Today I watched The Invisible Man’s Revenge from 1944, and with that, I have FINALLY watched EVERY movie featuring one of the classic Universal Monsters. I have no excuse for the fact that it has taken so long. I have deep, deep shame. But hey, I did it! And now that I’ve FINALLY absorbed every film in their assorted franchises, I’m going to rank them from my favorite to least favorite. Absolutely nobody will care about this ranking except me, but I’m going to share it anyway:
1: Frankenstein. Not a surprise, I’m sure. Everyone knows how much I love Boris Karloff as the monster. Many people probably also know that I consider Bride of Frankenstein to be Universal’s finest monster movie. And anybody who has ever talked to me for more than 17 seconds has probably heard me ramble on about the fact that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is one of my five favorite movies of all time. Of course this was going to be on top.
2. The Wolf-Man. Lon Chaney Jr. only got one solo film as the Wolf-Man, but he went on to play the character in several “monster rally” films. He’s the only Universal Monster to have a consistent performer throughout the entire franchise, and he’s a wonderfully tragic figure at that. He’s just such a great character.
3. The Invisible Man. Pound for pound, the Invisible Man films are really entertaining, and the special effects are wonderful for the time period. The franchise is hurt a bit by the fact that there is NO consistency in the performer, that most of the films make no attempt at continuity with one another, and that two of them (The Invisible Woman and The Invisible Agent) make no pretense at being monster movies at all, but rather a romantic comedy and a World War II action movie, respectively. But the ones that are good (that would be the original, The Invisible Man Returns, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge) are REALLY good.
4. Dracula. This series would be higher than the Invisible Man if I was only judging by Bela Lugosi’s performance, but Lugosi only played the count twice: in the original and in the aforementioned Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The other actors who played the Count in the other films (even the beloved Lon Chaney Jr.) were…lacking. However, the franchise does get bonus points for the other 1931 Dracula film – the Spanish language version that was made on the same sets as the Lugosi movie at night after director Tod Browning wrapped for the day. The Spanish crew watched Browning’s dailies and made adjustments, often improvements, when filming their own scenes. The resultant film is not as well-known as the Lugosi movie, but may be even better.
5. The Mummy. I must stress here, I am ONLY speaking about the original series from the 1930s and 40s, not the Brendan Fraser series. That would be higher. But while The Mummy series started well, it got very repetitive very fast. The writers also got lazy after a while, not really trying to keep the films consistent with one another. For example, the Mummy rises from the grave after “decades” in two subsequent films, yet they still all took place in the 1940s. Then there was poor Lon Chaney Jr., who played the Mummy in the final few films and, frankly, was sleepwalking through them.
6. The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I should tell you, in case there is any question, that there is no Universal Monster I actually dislike, but somebody’s gotta come in last. The Creature’s trilogy is a fun burst of energy from Universal in the 50s, one last success at creating an iconic character long after the other franchises had been put to bed, but it was never as compelling to me as the others. The Creature comes across as more mindless, driven by pure instinct. It’s neither a beast driven by anguish or anger, and as such, I never really felt for him. It wasn’t until The Shape of Water (not an official Creature film, but come on, we all know) that this archetype really hit for me.
So that’s what I think about these guys. I love ‘em all, I do, and I’m terribly sad that Universal’s various attempts to bring them back in recent years have all fallen flat. I’m going to say it again: the best thing to do would be to bring back Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as the O’Connells and use them as the cornerstone of a new Universal Monsterverse. But what do I know? All I did was watch all the dang things.
Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure seriesOther People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. There are ghosts in it, if you like that kind of thing.
One thought on “I Rank the Universal Monsters”
I have gotta agree, though I’m not quite finished with the Invisible Man series. Otherwise, the rest of your observations are right on the money. Especially concerning Bride of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.