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Lon Chaney, Universal's most prominent horror star, as seen in The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is the name given to a series of distinctive horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios from 1923 to 1960. The series began with the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and continued with such movies as The Phantom of the Opera, the Dracula franchise, the Frankenstein saga, The Mummy franchise, The Invisible Man films, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man series, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio's leading horror actors were Lon Chaney, Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr., and the numerous directors included Tod Browning, James Whale, Robert Florey and Karl Freund.

Beginnings - Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Universal started out by the name Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP). IMP had only one horror film, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1913).

Universal's earliest success in the horror genre was the historical drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 starring Lon Chaney in the title role. The lavish production sets rebuilt 15th-century Paris on an epic scale, even re-creating the famed Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

A runaway success at the box office, Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired Universal to produce their first true horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. The film was released in 1925. Chaney designed and endured torturous make-up that even exceeded the demands of his previous role as the Hunchback. And as with the film Hunchback, the sets played an important part in the film. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated to scale, and remains one of the longest-standing film sets to this day. It was used for the 1943 remake with Claude Rains, as well as numerous other pictures.

Chaney, who was a freelance player at the time of Phantom of the Opera's production, eventually signed a contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and could no longer produce character roles for Universal. His death in 1930 ended any possibility of his leaving MGM for another studio, and Universal turned their attentions to other actors such as German character actor Conrad Veidt, who had appeared in the 1920 German expressionist horror masterpiece, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and starred in 1928's Universal horror film The Man Who Laughs.

1930s - Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff

Béla Lugosi in Dracula

Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein

In spite of the Great Depression, executive Carl Laemmle Jr produced massive successes for the studio with Dracula (directed by Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (directed by James Whale), both in 1931.

The success of these two movies launched the careers of Béla Lugosi (Dracula) and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), and ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema. With Universal at the forefront, filmmakers would continue to build on their success with an entire series of monster movies. These films also provided steady work for a number of genre actors including Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and John Carradine. Other regular talents involved were make-up artists Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, and composers Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Many of the horror genre's most well-known conventions—the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches—originated from these films and those that followed.

The Mummy starring Karloff was produced in 1932, 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. The Invisible Man, released in 1933, was a phenomenal hit and would spawn several sequels. Of all the Universal monsters, the most successful and sequelized was undoubtedly the Frankenstein series, which continued with the critically acclaimed Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Dracula too had its share of sequels, beginning with Dracula's Daughter in 1936, although only Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the 1948 comedy that was the beginning of the end for the Universal monster cycle, would feature Lugosi himself recreating his signature role; the studio replaced him with Lon Chaney, Jr. or John Carradine in the earlier 1940s sequels.

1936 also marked the end of Universal’s first run of horror films as the Laemmles were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops, partly due to a temporary ban on American horror films in Britain in the wake of MGM's Mad Love starring Peter Lorre and The Raven with Lugosi and Karloff. 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 double feature, resulting in an immediate smash hit and leading to the original movies being re-released by the studio to surprising success, forcing the new executives to give the go-ahead to Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

1940s - Lon Chaney, Jr.

Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster with Boris Karloff in House of Frankenstein

During the 1940s, the most successful of the new series of Universal Horror movies was The Wolf Man (1941), which also established Lon Chaney, Jr. as the new leading horror actor for the studio, following in his father Lon Chaney's footsteps.

In 1943, the studio created a remake of Phantom of the Opera, this time starring Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster in a film that was as much musical as horror. Claude Rains played the Phantom.

The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Lon Chaney, Jr. played Frankenstein's monster, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with Béla Lugosi as the monster and Chaney, Jr. as the werewolf, while Son of Dracula (1943) featured Chaney, Jr. as the Count. The Mummy, too, continued to rise from the grave in The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Eventually, all of Universal's monsters, except the Mummy and Invisible Man, would be brought together in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), in which Dracula was played by John Carradine. As the decade drew to a close the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) proved an instant hit for the studio, with Lugosi in his second movie as Dracula, starring alongside Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster.

House of Frankenstein poster


By the 1950s, Universal had retired most of its original line of horror characters, with Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man having been retired with the Abbott & Costello film in 1948. (A competing line of horror films made by Hammer Film Productions of England would revive the Monster and Dracula in the late 1950s.) It was left to Abbott & Costello to keep alive public interest in characters such as the Mummy and the Invisible Man. But in 1954 Universal's horror films returned to popularity.

