Universal Classic Monsters is a phrase used to describe the horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Pictures during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. They began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, both silent films starring Lon Chaney. Universal continued with talkies including monster franchises Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The films often featured Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.
In 1923, Universal produced the drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. The production sets were built to evoke 15th-century Paris, including a re-creation of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
Chaney stars as The Phantom in 1925's horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated to scale and was used again in the 1943 remake with Claude Rain.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast||RT||IMDb|
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame||September 2, 1923||Wallace Worsley||Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Nigel de Brulier, Brandon Hurst||95%||7.3|
|The Phantom of the Opera||November 25, 1925||Rupert Julian||Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland||90%||7.7|
|The Cat and the Canary||September 9, 1927||Paul Leni||Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale, Flora Finch||93%||7.2|
|The Man Who Laughs||April 27, 1928||Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Brandon Hurst, Olga V. Baklanova, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes, Samuel de Grasse, George Siegmann, Josephine Crowell||100%||7.8|
|The Last Warning||January 6, 1929||Laura LaPlante, Montagu Love, Margaret Livingston, John Boles||N/A||7.5|
|The Last Performance||November 1929||Paul Fejos||Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin||N/A||6.8|
In 1931, Bela Lugosi starred in Universal's Dracula and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. Actors Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan, who played major supporting roles in both films, made several film appearances in this decade. Make-up artist Jack Pierce created several monsters' make-up starting in the 1930s.
The Mummy, starring Karloff, was produced in 1932. This was 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. Universal began releasing sequels including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula's Daughter (1936) and sequels for The Invisible Man (1933). The first mainstream werewolf picture, Werewolf of London (1935) starring Henry Hull, was not a box office triumph despite being revered by audiences today.
The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936. 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 resoundingly successful double feature, prompting the studio to re-release the original movies. Son of Frankenstein (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi, was filmed as a result of the unexpected resurgence.
During the 1940s, Universal released The Wolf Man (1941), with Lon Chaney Jr. The junior Chaney became the studio's leading monster movie actor in the 1940s, just as his father had been two decades earlier, supplanting the 1930s' Karloff and Lugosi by a wide margin in terms of the number of leading roles that he played. Chaney Jr. physically resembled his father apart from usually being somewhat overweight, which the senior Chaney never was. The studio dropped the "Jr." from the junior Chaney's billing almost immediately to confuse some in the audiences into assuming that this was the same actor.
The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Chaney Jr. played Frankenstein's monster and Lugosi reprised his role as Ygor, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster and Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Son of Dracula (1943) featured Chaney Jr. in Lugosi's original role as the Count. The Mummy series was also continued with The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse (both 1944) with Chaney Jr. as the Mummy in the last three films. House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) featured many of the monsters from the studio's previous films. As the decade drew to a close, the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) features Lugosi in only his second film as Count Dracula, alongside Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster.
Abbott and Costello appeared in films featuring characters such as the Mummy and the Invisible Man.
Creature from the Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, was released in 1954. Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in theatres, and were later broadcast in syndication on American television in 1957 as part of the Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies. Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland covered the monster films. Universal spent the last half of the decade issuing a number of one-shot monster films.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast||RT||IMDb|
|The Leech Woman||May 1960||Edward Dein||Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Gloria Talbott, Phillip Terry||N/A||4.3|
Recurring cast and charactersEdit
- This table only includes characters which have appeared in multiple films.
- A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
- A G Cedric Hardwicke played the son of Henry Frankenstein, he also played the ghost of Henry Frankenstein.
- A P indicates the character was mentioned and shown in a photograph.
- A U indicates a uncredited role.
