Universal’s monster movies have played an indispensable role in shaping the horror genre as we recognize it today. These films have not only etched their mark on the horror landscape but have also become vital cultural touchpoints. With their distinctive character portrayals and methodical camera techniques, Universal’s monster movies have laid down the foundation for suspense and dread. These cinematic gems continue to be alluded to in contemporary pop culture, even instigating a resurgence of the monster franchise. Here, according to Rotten Tomatoes, we present the top 10 Universal monster movies that have left an enduring legacy.
1: Creature from the Black Lagoon – 80%
“Creature from the Black Lagoon” recounts the story of a team of scientists who chance upon a mysterious creature, also dubbed the Gill-man, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The creature embarks on a spree of scientist fatalities after perceiving their fear, only to unexpectedly develop an affection for Kay, a female scientist accompanying the expedition. The plot unfolds with the Gill-man’s recurring attempts to abduct Kay, while simultaneously evading capture by the other scientists.
Though the storyline might not stand out as radically distinct within the pantheon of monster movies, the Gill-man’s singular design firmly cements “Creature from the Black Lagoon” as an iconic horror masterpiece. It concurrently serves as a potent commentary on humanity’s reckless disregard for the environment, where the intrusion of human ambitions into the creature’s natural habitat leads to perilous consequences. Guillermo del Toro paid tribute to “Creature from the Black Lagoon” in his critically acclaimed work, “The Shape of Water,” preserving the thematic essence while adding a gratifying romantic dimension to the creature.
2: The Mummy (1932) – 89%
While later installments in “The Mummy” series may emphasize reanimated mummies on murderous sprees, the original “The Mummy” (1932) weaves a darker narrative of infatuation and fixation. The film stars the iconic Boris Karloff as Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian mummy. Millennia ago, Imhotep met his demise while attempting to revive his deceased lover. A team of archaeologists inadvertently resurrects him, leading Imhotep to believe that a young woman named Helen is the reincarnation of his lost love.
Following in the wake of the successes of “Dracula” (1931) and “Frankenstein” (1931), “The Mummy” (1932) managed to carve out its own cultural legacy. The movie paved the way for numerous reinterpretations over subsequent years and even inspired a series reboot in 1999. The 2017 revival of “The Mummy” as part of Universal’s Dark Universe could not eclipse the enduring allure of the original 1932 rendition.
3: The Wolf Man (1941) – 90%
“The Wolf Man” (1941), while not the inaugural werewolf film, undeniably set the template for those that followed. The narrative follows Larry Talbot, who falls victim to lycanthropy after a fateful encounter with a werewolf. The film poignantly portrays Larry’s isolation resulting from his affliction, depicting his increasing withdrawal to prevent harm to others. Universal’s prior attempt at a werewolf-themed movie, “Werewolf of London” in 1935, laid the groundwork for refining the storytelling approach evident in “The Wolf Man.”
The outcome is a gripping saga delving into the intricacies of humanity’s primal instincts, their subjugation, societal fear, and their uneasy coexistence with modernity.
4: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – 90%
Although “The Phantom of the Opera” is frequently linked to its subsequent musical renditions, the original 1925 Universal adaptation was a silent film. The storyline revolves around a disfigured Phantom haunting the Paris Opera House. Enamored with a woman named Christine, the Phantom orchestrates chaos to propel her to stardom. Plagued by unrequited love, the Phantom’s monstrosity becomes his tragic predicament as he realizes that his appearance renders him unlovable in Christine’s eyes.
While the mention of “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) might not be immediate when discussing Universal’s monsters, this film served as the springboard for the entire cinematic universe. Despite the modern audience’s divergent taste, the movie’s practical effects remain a testament to its enduring allure. Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the iconic mask-removal scene continues to resonate as one of cinema’s most iconic moments.
5: The Invisible Man (2020) – 92%
In the aftermath of the critical stumble of “The Mummy” (2017), the prospects for Universal’s Dark Universe appeared bleak, leading to its apparent abandonment. However, the landscape shifted with the emergence of “The Invisible Man” (2020). Featuring Elizabeth Moss as Cecilia, the narrative centers on her conviction that her abusive ex-partner, now deceased, remains invisible and relentlessly stalks her. Isolated in her beliefs, Cecilia’s escalating turmoil mirrors the actions of her unseen ex-lover, intent on eroding her agency.
“The Invisible Man” (2020) stands out as a stellar remake by aligning itself with the preferences of contemporary audiences for horror. It seizes the nostalgia surrounding Universal’s classic monsters and metamorphoses it into a psychological exploration of abusive relationships, elevating the storyline beyond conventional horror tropes. The movie’s robust Rotten Tomatoes rating underscores the audience’s hunger for more from Universal’s monster canon, provided they are accompanied by narratives that resonate.