Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a 1994 science fiction horror film directed by Kenneth Branagh, and starring Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Aidan Quinn. The film was produced on a budget of $45 million and is considered the most faithful film adaptation of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, despite several differences and additions in plot from the novel.
In 1794, Captain Walton leads a troubled expedition to reach the North Pole. While their ship is trapped in the ice of the Arctic Sea, the crew discovers a man, Victor Frankenstein, traveling across the Arctic on his own. Victor proceeds to tell Walton and the crew his life story, presented as a flashback.
Victor grows up in Geneva with his adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza, who will become the love of his life. Before he leaves for the university at Ingolstadt, Victor's mother dies giving birth to his brother William. Traumatized by grief afterward, Victor vows on his mother's grave that he will find a way to conquer death. However, he is shunned by his peers, who view him as a madman. Eventually, Victor and his friend Henry Clerval meet Shmael Augustus Waldman, a professor whose notes contain information on how to create life; Waldman warns Victor not to use them lest he create an "abomination".
While performing vaccinations, Waldman is murdered by a stubborn patient, who is later hanged in the village square. Using the body, a leg from a fellow student named Schiller who's died from cholera, and Waldman's brain, Victor builds a creature based on the professor's notes. He is so obsessed with his work that he drives Elizabeth away when she comes to take him away as Ingolstadt is being put into quarantine. Victor finally gives his creation life, but soon regrets his decision and tries to kill it with an axe; the creature steals his coat and is driven away by the townspeople when it tries to steal food.
The creature escapes, running off into the wilderness. He spends months living in a family's barn without their knowledge, gradually learning to read and speak based on observations and memories from Waldman's brain. He attempts to earn the family's trust by anonymously helping them with their failing farm, and eventually converses with the patriarch, an elderly blind man, after murdering an abusive debt collector. However, when the blind man's family returns, they attack the creature and abandon their farm. The creature finds Victor's journal in his coat, and learns of the circumstances of his creation. He burns down the farm and vows revenge on his creator.
Victor, who believes the creature to be dead from the cholera epidemic, returns to Geneva to marry Elizabeth. He finds his younger brother William has been murdered. Justine, a servant of the Frankenstein household, is inadvertently framed for the crime by the creature and hanged by a lynch mob before anyone can prove her innocence. The creature abducts Victor and demands that he make a companion for him, promising to leave his creator in peace in return. Victor begins gathering the tools he used to create life, but when the creature insists he use Justine's body to make the companion, Victor breaks his promise and the creature exacts his revenge, strangling Victor's father and tearing out Elizabeth's heart.
Maddened with grief beyond measure, Victor races home to bring Elizabeth back to life. There, he finds Henry, who tells him he should let Elizabeth rest in peace. Victor stitches Elizabeth's head onto Justine's fully intact body, and she awakes as a re-animated creature. The two are briefly and happily reunited until the creature appears, demanding Elizabeth as his bride. Victor and the monster fight for Elizabeth's affections, but Elizabeth, horrified by what she has become, commits suicide by setting herself on fire. Victor escapes as the mansion burns down, but Henry is burned to death.
The story returns to the Arctic. Victor tells Walton that he has been pursuing his creation for months to kill him. Soon after relating his story, Victor dies from pneumonia. Walton discovers the creature weeping over Victor's body, confessing that for all his hatred, he still considers Victor to be his "father". The crew prepares a funeral pyre, but the ceremony is interrupted when the ice around the ship cracks. Walton invites the creature to stay with the ship, but the creature insists on remaining with the pyre. He takes the torch and burns himself alive with Victor's body. Walton, having seen the consequences of Victor's obsession, orders the ship to return home.
- Robert De Niro as The Creation, the product of an experiment with corpses and electricity. Initially kind and innocent, the Creation gradually becomes violent and murderous when it realizes that it will never be accepted as human.
- De Niro also portrays Professor Waldman's killer, whose body was used for the creature.
- Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with conquering death, which ultimately destroys his family and himself.
- Rory Jennings as young Victor Frankenstein
- Tom Hulce as Henry Clerval, Dr. Frankenstein's best friend from medical school, and later, his trusted partner when he inherits his father's practice.
- Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein, Frankenstein's fiancée and adoptive sister. She is resurrected following her murder at the hands of the Creation, but ends killing herself out of self-loathing.
- Hannah Taylor Gordon as young Elizabeth Lavenza
- Ian Holm as Baron Alphonse Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein's elderly father and one of the Creation's victims.
- John Cleese as Professor Waldman, Frankenstein's tutor and colleague who shares his interest in creating life, but fears the consequences of doing so. His brain is later used for the creature following his death.
- Aidan Quinn as Captain Robert Walton, the commander of the ship which picks up Frankenstein in the Arctic Circle.
- Richard Briers as Grandfather, an elderly blind man who is kind to the Creation.
- Robert Hardy as Professor Krempe, a university tutor of medical sciences who condemns Frankenstein's theories of life beyond death.
- Trevyn McDowell as Justine Moritz, Mrs Moritz's daughter, a nursemaid in the Frankenstein household who is close friends with Elizabeth and harbours an unrequited love for Victor. She is executed after the Creation plants William's locket on her after killing him.
- Christina Cuttall as young Justine Moritz
- Celia Imrie as Mrs. Moritz, the head of the household staff at Frankenstein Manor who often fights with her daughter, Justine.
- Cherie Lunghi as Caroline Frankenstein, Victor's mother who dies during the birth of his younger brother, William.
- Ryan Smith as William Frankenstein, Victor's younger brother.
- Charles Wyn-Davies as young William Frankenstein
- Hugh Bonneville as Schiller
- Jenny Galloway as Vendor's wife
- Patrick Doyle (uncredited) as Ballroom orchestra conductor
- Alex Lowe as Crewman
- Stuart Hazeldine (uncredited) as Man in crowd scene
- Fay Ripley (deleted scenes) as Whore
Original screenwriter Frank Darabont later called the film "the best script I ever wrote and the worst movie I've ever seen." He elaborated:
There's a weird doppleganger effect when I watch the movie. It's kind of like the movie I wrote, but not at all like the movie I wrote. It has no patience for subtlety. It has no patience for the quiet moments. It has no patience period. It's big and loud and blunt and rephrased by the director at every possible turn. Cumulatively, the effect was a totally different movie. I don't know why Branagh needed to make this big, loud film ... the material was subtle. Shelley's book was way out there in a lot of ways, but it's also very subtle. I don't know why it had to be this operatic attempt at filmmaking. Shelley's book is not operatic, it whispers at you a lot. The movie was a bad one. That was my Waterloo. That's where I really got my ass kicked most as a screenwriter ... [Branagh] really took the brunt of the blame for that film, which was appropriate. That movie was his vision entirely. If you love that movie you can throw all your roses at Ken Branagh's feet. If you hated it, throw your spears there too, because that was his movie.
As of March 2020, the film held a 38% approval rating ("Rotten") on Rotten Tomatoes based on 45 reviews with the consensus: "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is ambitious and visually striking, but the overwrought tone and lack of scares make for a tonally inconsistent experience".
Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four, writing: "I admired the scenes with De Niro [as the Creature] so much I'm tempted to give Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a favorable verdict. But it's a near miss. The Creature is on target, but the rest of the film is so frantic, so manic, it doesn't pause to be sure its effects are registered." Janet Maslin wrote, "Branagh is in over his head. He displays neither the technical finesse to handle a big, visually ambitious film nor the insight to develop a stirring new version of this story. Instead, this is a bland, no-fault Frankenstein for the '90s, short on villainy but loaded with the tragically misunderstood. Even the Creature (Robert De Niro), an aesthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him, would make a dandy guest on any daytime television talk show."
Conversely, James Berardinelli of Reelviews.net gave the film three out of four stars, writing: "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein may not be the definitive version of the 1818 novel, and the director likely attempted more than is practical for a two-hour film, but overambition is preferable to the alternative, especially if it results—as in this case—in something more substantial than Hollywood's typical, fitfully entertaining fluff."
Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.
In the U.S., the film grossed $22,006,296, with the opening weekend of $11,212,889 making up more than half of its total. Outside the U.S., it grossed $90 million, bringing the worldwide gross to $112 million.
- 3rd worst – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 9th worst – Janet Maslin, The New York Times