- A V indicates a voice-only role.
|Dracula||Frankenstein||The Invisible Man||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||Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man|
|The Frankenstein Monster||Boris Karloff||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|
|Lon Chaney, Jr.||Lon Chaney, Jr.||Lon Chaney, Jr.|
|Van Helsing||Edward Van Sloan||Edward Van Sloan|
|Henry Frankenstein||Colin Clive||Colin Clive||Cedric HardwickeG|
| The Invisible Man|
|Claude Rains||Claude RainsP||Claude RainsP|
|Elizabeth||Mae Clarke||Valerie Hobson|
|Ygor||Bela Lugosi||Bela Lugosi|
| The Invisible Man|
|Vincent Price||Vincent PriceUV|
|Maleva||Maria Ouspenskaya||Maria Ouspenskaya|
|Elsa Frankenstein||Evelyn Ankers||Ilona Massey|
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Main cast||RT||IMDb|
|Dracula||July 13, 1979||John Badham||Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier||64%||6.5|
|The Mummy||May 7, 1999||Stephen Sommers||Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and Arnold Vosloo||57%||7.0|
|The Mummy Returns||May 4, 2001||Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo and Dwayne Johnson||47%||6.3|
|The Scorpion King||April 19, 2002||Chuck Russell||Dwayne Johnson, Kelly Hu, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli, Steven Brand, and Michael Clarke Duncan||41%||5.5|
|Van Helsing||May 7, 2004||Stephen Sommers||Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley and Will Kemp||23%||6.1|
|The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor||August 1, 2008||Rob Cohen||Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello and Jet Li||12%||5.2|
|The Wolfman||February 12, 2010||Joe Johnston||Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving||34%||5.8|
|Dracula Untold||October 10, 2014||Gary Shore||Luke Evans||25%||6.3|
|The Mummy||June 9, 2017||Alex Kurtzman||Tom Cruise||15%||5.5|
Dark Universe is the term given by Universal Pictures to their planned cinematic universe, which will be based on the classic Universal Monsters film series. The studio's first attempt at this universe was with the film Dracula Untold. Released on October 10, 2014, with Luke Evans in the titular role, the film was developed prior to plans for a shared universe of horror films. However, it was retooled to be a part of the franchise. The film's mixed financial and critical reception resulted in the film's future status within the franchise becoming uncertain. Since the release of Dracula Untold, the connections to the shared universe have been downplayed. Universal, which had announced plans to reboot The Mummy franchise in 2012, decided to re-position the new installment as the first film in the series. The Mummy was set to be released in 2017 with Alex Kurtzman as director. Also, Kurtzman and Chris Morgan were announced as headlining the Dark Universe, with collaborations from David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie.
Along with the crew, Universal announced the casting of Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde, Javier Bardem as the Frankenstein Monster, and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. They would join Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, as Nick Morton and Princess Ahmanet / The Mummy. Bill Condon was announced as the director of the franchise's Bride of Frankenstein, originally set to be released on February 14, 2019. Even though various sources claimed that Evans' character might have at least a cameo in The Mummy or any of the upcoming films in the universe, Kurtzman denied these claims, stating that he considered the film to not be a part of the Dark Universe. Additional rebooted versions of their characters were announced to have films in development as well including: the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Phantom of the Opera, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The shared film universe's official theme music was composed by Danny Elfman.
On June 9, 2017, The Mummy was released. The film received generally negative reviews from critics, and performed below the studio's expectations at the box office. By November, The Bride of Frankenstein was pulled from its initial release, and lead producers/co-architects of the Dark Universe, Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, left Universal and departed from the franchise. Universal has put a hold on future projects while they create a plan for future releases. Universal Pictures released an official statement reading:
After thoughtful consideration, Universal Pictures and director Bill Condon have decided to postpone Bride of Frankenstein. None of us want[s] to move too quickly to meet a release date when we know this special movie needs more time to come together. Bill is a director whose enormous talent has been proven time and again, and we all look forward to continuing to work on this film together.
By January 2018, development on the film progressed with Condon hiring a production team consisting of cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, production designer Sarah Greenwood, composer Carter Burwell, and costume designer Jacqueline Durran.
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