When classic movie monsters are brought up, everyone knows the usual suspects. The fanged DRACULA and misunderstood Frankenstein’s Monster often head up the back followed by the cursed Wolfman. If you dig a little deeper, though, you round out the roster, and encounter perennial favorites such as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE INVISIBLE MAN, and THE MUMMY, and even further back are the THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
In 1923, Universal christened its horror kingdom with the silent movie THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, starring the now infamous Lon Chaney and by the end of the 1930’s they had introduced the world to most formidable roster of recognizable monsters in existence. In 1954, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was released and with this the Universal Monsters were cemented into history.
So… where are they now?
In this article, characters will be noted by their first Universal appearance in film, notable entries since, and what the future has planned for these once dominant screen gems.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Universal debut: 1925
Notable appearances: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943, 1962, 2004)
Most recent major appearance: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004)
Since Lon Chaney debuted the garish face behind the mask of The Phantom, the strange opera singer has captured the heart of horror fans everywhere. Perfectly capturing the romantic with the horrific, the Phantom has been a mainstay in horror culture because of the intrigue he brings about with his mask, cape and underground lair. Terrifying the world with incredible practical effects, Lon Chaney defined the role that Claude Raines perfected and has since been emulated by Robert Englund, Gerard Butler and others.
What’s to come: Unfortunately, as of now, no new adaptations are in the works for Erik and his ghoulish charm.
Universal debut: 1931
Notable appearances: DRACULA (1958, 1979), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992), DRACULA UNTOLD (2014)
Most recent major appearance: DRACULA UNTOLD (2014)
Dracula really is the figurehead of the monsters. Bela Lugosi’s titular role in the deeply romantic horror hit paved the way for Dracula to become not just one of the most dominant figures in horror but in all of popular culture. He has spawned countless appearances, copycats (BLACULA, Count von Krolock), and it’s rare to see a year go by without some sort of encapsulation of the character. Portrayed famously by Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and countless others, Dracula was then and continues to be the most iconic of the Universal stable. Even with the recent misfire of DRACULA UNTOLD, the most recognized vampire of all time will surely continue to see a slew of work.
What’s to come: Drac is included in the newest push for Universal to create a shared universe. Long gestated rumors of bringing Luke Evans recent Dracula portrayal into the universe have been officially squashed but a Van Helsing movie has been officially announced and with two as-of-yet unknown titles, it’s hard to think anyone but the fanged Count would be popping up.
Universal debut: 1931
Notable appearances: BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), MARY SHELLEY’s FRANKENSTEIN (1994), VAN HELSING (2004)
Most recent major appearance: VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015)
Boris Karloff and James Whale may have introduced the monster nearly seventy years ago but it may have also been the most definitive performance of the melancholy monster. Many have tried to bring the same mix of empathy and horror to the screen since then but few have done so with the precise efficiency of Whale. Just behind Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster may be the most notable monster in pop culture and because of his tragic beginnings, he has been represented as hero, villain, monster and anti-hero.
What’s to come: The good doctor and his monster are both tapped to star in the shared universe that Universal has planned. Javier Bardem has been rumored to star as the bolted reanimation and a script for a new BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has already been written, with many Hollywood talents citing is as a great read. Among the gossip mill, Angelina Jolie has been reported as a possible candidate to play the bride. Guillermo del Toro was also once slated to be working on a new Frankenstein but like many of his announced projects, it has fallen by the wayside for the time being.
Universal debut: 1932
Notable appearances: THE MUMMY (1959), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), THE MUMMY (1999), BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)
Most recent major appearance: THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008)
The Mummy is one of the most underutilized of the stable of classic monsters but also one of the most intriguing. Backed by a mysteriously magic laced history and arguably one of the most powerful monsters that exists, The Mummy has had the biggest blockbuster success in recent years despite it’s sporadic and inconsistent appearances.
What’s to come: With a trailer already online, the kick-off of the Universal shared universe is the new THE MUMMY starring box office draw Tom Cruise and poised to also introduce Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Sofia Boutella as the titular monster. Alex Kurtzman, a man well versed in Hollywood but making his directorial debut, is behind the upcoming reboot.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
Universal debut: 1933
Notable appearances: THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944), MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992), THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003)
Most recent major appearance: HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)
The Invisible Man, based on the popular science fiction novel by H.G. Wells, is an interesting case. Unlike the pantheon he is surrounded with, The Invisible Man, at his core, is not a monster but a creature of science gone wrong. The difference being that it’s not even to the same extent of Frankenstein’s Monster being born of science but instead he is but a man who is transformed. Throughout the characters tenure in cinema, he is often portrayed as a smug, intelligent anti-hero.
What’s to come: Last year, Sony announced that they were looking to revitalize the character but it seems Universal may be getting in the way. THE INVISIBLE MAN, written by Ed Solomon (MEN IN BLACK, NOW YOU SEE ME) has already been slated for an upcoming release and Johnny Depp has even been tapped to play the lead role.
Universal debut: 1941
Notable appearances: I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), THE WOLFMAN (2010), WOLFCOP (2014)
Most recent major appearance: GOOSEBUMPS (2016)
Dracula is a singular person. The Wolf Man is a werewolf. As such, this particular type of monster is seen more than perhaps any monster save for vampires and zombies. The classic “cursed aristocrat” tale has been told often. Hammer revamped it in the 60’s and more stories of man becoming wolf became popular with the likes of TEEN WOLF and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Universal tried to recreate the original story with Benecio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins in 2010 to little success but since then we still have seen the werewolf pierce the cinematic veil numerous times a year.
What’s to come: Universal has announced that a new Wolfman will indeed be part of their reboot line of movies, though they are so far tight lipped on most of the details. The name Dwanye Johnson has been tossed around as possibly starring and last year, David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES, GODZILLA) was brought on to rework the script. A myriad of werewolf movies are slated to hit as well, including AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON remake, a graphic novel adaptation of FULL MOON FEVER, and a cinematic representation of the Cherokee folk tale of the TWO WOLVES.
THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
Universal debut: 1954
Notable appearances: REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
Most recent major appearance: THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
The gill-man from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON to this day stands as one of the most impressive feats of practical effects in a monster movie. So much so that he has enthralled people for decades without prominently featuring in any major releases. For years, plans for a reboot or sequel have swirled. Guillermo del Toro, lover of monsters, was one of the directors to have his name attached at one. In 2007, Breck Eisner was attached to a potential reboot that was set to launch a message about deforestation of the rainforest. Eisner dropped out two years later and no mention has been made since. Luckily, the Creature has been tapped to be part of the Universal reboot with Jeff Pinkner (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, JUMANJI reboot) on board to script it.