on the expedition. As the film progresses, the Gill-man attempts to kidnap Kay numerous times, while also evading capture from the other scientists involved.

While the story isn’t anything unique in comparison to other monster movies, the Gill-man’s design alone solidified Creature from the Black Lagoon as an iconic horror film. It’s also a great criticism of the way humans have a total disregard for nature, forcing their way into the creature’s natural habitat for their own selfish ambitions and then being shocked when it acts dangerously. Guillermo del Toro paid homage to Creature from the Black Lagoonin his critically acclaimed film, The Shape of Water, keeping the same themes while also giving the creature a satisfying love story.

9 The Mummy (1932) – 89%

The Mummy 1932
Universal Pictures

While later films in The Mummy franchise focus more on bandaged undead killers, The Mummy (1932) is a dark tale of love and obsession. The film stars Boris Karloff, an icon in the Universal monster-verse, as Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian mummy. Thousands of years prior, Imhotep was killed for attempting to bring his dead lover back to life. He is then accidentally resurrected by a team of archeologists, where he believes a young woman called Helen is his true love reincarnated.

Despite having some big shoes to fill after the release of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) still managed to leave a significant cultural impact. The film spawned numerous reimaginings in the years to come, and later, a remake series in 1999. The Mummy franchise was then rebooted in 2017 as part of Universal’s Dark Universe, but still nothing compares to the 1932 original.

8 The Wolf Man (1941) – 90%

1941's The Wolf Man
Universal Pictures

Despite not being the first werewolf movie to exist, The Wolf Man (1941) certainly set the tone for the rest of them. The film follows Larry Talbot, a man who has been inflicted with lycanthropy after being bitten by a werewolf. The Wolf Man shows how Larry’s affliction isolates him from those he loves, and how he draws further into himself to avoid hurting others. It wasn’t Universal’s first attempt at a werewolf movie, which was actually Werewolf of London in 1935. However, Universal decided to switch up their storytelling formula for The Wolf Man, learning from their mistakes with Werewolf in London.

The result is a gripping tale of the complexities of humanity’s primal instincts, and how they are often suppressed, feared, and unwelcome in modern society.

7 The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – 90%

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera
Universal Pictures

Despite many people associating The Phantom of the Opera with its musical retellings, the original Universal adaptation of the novel was actually a silent film. The film is about a deformed Phantom, who haunts the Paris Opera House. He is in love with a woman called Christine, which leads him to cause absolute chaos in order to make her a star. The Phantom is completely tortured by his love for Christine, as he knows she will never love him because of his monstrous appearance.

While not many people would think of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) when discussing Universal’s monster, it is the film that catapulted the rest of them into existence. Despite silent films not holding up as well with audiences of today, The Phantom of the Opera is worth a watch for its practical effects alone. The scene where the Phantom removes his mask for the first time to reveal the monster beneath is one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, which was created by Lon Chaney himself.

Related: 8 Universal Monsters Movies We Still Need To Happen (Despite Renfield’s Failure)

6 The Invisible Man (2020) – 92%

The invisible man moss suit
Universal Pictures

After the critical failure of The Mummy (2017), it seemed as though Universal’s Dark Universe would never work and was scrapped for good. However, The Invisible Man (2020) completely changed that. The film stars Elizabeth Moss as Cecilia, a woman who believes her abusive, deceased ex-boyfriend is invisible and stalking her. No one around Cecilia believes her, and as she begins to spiral out of control, so do the actions of her invisible ex, who will do anything to take away her agency.

The Invisible Man (2020) is such a good remake because it understands what modern audiences want out of a horror film. It takes the nostalgia of the Universal classic monsters and transforms it into a psychological social commentary about abusive relationships, elevating the story from standard horror. Its high Rotten Tomatoes score should be a reminder that audiences do want to see more of Universal’s monsters, but they need to have the right story to go with them.

