It’s alive: The very best Frankenstein film adaptations

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster - Courtesy RLJE
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster - Courtesy RLJE /

This year saw not one, but two Frankenstein film adaptations. Birth/Rebirth and The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster were both film festival darlings. However, each is a fresh take, relevant for 2023, proving that Mary Shelley’s 19th Century tale will continue to have staying power and find new audiences.

In honor of Birth/Rebirth’s theatrical release this month, we listed our favorite Frankenstein film adaptations.

Frankenstein (1910)

Directed by J. Seare Dawley, this black and white short is the first Frankenstein film adaptation. Produced by Edison Studios, it’s a visual nightmare that captures a lot the doubleness that exists between Victor Frankenstein and the Monster in Shelley’s novel. Even though this clocks in at a little over 10 minutes, it follows the main plot points of the book. There’s a young scientist, driven to conquer death. You also have an Elizabeth-type character, and of course, the Monster. He looks a little funny, but just consider it’s the early 20th Century. The creation scene, for as strange as it is, still holds up and was one of the most impressive special effects sequences of its time. You can watch the short for free on YouTube. I recommend the 2017 restoration, featured below.

May (2002)

May, directed by Lucky McKee, is probably the loosest adaptation on this list, but it still maintains the general themes and ideas of Shelley’s work. It’s also one of my favorite horror movies of the last 20 years, so maybe I’m biased. Angela Bettis gives a knock-out performance as May, a loner veterinarian’s assistant, who, like the Monster, just wants a friend. She thinks she finds one in horror movie buff Adam (Jeremy Sisto). May is both the scientist and the Creature. If she can’t find a friend, well then, she’ll make one. I especially love the way that McKee adapted the scene between the blind man and the Monster from the novel, putting a horrific and tragic twist on it. If you’ve seen the film, then you know what I mean.

May is currently available to stream for free on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Redbox.

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023)

Written and directed by Bomani J. Story, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a visceral take on Shelley’s well-known tale. In it, Layla DeLeon Hayes plays brilliant teenager Vicaria. When her brother dies due to neighborhood gang violence, she takes matters into her own hands, transforming into that familiar scientist role, determined to resurrect her brother. However, he doesn’t come back right. What makes Story’s take so different than all of the other Frankenstein film adaptations is that he centers it on race, inner-city violence, and familial bonds, themes relevant to the 21st Century.

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is available to rent on digital platforms.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Like the Universal Monsters’ heyday of the 1930s, Hammer Studios made a wave of films celebrating classic monsters in the 1950s and early 1960s. One of their most famous is The Curse of Frankenstein. Directed by Terence Fisher, Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing stars as the scientist, while Christopher Lee plays the Creature. For the performances alone, this one is a must-watch. The film was such a hit that it spawned several sequels, but this film is the best of the bunch.

The Curse of Frankenstein is available to rent on digital platforms.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Young Frankenstein is simply one of Mel Brooks’ funniest films and a hilarious spoof of the Universal Monster movies. Gene Wilder stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the American grandson of the infamous scientist who not only wants to prove that his grandfather wasn’t crazy, but also accepts an invitation to Transylvania where he learns how to reanimate a corpse. This cast is great all around, not only Wilder but also Marty Feldman as Igor and Peter Boyle as the Monster.

Young Frankenstein is currently streaming on Max.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

What’s left to say about The Rocky Horror Picture Show that hasn’t been said already? Its songs like Time Warp are a staple at every Halloween party, and even some weddings (including mine)! Out of all the Frankenstein film adaptations, this one has the catchiest soundtrack. Considering its time period, this is a transgressive feature that spawned a massive fan base, with midnight showings still held around the country, year-round, not just in October. Like Young Frankenstein, this is also a spoof of the Universal Monsters, but it’s so much more. Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter is simply iconic.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is available to rent on digital platforms.

Frankenhooker (1990)

I get that director Frank Henenlotter’s films aren’t for everyone. They’re weird, gory, and just bizarro overall, but I personally love them, including Frankenhooker, a spoof/horror comedy. In this take, James Lorinz stars as wannabe scientist Jeffrey, a reclusive dude who loves playing around with morbid things, including a brain with an eyeball that he keeps in a fish tank. When his fiancé Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) dies in a freak accident involving a lawnmower, he resurrects her using the body parts of prostitutes. I said Henenlotter’s films are whacky, right? This movie is a lot of fun, shot in NYC, like the director’s other films. Mullen is especially great as the Creature, from the make-up, to her one-liners, like “Want a date? Looking for some action?” Meanwhile, Lorinz is all kinds of squirrely as the scientist, and this film has one of the cleverest endings out of any of the Frankenstein adaptations. Frankenhooker remains one of my favorite horror comedies, a frequent rewatch for this writer.

Frankenhooker is available for free on Tubi, Shudder, Peacock, and Freeverse.

Birth/Rebirth (2023)

Like The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, Laura Moss’ Birth/Rebirth veers somewhat from Shelley’s story, while making motherhood its central theme. Judy Reyes stars as Celie, a grieving mother willing to forgo her medical ethics as a nurse to reanimate her dead child, Lila (A.J. Lister). She teams up with pathologist Rose (Marin Ireland), who likes playing around with corpses more than she likes hanging out with the living. Similar to May, Birth/Rebirth is female-centric. Its themes also resonate because they resemble what occurred in Shelley’s life. Her mom, author/feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, died giving childbirth to her, and the author lost three of her own children.

Birth/Rebirth is in theaters August 18 and will hit Shudder at a later date.

Frankenstein (1931)

The image we associate with Frankenstein’s Monster, specifically the bolts in the neck and the sloped forehead, come from James Whale’s iconic 1931 Frankenstein. Today, when we think of the Creature, we think of Boris Karloff in that make-up. This film has so many iconic scenes, like when the Monster first turns and the camera zooms in on his sunken, dead eyes, or when he reaches towards the light in the tower, or when he accidently drowns poor Maria (Marilyn Harris). No other adaptation captures the Monster’s loneliness and longing for a friend as well as Whale’s masterpiece.

Frankenstein is available on digital platforms.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein is peak Universal Monsters, a brilliant film through and through. Much of the cast returned, including Karloff as the Creature, Colin Clive as the scientist, and Whale as director. This is the second to last time Karloff would play the Monster, but don’t be fooled. Elsa Lanchester steals the show here, both as Shelley in the opening, reenacting the famous story behind the novel’s inspiration, and the Bride during the final minutes. It’s her we remember the most, despite her limited screentime.

Bride of Frankenstein is available on digital platforms.

dark. Next. Birth/Rebirth: A feminist take on Frankenstein