1. Frankenstein, 2. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, 3. The Wolf-Man, 4. Dracula, 5. The Phantom Of The Opera, 6. Bride Of Frankenstein, 7. The Mummy, 8. Creature From The Black Lagoon
The Universal Monsters were the most dominant franchise of the 20th century. From 43 films spanning across the Horror, Fantasy, Thriller, and Science Fiction genres in the 1920’s-50’s, they were the first-ever shared cinematic universe. A major groundbreaking step in movie history and the best franchise in CLC’s vote, here is our definitive ranking of them.
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1. Frankenstein (1931)
The most iconic Monster movie from Universal’s Glorious ’30’s Dark Universe still electrifying audiences with deep creation analysis and reflection on man’s limits/curiosity trying to play God, 1931’s Frankenstein (complete with an imitable lead by Karloff as the cadaver/corpse-mangled man-of-the-hour and jaw-dropping cinematography & set pieces) is a timeless, parabolic allegorical piece. 9.6/10.
Overall, Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is a masterwork of macabre and duality exposition. A film decades or even a century ahead of its time, it still remains a striking and scary product nearly 100 years later – thanks to its magnificence of intangibles stemming from a lovingly-crafted script authentic to the original while highlighting its biggest horror potential in the psychology of abuse as much as its green-faced murderous madman running around on the streets of London, and Frederic March’s iconic Oscar-winning performance as both Jekyll AND Hyde – one of the greatest performances in horror history. A psychologically-rich & VFX-groundbreaking analysis of the duality of mankind catalyzing gothic horror, aristocratic romance, and science-fiction with phenomenal screenwriting, macabre, twists, cinematography, and performances, Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is cinema’s definitive version of the literature and pure Golden Monster-Movie Age. 9.1/10.
Overall, The Wolf-Man is one of the best Universal Monster movies. The film exemplifies ’30’s/’40’s Golden Age-Horror at its finest: the pure escapism of dark tales told in fantastically-shot locations, compelling storytelling and influential narrative constructions, deeper themes analytical of mankind’s ancient questions, and killer lead performances to cement the star as a pop culture icon for generations to follow. The werewolf tale painted by Richard Waggner and Lou Chaney Jr. is one with ancient roots, brought to life by era-cinematic wizardry and a palpable attention-to-detail – skillfully painting a complete picture that captivates the imagination while still packed with precocious social-commentary, atmosphere, VFX, and scares.. impossibly in a mere 1 hour 9 minutes. Despite the creepiness of Larry Talbot’s introduction to what would become a nice end-romance arc with Gwen, the film ironizes and projects a scary-but-thematically-resonant take on the animalism natural roots of boy-meets-girl, majestically-paints a macabric picture of a nightmare atmosphere juxtaposed with charming old quaint historic towns, drives a handsomely-told and finely-acted story, and packs plenty of horror punch in not being able to control the evolutionary regressions lurking deep within our souls to harm the ones we love and being severed-jugular by a creature out of supernatural lore in the most violent and brutalistic of ways. The Completing the iconic Trinity Of Universal’s Classic Monsters, 1941’s The Wolf Man is a lyncanthropic fantasy parable amongst the franchise’s best movies – boasting incredible fogset supernatural aesthetics & Wales village setting, exotic and compelling proto-mystery-thrill narrative, humorous ironicization, predatory/sex/fate themes, and career-definitive handsome-and-affable Lou Chaney, Jr. lead performance. 9/10.
4. Dracula (1931)
Overall, 1931’s Dracula is one of the most important horror movies ever – the reason vampires are so popular today. Bela Lugosi’s performance is truly a once-in-a-generation cultural phenomenon: a masterclass in physicality and aura that says more in bone-chilling stares than most actors do with soliloquies. The film’s Transylvania countryside, Dracula’s castle aesthetic and set-pieces, and lute-strummed ethnocentric score are the biggest otherwise accomplishments in the film and some of the best establishment works in movie history – alone cementing with its performances (just as many strong ones around Lugosi as the big bad Count himself) it as a hallmark of movie history. The problem is: they’re bizarrely-neglected for 80% of the movie running away to a London that feels common and like every other modernized monster movie, including fellow Universal franchise picture that year Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Regardless, it is still a thoroughly-enjoyable textbook clinic of atmospherics that served as a precursor to supernatural, undead, and religious horror films as we know them today. A macabre Gothic portraiture of one of the mankind’s most ancient unholy fears with a majestic countryside setting, lute-strum ethnical score, ocular themes, & bone-chillingly intense physicality-centric Lugosi-led performances, Dracula created an icon of movie history and a new age of on-screen vampires. 8.7/10.
A frame-story summarizing the original before snowballing its madness & creation-analytic Victorian/Old-Testament bedlam – w. crass humor, great technical work, & good Elsa bride, TBOF (despite some tonal goofiness distracting from the frightful realism & too little of the bride herself), TBOF popularized & proof-of-concepted an industry-changing idea: good sequels. Adjusted ~8.3/10.
7. The Mummy (1932)
Expanding the Universal Monsterverse in xenophobic pharoah-ic grandeur inspired by the real-world opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, The Mummy game-changingly turned genre-sights back on ancient times with a tetrad-forming icon monster combo by a legendary turn by Boris Karloff & taut screenplay completely fresh w/o literary basis after Dracula & Frankenstein. 7.6/10.
Overall, Creature From The Black Lagoon is one of the most intriguing Universal Monster movies, and has since become one of its five biggest icons. It certainly went its own way and innovated the concept going beyond the traditional folklore and ubbiquitous status of the others, and was innovative for its underwater shooting techniques, proto-slasher hints, and evolution narratives with female scientists in a time where both would’ve been frowned upon by the public at-large. Despite an overcrowded canvas and dramatically-unscary rubbery fish body suit, it is a nice nostalgic way to pass an hour and enjoy some movie history. A wet, weird, wonderful Amazonian mystery/horror B-flick completing a quintet of classic Universal Monster Movies, CFTBL might not hit the high notes of its original franchise-kin, but is nonetheless a campy proto sci-fi jolt of innovatively-filmed biological scares. 7.5/10.