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 and Branagh. 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."

The story begins in the year 1794. Captain Walton is leading a daring, but troubled, expedition to reach the North Pole, even as his crew is threatening to mutiny. 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. In the distance, a loud moaning can be heard. When the man sees how obsessed Walton is with reaching the North Pole, he asks, "Do you share my madness?" The man then reveals that his name is Victor Frankenstein and begins his tale.

There is a flashback to Victor's childhood in Geneva as the son of the wealthy Baron and Caroline Frankenstein. He grows up with his adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza, who becomes the love of his life. Years later, Caroline dies giving birth to his brother William. Sometime before going off to the university at Ingolstadt, a grief-stricken Victor vows on his mother's grave that he will find a way to conquer death. On the night of his graduation, Victor and Elizabeth promise to marry when Victor returns from his studies. At university, Victor's previous studies with 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 killed by a patient who thinks the doctors are trying to poison him. After Waldman is buried, Victor breaks into the professor's laboratory, takes his notes, then begins to work on his own creation. Victor spends months working on creating a living, breathing creature, giving it dead body parts from various sources, including the body of the murderer, Waldman's own brain, a new leg in place of the missing one and a new eye to replace the damaged one. 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. He spends months hiding in the woods, living in an unwitting family's barn. As time progresses, the creature learns to read and speak, and even tries to win the family's love, but his efforts are in vain. Through a journal that the creature finds in the coat that he fled with, he learns of the circumstances of his creation and that Victor Frankenstein is responsible. He then burns down the family's abandoned cottage and heads to Geneva, vowing revenge on his creator.

Victor, who believes his creation is destroyed, returns to Geneva with the intent of marrying Elizabeth. He finds there that his little brother William (Ryan Smith) has been murdered. Justine Moritz, a servant of the Frankenstein household, is framed for the crime and hanged by a lynch mob. That night Victor is approached by his creation, who tells him to meet him on the mountain. Realizing that the creature murdered his brother, Victor goes with the intent of destroying his creation, but is no match for his enhanced speed and strength. The creature asks who the people were that Victor used to build him. Victor replies that they were merely raw materials, but the creature replies that he knew how to read, speak and play the recorder; he didn't learn how to, he remembered how.

Rather than killing his creator, the creature insists that Victor make a bride for him. If he does this, then he promises to disappear with his mate forever. To ensure his family's safety, Victor begins gathering the tools he used to create life, but when the creature insists he use Justine's body to make the bride, Victor breaks his promise. Enraged, the creature once more vows revenge, saying, "If you deny me my wedding night, I will be with you on yours!"

Victor and Elizabeth are married. En route to their honeymoon, Victor and Elizabeth are flanked by body guards. Meanwhile, Victor's father dies while the creature watches over him. That night Victor takes every precaution to defend his new family, but the creature finds them anyway and gains access to Elizabeth's room. He uses his hand to prevent her crying out, then despite her pleas he kills her by ripping out her heart as Victor searches the house. Victor comes back to find the monster holding Elizabeth's heart saying, "I keep my promises." He tosses Elizabeth's body off the bed; her head slams into a nearby table, and her hair is set aflame by candles there. The creature flees out of the window amidst gunfire. Victor frantically extinguishes the fire.

Victor races home to bring Elizabeth back to life. Repulsed, Henry tries to stop him, and informs him that Baron Frankenstein has died of grief. Victor 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 shows up and falls in love with Elizabeth. He mutters at how beautiful she is and she becomes curious as to what he is. She goes over to explore him and then after a moment, discovers that she was transformed into an undead creature. Victor and the monster then fight for her affections; however, Elizabeth is horrified by what she has become. She commits suicide by setting herself on fire, in the process burning the mansion to the ground.

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 hears a noise coming from the room he left Frankenstein's body in. There they find the creature weeping over his creator's dead body. They take Frankenstein's body and prepare a funeral pyre for him. The ceremony is interrupted when the ice around the ship begins to crack. The creature takes the torch and finishes the ceremony, burning himself alive with his creator's body. Walton, having seen the result of Frankenstein's obsession, puts his own 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.
  • 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.
  • 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]