Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is a phrase used to describe the series of horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. The series began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, both silent films starring Lon Chaney. Universal continued with talkies including monster franchises Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The films often featured Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
In 1923, Universal produced the drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. The production sets were built to evoke 15th-century Paris, including a re-creation of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
Chaney stars as The Phantom in 1925's horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated to scale and was used again in the 1943 remake with Claude Rains.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast||RT|
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame||September 2, 1923||Wallace Worsley||Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Nigel de Brulier, Brandon Hurst||95%|
|The Phantom of the Opera||November 25, 1925||Rupert Julian||Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland||90%|
|The Cat and the Canary||September 9, 1927||Paul Leni||Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale, Flora Finch||93%|
|The Man Who Laughs||April 27, 1928||Paul Leni||Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Brandon Hurst, Olga V. Baklanova, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes, Samuel de Grasse, George Siegmann, Josephine Crowell||100%|
|The Last Warning||January 6, 1929||Paul Leni||Laura LaPlante, Montagu Love, Margaret Livingston, John Boles||N/A|
|The Last Performance||November 1929||Paul Fejos||Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin||N/A|
In 1931, Bela Lugosi starred in Universal's Dracula and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. Actors Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan, who played major supporting roles in both films, made several film appearances in this decade. Make-up artist Jack Pierce created several monsters' make-up starting in the 1930s.
The Mummy, starring Karloff, was produced in 1932. This was followed by a trilogy of films based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) starring Lugosi, The Black Cat (1934), and The Raven (1935), the latter two of which teamed Lugosi with Karloff. Universal began releasing sequels including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula's Daughter (1936) and sequels for The Invisible Man (1933). The first mainstream werewolf picture, Werewolf of London (1935) starring Henry Hull, was not a box office triumph despite being revered by audiences today.
The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936. The monster movies were dropped from the production schedule altogether and would not re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime, a theatre owner revived Dracula and Frankenstein as a resoundingly successful double feature, prompting the studio to re-release the original movies. Son of Frankenstein (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi, was filmed as a result of the unexpected resurgence.
During the 1940s, Universal released The Wolf Man (1941), with Lon Chaney, Jr. The junior Chaney became the studio's leading monster movie actor in the 1940s, just as his father had been two decades earlier, supplanting the 1930s' Karloff and Lugosi by a wide margin in terms of the number of leading roles that he played. Chaney, Jr. physically resembled his father apart from usually being somewhat overweight, which the senior Chaney never was. The studio dropped the "Jr." from the junior Chaney's billing almost immediately to confuse some in the audiences into assuming that this was the same actor.
The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Chaney, Jr. played Frankenstein's monster and Lugosi reprised his role as Ygor, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster and Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man. Son of Dracula (1943) featured Chaney, Jr. in Lugosi's original role as the Count. The Mummy series was also continued with The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse (both 1944) with Chaney, Jr. as the Mummy in the last three films. House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) featured many of the monsters from the studio's previous films. As the decade drew to a close, the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) features Lugosi in his second movie as Count Dracula, starring alongside Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster.
Abbott and Costello appeared in films featuring characters such as the Mummy and the Invisible Man.
Creature from the Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, was released in 1954. Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in theatres, and were later broadcast in syndication on American television in 1957 as part of the Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies. Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland covered the monster films. Universal spent the last half of the decade issuing a number of one-shot monster films.
Recurring cast and characters
- This table only includes characters which have appeared in multiple films.
- A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
- A G Cedric Hardwicke played the son of Henry Frankenstein, he also played the ghost of Henry Frankenstein.
- A P indicates the character was mentioned and shown in a photograph.
- A U indicates a uncredited role.
- A V indicates a voice-only role.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast||RT|
|Dracula||July 13, 1979||John Badham||Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier||58%|
|The Mummy||May 7, 1999||Stephen Sommers||Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo||55%|
|The Mummy Returns||May 4, 2001||Stephen Sommers||Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo||47%|
|Van Helsing||May 7, 2004||Stephen Sommers||Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale||23%|
|The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor||August 1, 2008||Rob Cohen||Brendan Fraser and Jet Li||12%|
|The Wolfman||February 12, 2010||Joe Johnston||Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving||34%|
|Dracula Untold||October 10, 2014||Gary Shore||Luke Evans||22%|
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Screenwriter(s)||Producer(s)||Status|
|The Mummy||June 9, 2017||Alex Kurtzman||Jon Spaihts and Christopher McQuarrie||Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Chris Morgan and Sean Daniel||Post-production|
|Untitled film||April 13, 2018||TBA||TBA||TBA||In development|
|Untitled film||February 15, 2019||TBA||TBA||TBA|
|Untitled Invisible Man film||TBA||TBA||Ed Solomon||Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan|
|Untitled Wolf Man film||TBA||TBA||Aaron Guzikowski and David Callaham||Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan|
|Untitled Van Helsing film||TBA||TBA||Jon Spaihts and Eric Heisserer||Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Chris Morgan|
|Untitled Creature from the Black Lagoon film||TBA||TBA||Jeff Pinkner||TBA|
|Untitled Bride of Frankenstein film||TBA||TBA||David Koepp||TBA|
- Johnston, Keith M. (2013-05-09). Science Fiction Film: A Critical Introduction. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 24–. ISBN 9781847884787. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
- "Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
- Okuda, Ted; Yurkiw, Mark (2007). Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows: From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie. Lake Claremont Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1893121133.
The 'Shock!' package was sold in 142 markets. As a result, stations across the country aired a late-night Shock Theatre series to showcase these pictures.
- Kroll, Justin (21 January 2016). "Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy' Gets New Release Date". variety.com.
- McClintock, Pamela (May 3, 2016). "Universal Stakes Out Release Date for Third Monster Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
- Media related to Universal Monsters film series at Wikimedia Commons