5 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) – 93%

Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923

Similar to The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a silent Universal movie not widely associated with the classic monsters, but its success did help pioneer them. Now more commonly associated with the Disney version of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a heartbreaking tale of how humans treat those different from them. The film follows Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Like the Phantom, Quasimodo falls deeply in love with a woman named Esmeralda, whom he knows will never love him back. Despite the fact that he was abandoned and is unable to fall in love, Quasimodo has the kindest heart in the film, despite being viewed as a monster. It’s a truly tragic film, but an important one to watch for the avid film lover.

4 The Invisible Man (1933) – 94%

the invisible man
Universal Pictures Corp.

Despite 2020’s The Invisible Man achieving widespread critical acclaim, the original 1933 version is still considered superior. Unlike the 2020 remake, 1933’s The Invisible Man is much more faithful to H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. The story follows Dr. Jack Griffin, who has been turned invisible after an experiment gone wrong. As a result, Griffin has to cover himself in bandages and wears big, dark glasses so that he can be seen. Griffin’s invisibility turns him insane, and he soon begins committing heinous crimes.

Because of Griffin’s invisibility, he believes he can do whatever he wants, prompting the audience to question whether they’d act similarly in his position. Similarly to Adrian in the 2020 remake, Dr. Jack Griffin feels no remorse for his actions, pushing the limits on the pain they can inflict on others without having to face the consequences. It’s a chilling film, and the design of the titular Invisible Man is one of Universal’s best yet, still hailed heavily in pop culture today.

3 Dracula (1931) – 94%

A scene from Dracula
Universal Pictures

While Universal’s interpretation of Count Dracula is arguably the most iconic, it isn’t faithful to its source material at all. Instead, Dracula (1931) is based on a play that was inspired by the original novel. However, that doesn’t mean its influences on modern cinema should be overlooked. Bela Lugosi’s version of Dracula is considered by many fans to be the best portrayal, due to his naturally haunting on-screen presence. Many reiterations of Dracula seen in pop culture are based on Lugosi’s, adopting the Hungarian actor’s Hungarian accent and slicked-back hair.

Dracula (1931) proved that there was big money to be made with monster movies. Taking on such a project was always going to be a gamble for Universal, but thanks to how well it performed, the studio was able to create their monster-verse. It was also the first on-screen appearance of Dracula’s servant, Renfield, which helped to give the film an even more unsettling atmosphere.

Related: Casting Frankenstein, Wolf Man & 3 Other Monsters For A Dark Universe Reboot

2 Frankenstein (1931) – 94%

boris karloff frankenstein
Universal Pictures

Like Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) is based on a play inspired by the original novel. However, Universal’s take on the tale is extremely different from Mary Shelley’s story, though it does carry the same critical message. Boris Karloff’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster is what is engrained in everyone’s brains when they imagine the creature, transforming its influence in society into something even greater.

Compared to the creature in Shelley’s novel, Karloff’s approach to the character is quite childlike. Whereas in the book, the creature is incredibly intelligent, in Frankenstein (1931), he is unable to understand the gravity of his actions. When the monster commits horrific acts, the film takes a more sympathetic approach to his character, which makes the way he is treated by others feel a lot more cruel. It also makes it easier for the audience to identify the creature as a monster, as he lacks basic humanity outside of his man-like appearance.

1 Bride of Frankenstein – 98%

The Bride of Frankenstein
Universal Pictures

Bride of Frankenstein is arguably the best monster movie that Universal has ever made. The film takes more elements from Mary Shelley’s novel, such as the monster becoming intelligent, and turns it into a gripping sequel. After the monster has to deal with the pain of loneliness, he returns to Frankenstein and demands that he create him a bride. However, unlike in the novel, Frankenstein agrees, creating the Bride with his insane mentor, Dr. Pretorius.

Arguably, Bride of Frankenstein is even more heartbreaking than its predecessor. This is because the monster is given more autonomy, and can share with his maker and the audience the pain the world has inflicted on him. However, even the Bride does not accept him, terrified of his monstrous appearance. This leads Frankenstein’s monster to heartbreakingly realize neither of them belong in the world, and should have both remained dead. Bride of Frankenstein is a wonderfully paced film, with amazing creature and set designs despite its age. Compared to other Universal monster movies, Bride of Frankenstein is an absolute must-watch given how ahead of its time it was.

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