With the success of Creature from the Black Lagoon (directed by Jack Arnold in 1954) the revived "Universal Horror" franchise would gain a whole new generation of fans. The original movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in many theatres, before eventually premiering on syndicated American television in 1957 as part of the famous Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies;[1] the Hammer versions were also popular and, in turn, sparked renewed interest in the "originals". Soon dedicated magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland would help propel these movies into lasting infamy. Universal spent the last half of the decade issuing a number of one-shot monster films. By the early 1960s the original monsters were merchandised in the form of toys and model kits, the most famous of which were from the now-defunct Aurora Company.

Later years

While the Universal series of monsters is considered to have ended in 1960, other horror/sci-fi "monster" films produced by Universal were created. All of them varied depending on genres. Films such as the ones directed by Alfred Hitchcock were more "thriller" driven than straight horror. Blockbusters directed by Steven Spielberg also featured elements of horror, despite leaning more towards the adventure genre. However, movies including An American Werewolf in London, The Thing, Bride of Chucky, and Peter Jackson's King Kong helped pay tribute to the horror that was the Universal Monsters cycle.

The complete list of films:

  • Psycho (1960)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • The Thing (1982)
  • Darkman (1990)
  • Tremors (1990)
  • Army of Darkness (1992)
  • Jurassic Park (1993)
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
  • Bride of Chucky (1998)
  • Jurassic Park III (2001)
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004)
  • King Kong (2005)
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)


In 1979, Universal released Dracula, starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier.

In 1999 and 2001 respectively, the films The Mummy and The Mummy Returns are both box office successes. Another sequel was made, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which was released in August 2008.

Van Helsing, released in May 2004 and starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, features Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolfman in the late 19th century.

The Wolfman was released on February 12, 2010 starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. The film basically follows the plot line of the original The Wolf Man albeit with various changes.

Breck Eisner is attached to the idea of remaking Creature from the Black Lagoon with Gary Ross and Jennifer Lopez producing and writing and Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, the producers of the Dawn of the Dead remake and The Thing prequel, producing as well, though it was announced that Alfonso Cuaron will direct.[2]

David S. Goyer will write and direct a new version of The Invisible Man.[3]

In June 2009, The Hollywood Reporter's Risky Biz Blog reported that Universal and Imagine Entertainment were in talks with Neil Burger to write and direct a remake of Bride of Frankenstein.[4]

Alex Proyas signed on to direct Dracula: Year Zero.[5] Sam Worthington was originally going to portray Vlad the Impaler, but Luke Evans will be playing the character. [6][7]

Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman will produce both reboots of The Mummy and Van Helsing, with Len Wiseman  directing The Mummy with Billy Ray writing and Tom Cruise staring and producing Van Helsing.[8][9][10][11]

Later influences & homages

In 1957, Hammer Film Productions began producing their own series of monster movies in Eastmancolor, starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). Universal was also the distributor for several of the films, enabling Hammer to replicate several features of the original Universal horrors in The Evil of Frankenstein (1963).

In 1962 the television show Route 66 had an episode, "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing", written by Stirling Silliphant, which was a homage to the Universal monsters, starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Peter Lorre playing themselves, and with Karloff and Chaney donning, for the last time, their original Frankenstein's monster and Wolf-Man make-ups.

From 1964 to 1966, the CBS sitcom The Munsters featured a ghoulish family based on several of the Universal characters, including Karloff's Frankenstein and Lugosi's Dracula.

The 1960s hot rod Kustom Kulture and the related lowbrow art movement often paid tribute to Universal's legendary monsters usually in a nostalgic (although sometimes ironic) way.

Mel Brooks's 1974 parody Young Frankenstein paid brilliant homage to the films' style. Gerald Hirschfield's black-and-white photography particularly evoked the expressionistic style of the Universal Horrors.

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) featured the character Magenta (played by Patricia Quinn), whose shock hair was modelled on that of the Bride of Frankenstein. The film is a parody of B-movies; the title song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" references Universal's film The Invisible Man.

