A Brief History of Film Adaptations of Frankenstein

Frankenstein in popular culture has received the Hollywood treatment by a number of different film studios. Many of the different adaptations are exaggerated or inaccurate when it comes to the original content of the narrative, and some are only loosely based on the  novel.

The first adaptation of Frankenstein, which was released in 1910, and directed by J. Seare Dawley,  was only 16 minutes long. The black and white film was shot in only three to four days, and was said to have an emphasis on reducing the horrific aspects in the novel in favour of the ‘mystical’ and ‘psychological elements’. Many modern viewers view Frankenstein as an iconic horror novel, and as such this adaptation of the film is not particularly revered in popular culture today.


(Above, Charles Ogle in the 1910 adaptation of Frankenstein)

Boris Karloff’s adaptation of the novel, arguably the most famous (and by which most perceptions of the image of Frankenstein’s Monster have been shaped today), was released in 1931. The iconic lines of the black and white film classic:

‘it’s alive! it’s alive! in the name of God. Now I know what it feels like to be a God!’

have spawned a number of follow up films and spin offs, some of which are notably awful pieces of film history. These lines, although influential, were also inherently controversial in 1930’s society. They were considered blasphemous and many requests were made for scenes within the film to be censored or cut. The state of Kansas in particular requested that 32 scenes be cut, which would have halved the length of the film. Another scene in which Frankenstein’s Monster throws a little girl into a lake and accidentally drowns her, also landed the film in a controversial debate about content appropriate for the big screen.

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(Above, Frankenstein’s Monster in the 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein)

Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaption of ‘Frankenstein’, a considerably more up to date take on a classic, for a  modern society, was given mixed reviews by critics and viewers alike. Although the film itself did well at the box office, the reviews from critics described it as ‘ambitious and striking, but totally inconsistent’. Critics praised Branagh for his ambition taking on the literary classic, but the reputation of the 1931 classic seemed to be a tough act to follow. The film itself, whilst visually appealing and impressive in places, seems cluttered and confusing with the manic and frantic pace of the narrative, something which critics picked up on during their almost universal panning of it. It is not hard to see why the film was criticised widely as even the depiction of Frankenstein’s Monster (renamed ‘The Creature’, as seen below) had significantly departed from original descriptions of Shelley’s pale skinned  and yellow eyed monster. Branagh’s take on Victor Frankenstein’s creation is somewhat human like and significantly less terrifying than the 1910 or 1931 adaptations of the monster.


(Seen Above, Robert De Niro as ‘The Creature’ in Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of Frankenstein)


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