Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (film)

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Mary shelleys frankenstein ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kenneth Branagh[1]
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay by Steph Lady
Frank Darabont
Based on Frankenstein 
by Mary Shelley
Starring Robert De Niro
Kenneth Branagh
Tom Hulce
Helena Bonham Carter
Ian Holm
John Cleese
Aidan Quinn
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Roger Pratt
Edited by Andrew Marcus
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • November 4, 1994 (1994-11-04)
Running time
123 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $45 million
Box office $112 million

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a 1994 American horror film directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Aidan Quinn. The picture was produced on a budget of $45 million and is considered the most faithful film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, despite several differences and additions in plot from the novel.[1]


The film opens with a few words by Mary Shelley:

"I busied myself to think of a story which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror; one to make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart."

In 1794, Captain Walton leads a daring, but troubled, expedition to reach the North Pole. While their ship is trapped in the ice of the Arctic Sea, Walton and his crew discover a man traveling across the Arctic on his own. The man reveals that his name is Victor Frankenstein and begins his tale.

Victor grows up in Geneva with his adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza, who will become the love of his life. Before he leaves for the university at Ingolstadt, Victor's mother dies giving birth to his brother William. A grief-stricken Victor vows on his mother's grave that he will find a way to conquer death.

At university, Victor's interest in the works of alchemists such as Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa make him unpopular with certain professors. However, he finds a friend in Henry Clerval and a mentor in Professor Waldman. Victor comes to believe that the only way to cheat death is to create life. Professor Waldman warns Victor not to follow through with his theory; he tested it once, but ended his experiments because they resulted in an "abomination".

While performing vaccinations, Waldman is murdered by a patient. Victor breaks into Waldman's laboratory, takes his notes, and begins to work on a creation of his own. Victor gives his creature dead body parts from various sources, including the body of Waldman's murderer and Waldman's own brain. He is so obsessed with his work that not even a cholera outbreak tears him from it. Late one night, Victor finally gives his creation life, but he recoils from it in horror and renounces his experiments.

That night, the creature escapes, running off to the wilderness with Victor's coat which contains Victor's journal. He spends months living in a family's barn without their knowledge, gradually learning to read and speak. He attempts to earn the family's trust by anonymously helping them with their failing farm, and eventually converses with the patriarch, an elderly blind man, after aiding him and his grandson against violent debt collectors. But when the blind man's family returns, they mistakenly think the creature committed the assaults against the patriarch and grandson, and chase the creature away and abandon the cottage. The creature reads Victor's journal, learning of the circumstances of his creation. He vows revenge on his creator.

Victor, who believes the creature has died of cholera, returns to Geneva intending to marry Elizabeth. He finds there that his little brother William has been murdered. Justine, a servant of the Frankenstein household, is framed for the crime by the creature and hanged by a lynch mob.

Victor is approached by his creation that night. The creature demands that Victor make a companion for him, promising that if Victor satisfies his demand, he will disappear with his mate forever. Victor begins gathering the tools he used to create life, but when the creature insists he use Justine's body to make the companion, Victor breaks his promise. Enraged, the creature vows revenge once more, saying, "If you deny me my wedding night, I will be with you on yours!"

Victor and Elizabeth are married. Victor takes every precaution to defend his wife on their honeymoon, but the creature gains access to their bedroom while Victor is away and kills Elizabeth.

Victor races home to bring Elizabeth back to life. He stitches Elizabeth back together using parts from Justine's body, and she awakes as a re-animated creature. The two are briefly and happily reunited until the creature appears. Victor and the monster fight for Elizabeth's affections, but Elizabeth, horrified by what she has become, commits suicide by setting herself on fire, burning the mansion to the ground in the process.