The release of movies featuring the Universal Monsters in the Shock Theater television packages of the late 1950s and early 1960s made them available to a new audience[1] developing a keen interest in these films and is largely responsible for the Monster Boom of the early 1960s.

This new interest would have far reaching reverberations from the kids that grew up during this time, when they began coming of age. The sustained interest from those that had developed an interest in the horror genre when they were young was greatly responsible[citation needed] for the creation of the horror punk genre of music in the mid-to-late 1970s with bands like The Damned, The Cramps, Sid Terror's Undead and The Misfits.

The long running children's TV favourite Sesame Street became a platform for one of Universal's key figures: Bela Lugosi's Dracula became a Muppet in the guise of Count von Count.

In 1986, the first entry in the Castlevania series was released in Japan. It featured several homages to the Universal and Hammer horror films, notably the inclusion of a Universal-style Frankenstein's monster as a boss. Later Castlevania games would continue to pay tribute to the classic horror films, while at the same time forging their own identity as a more dramatic and story-driven series.

The Monster Squad, a 1987 film released by Tri-Star Pictures and directed by Fred Dekker, featured Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In 1998, filmmaker Kevin Brownlow made the documentary Universal Horror. It was narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and featured interviews with many of the original stars.

In 2004, Stephen Sommers directed Van Helsing featuring the characters of Dracula, his Brides, a Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. The film was a homage to the classic Universal monster mash up movies of the 1940s, such as the Frankenstein Meets and The House of series and proved popular at the box office despite mixed reviews. Stephen Sommers had also directed both the remake of The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns. The release of Van Helsing sparked the release of several deluxe DVD box sets featuring restored versions of many Universal Horror films, in particular those of Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Wolf-Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Some of the characters in the video game Darkstalkers are inspired in the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon)

Castlevania, based on the video game franchise of the same name, was slated for a 2009 release as a movie until its reported cancellation and would have utilized motifs of the Universal Monsters.

The 2009 film House of the Wolf Man is an homage to the 1940s monster films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Unlike Dekker's Monster Squad or Sommers' Van Helsing, Eben McGarr's film is intended to look and feel like a Universal film of the 1940s. Ron Chaney, grandson of Lon Chaney, Jr. stars in the film.[12][13]

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives starting scene was a homage to Universal Monsters mainly Frankenstein's Monster, the director had confirmed this and said "If you turned down the colour it would look great in black and white". Jason Voorhees is resurrected in a similar fashion to Frankenstein's Monster.

Universal Monsters Online is a F2P online multi-player game where you play as classic monsters like Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein. It is currently in beta testing stage.</ref>[14]

The movie Frankenweenie contains many references to the Universal Monsters, such as Frankenstein's Monster, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man and Dracula. There are also references to other monster movies such as Godzilla, Gremlins, Horror of Dracula, The Fly and Gamera.


Such is the popularity of the series that merchandising has been collected by fans around the world for decades. However, when the films were originally released there was little in the way of merchandising other than lobby cards and posters. The 1931 Frankenstein 6-sheet movie poster is considered to be the most valuable poster in the world.[citation needed] There is only one copy of this poster known to exist.

Many years later, when the films had become popular once again after being regularly shown on American TV, toys and model kits began to be sold. Universal particularly held to the copyrighting of their depiction of Frankenstein's monster.

Out of the first wave of collectables, the most notable was the 1961 plastic model kit of Frankenstein's monster by the now-defunct Aurora Plastics Corporation. In the next few years there followed models of Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon before the series switched to generic or characters from other firms, though there was a Bride of Frankenstein model in 1965. These hollow statues were quite popular among American boys.

After the popularity of the Aurora series, other companies eventually began using licenced caricatures of the Universal Monsters. Over the decades many collectables have appeared in one form or another; from Halloween masks and action figures, to coffee mugs, miniature die-cast cars, jigsaw puzzles, Pez dispensers, lunch boxes, postal stamps, and so on.

Other memorabilia include the products from Sideshow Collectibles with very accurate 12 inch (1/6 scale) "action figures" of many of the Universal Monsters, as well as museum quality 1/4 scale "Premium Format" figures usually cast from polystone with accurate cloth costumes and decoration.

