The 1818 classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was a seminal piece of work which served as a foundation for much of the horror we know today.
Even those who haven’t read the book have heard of Frankenstein’s monster, because there have been so many adaptations and reincarnations of the story in popular culture over the years.
Here we take a look at how Frankenstein has evolved over time, including some of the most surprising, most inventive, and most popular reincarnations of this classic character.
Where it all began
Shelley’s original work was praised by critics at the time, and this sparked a number of others to bring the idea to the theatre. From there, it was quickly apparent that the material was ideal for visual performances.
There were two early adaptations for the stage, in 1823 and 1826. The first was a three-act play by Richard Brinsley Peake, called Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which had 37 performances during its original run at the English Opera House, and was attended by Shelley herself. This was followed by The Man and the Monster; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which was created by Henry M. Miller and performed at the Royal Coburg Theatre in London. These early stage shows showed that the story of the monster was perfectly suited to the stage, and paved the way for the many films that were to follow nearly one hundred years later.
To date, there have been more than fifteen versions of Frankenstein’s monster on the silver screen, along with other stage shows as well as TV series. Although there were a couple of early films prior to Universal Studios’ Frankenstein in 1915 and 1920, it was the 1931 offering from the massive production company which brought the story to the mainstream.
The film, directed by James Whale, was a box office sensation and raked in $12 million overall. Adjusted for inflation, this was a whopping $183.8 million. This early outing of the grotesque creation set the tone for everything which was to follow, and the positive critical and audience feedback highlighted how Frankenstein had the potential to be a prominent figure in popular culture for many years to come.
Merchandise and Games
As with a lot of things that are popular on TV and the big screen, Frankenstein has been represented well in the world of games and merchandise. The first-ever video game based on Shelley’s masterpiece was Frankenstein in 1987, which was released for the Amstrad CPC, the Commodore 64, and the ZX Spectrum. In the game, players had the opportunity to play as both Dr Frankenstein and as his monster, and it followed the storyline of the book quite rigidly.
This early offering sprouted a number of different titles in the 1990s, which were released on some of the early consoles around at the time. These included Frankenstein: The Monster Returns for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991, Dr Franken for the Gameboy in 1992 and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993, and Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster for the PC in 1995 and the Sega Saturn in 1997.
More recently, Net Entertainment produced the Frankenstein video slot game, which features cartoon cut-scenes and fast-paced reel-spinning gameplay and is available online. For people who want to experience reading the story in a new way, there is also the Frankenstein: Interactive app by Inkle, which allows users to choose the direction of the story themselves.
Though there haven’t been any significant Frankenstein console games in recent times, gamers and fans of the character may be hoping that a new offering will be available in the coming years. Universal has been planning to release a modern version of the 1935 classic Bride of Frankenstein, although the project has been put on hold for the time being. If it does come to fruition, though, there may well be new Frankenstein PC and console games, as viewers often want to play as their favourite characters after watching a film.
Frankenstein has also proven to be an excellent character for merchandise, and there have been various figures and board games based on the monster. One of the most notable offerings was Escape from Frankenstein in 1983. In this board game, players had to move around the castle and attempt to reach the laboratory first.
The Stand-out Frankenstein Films
During Frankenstein’s long tenure in popular culture, there have been some incredible flops, such as the recent Victor Frankenstein in 2015, which starred James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.
But there have also been some seriously memorable moments. For many, the original Universal films version can’t be beaten. Frankenstein (1931) frequently tops the charts when it comes to lists of the best depiction the monster, and it’s normally closely followed by its 1935 sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Both of these films are considered masterpieces of horror, and helped to spark the genre we all know and love today. They also arguably set the benchmark for future iterations of the story.
The first Hammer Horror offering in 1957 is also much-loved by monster fanatics, and is thought of as one of the most iconic versions of Frankenstein. The Curse of Frankenstein was directed by Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing as the mad scientist. It was perhaps Christopher Lee’s take on the monster which made this one so memorable, though, and many still admit that he is genuinely terrifying in it. This led to a number of other films in the Hammer Horror series, including The Revenge of Frankenstein the following year, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell in 1974.
In more recent years, fans of the story will remember Robert De Niro’s turn as Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), in which the legendary actor brought more human qualities to the fiend.
With Frankenstein’s monster popping up in mainstream culture for nearly two hundred years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him again soon. Universal Studios’ Dark Universe in which Javier Bardem was set to make an appearance as the project is up in the air at the moment, but fans of the genre will be hoping it goes ahead. There is no doubt that horror lovers have a lot to thank Mary Shelley for.