The story returns to the Arctic Circle. Victor tells Walton that he has been pursuing his creation for months with the intent of killing him. Soon after relating his story, Victor succumbs to pneumonia and dies. After a word with his crew, Walton discovers the creature weeping over Victor's dead body. The crew prepares a funeral pyre for Victor, but the ceremony is interrupted when the ice around the ship begins to crack. Walton invites the creature to stay with the ship, but the creature insists on remaining with the pyre. He takes the torch and burns himself alive with Victor's body. Walton, having seen the consequences of Victor's obsession, puts his own obsession aside and orders the ship to return home.


  • Robert De Niro as The Creation, the product of an experiment with corpses and electricity.
    • De Niro also portrays Professor Waldman's killer whose body was used for the creature.
  • Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with conquering death.
  • Tom Hulce as Henry Clerval, Dr. Frankenstein's best friend from medical school.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancée and adoptive sister.[3]
  • Ian Holm as Baron Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein's father.
  • John Cleese as Professor Waldman, Frankenstein's tutor and colleague who shares his interest in creating life. His brain is later used for the creature following his death.
  • Aidan Quinn as Captain Robert Walton, the commander of the ship which picks up Frankenstein in the Arctic Circle.
  • Richard Briers as Grandfather, an elderly blind man who is kind to the Creation.
  • Robert Hardy as Professor Krempe, a university tutor of medical sciences who condemns Frankenstein's theories of life beyond death.
  • Trevyn McDowell as Justine Moritz, a worker in the Frankenstein household who is close friends with Elizabeth.
    • Christina Cuttall as young Justine
  • Celia Imrie as Mrs. Moritz, the head servant in the household who often fights with Justine.
  • Cherie Lunghi as Caroline Frankenstein, Victor's mother who dies during the birth of his younger brother, William.
  • Ryan Smith as William Frankenstein, Victor's younger brother.
    • Charles Wyn-Davies as young William
  • Richard Bonneville as Schiller
  • Jenny Galloway as Vendor's wife
  • Patrick Doyle (uncredited) as Ballroom orchestra conductor
  • Alex Lowe as Crewman
  • Stuart Hazeldine (uncredited) as Man in crowd scene
  • Fay Ripley (deleted scenes) as Whore


Critical response[edit]

Critical reviews were mixed; the film currently holds a 39% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 41 reviews with the consensus: "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is ambitious and visually striking, but the overwrought tone and lack of scares make for a tonally inconsistent experience".[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four, writing: "I admired the scenes with De Niro [as the Creature] so much I'm tempted to give Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a favorable verdict. But it's a near miss. The Creature is on target, but the rest of the film is so frantic, so manic, it doesn't pause to be sure its effects are registered."[5] Janet Maslin wrote, "Branagh is in over his head. He displays neither the technical finesse to handle a big, visually ambitious film nor the insight to develop a stirring new version of this story. Instead, this is a bland, no-fault Frankenstein for the '90s, short on villainy but loaded with the tragically misunderstood. Even the Creature (Robert De Niro), an aesthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him, would make a dandy guest on any daytime television talk show."[6]

Conversely, James Berardinelli of gave the film three out of four stars, writing: "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein may not be the definitive version of the 1818 novel, and the director likely attempted more than is practical for a two-hour film, but overambition is preferable to the alternative, especially if it results — as in this case — in something more substantial than Hollywood's typical, fitfully entertaining fluff."[7]

Box office[edit]

The film did disappointing business upon its U.S. theatrical release, grossing only $22 million, but did well in global markets where it grossed $90 million.[8][9]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards Best Makeup Daniel Parker, Paul Engelen, Carol Hemming Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Production Design Tim Harvey Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Horror/Thriller Film Nominated
Best Actor Kenneth Branagh Nominated
Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Nominated
Best Make-up Daniel Parker, Paul Engelen Nominated
Best Music Patrick Doyle Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Robert De Niro Nominated
Best Writing Steph Lady, Frank Darabont Nominated

Other media[edit]

The film had a pinball table made based on it,[10] as well as a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game (the latter of which was by Sony Imagesoft), following a platform-style format. A Sega CD game was also produced by the same company that had a more adventure-based format that would sometimes switch to a fighting game.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]