NECA Toys released a series of bobble head caricatures of all the main Universal Monsters in 2006, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Diamond Select Toys is the current license holder for action figures, including 7-inch figures, 8-inch retro-styled figures and 2-inch Minimates. Diamond Select also makes vinyl banks based on the films, and their products are often issued in both color and black-and-white. Diamond Select is also a licensee for The Munsters, and has made figures of all of the show's Universal-inspired family members.

In video and computer games, Universal Monsters have also made appearances in titles such as Monsterville and Darkstalkers.

The films themselves have seldom been out of print and have been widely collected in numerous formats, originally in Super 8mm, then VHS and laserdisc. In 1999, the movies first became available on DVD. Since then they have been remastered, re-released and re-packaged twice more: In 2004, as part of the Legacy Series and also under the 75th Anniversary banner in 2006.

The Legacy Series included The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

To celebrate Universal Studios 100th Anniversary, Dracula, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein have been remastered in High-definition and were released on Blu-ray Disc on October 2, 2012 in the set " Universal Classic Monsters- The Essential Collection"- along with The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. [15]

Bigpoint is developing a game called Universal Monsters Online, a Free to Play online multiplayer game, which lets players play as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, Countess Zaleska, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera, Gill Man, The Mummy, a Metaluna Mutant, the Man Made Monster and the Mole Man.

Dark Universe films

Notable Universal monsters/characters

Followed in parentheses by the actors who played the parts:

Recurring cast and characters

List indicator(s)

  • This table only includes characters which have appeared in multiple film franchises within the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe.
  • A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
  • A Template:Note label indicates a voice-only role
  • A Template:Note label indicates an uncredited cameo role
Character Films
Dracula Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Dracula's Daughter Son of Frankenstein The Invisible Man Returns The Wolf Man The Ghost of Frankenstein Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man Son of Dracula House of Frankenstein House of Dracula Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Frankenstein Monster   Boris Karloff   Boris Karloff   Lon Chaney, Jr. Bela Lugosi   Glenn Strange
Count Dracula Bela Lugosi   Lon Chaney, Jr. John Carradine Bela Lugosi
The Wolf Man
Larry Talbot
  Lon Chaney, Jr.   Lon Chaney, Jr.   Lon Chaney, Jr.
Henry Frankenstein   Colin Clive   Cedric Hardwicke  
Ygor   Bela Lugosi   Bela Lugosi  
Van Helsing Edward Van Sloan   Edward Van Sloan  
The Invisible Man
Geoffrey Radcliffe
  Vincent Price   Vincent Price


Elizabeth   Mae Clarke Valerie Hobson  
Maleva   Maria Ouspenskaya   Maria Ouspenskaya  
Elsa Frankenstein   Evelyn Ankers Ilona Massey  

See also

  • Mad Monster Party
  • Minor characters in Universal Monsters
  • Monster Force


  1. 1.0 1.1 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." 
  2. Fleming, Mike "Creature to Feature Rinsch?" Variety December 14, 2009 Retrieved January 23, 2011
  3. http://www.horror-movies.ca/horror_8412.html
  4. "Bride of Frankenstein comes to life-The Hollywood Reporter: Risky Business". Riskybusinessblog.com. June 16, 2009 in Remakes. http://www.riskybusinessblog.com/2009/06/bride-of-frankenstein-remake.html. Retrieved 2009-06-17. [dead link]
  5. Proyas Offers Another Dracula: Year Zero Status Update
  6. Sam Worthington Headlining Alex Proyas' Dracula Year Zero
  7. Universal Dates ‘Dracula’ Origin Pic For August 8, 2014
  8. "U sets 'Mummy' reboot with Spaihts". Variety. 2012-04-04. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118052291. Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  9. "Len Wiseman Wrapping Up Deal To Helm Universal Reboot Of ‘The Mummy’". Deadline. 2012-09-24. http://www.deadline.com/2012/09/len-wiseman-wrapping-up-deal-to-helm-universal-reboot-of-the-mummy/. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  10. Starving for Mummy Reboot, Universal Hires Hunger Games Screenwriter to Pen Competing Script
  11. "Orci, Kurtzman sign two-year Universal deal". Variety. 2012-05-02. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118053365. Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  12. http://www.houseofthewolfman.com/[dead link]
  13. Fangoria.com
  14. [1]
  15. http://dailydead.com/universal-classic-monsters-the-essential-blu-ray-collection-announced/

External links