We don’t have high hopes for the new action movie I, Frankenstein: Aside from a man grafted together from different people, the similarities to Mary Shelley’s seminal horror novel end there. (Seriously, who decided the story wasn’t exciting enough until they added gargoyle-vampires?) Thankfully, there’s a whole canon of Frankenstein adaptations! Here are our favorite Frankensteins—and his monsters—ranked by how faithful they are to the source material.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
As progressive as she was, you can imagine that Shelley probably never envisioned the relationship between creator and creature to get as twisted—or kinky—as it does in RHPS. Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the fishnet-clad expat from “transsexual Transylvania,” builds himself a muscular, sweet, dumb, golden boy sextoy in Rocky. But the Frankenstein allusions end there, unless you count Susan Sarandon’s Janet, with her shrieks, as a sexually repressed Bride of Frankenstein.
Source: Tumblr/Eddie Is So Cheeky
Accuracy level: 1
Even the song introducing Rocky, “I Can Make You a Man,” can’t really be applied to Shelley’s text.
Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein
Wildly touted as one of the greatest cinematic comedies of all time, this film is more of a parody of the original 1931 film than it is an adaptation of Shelley’s novel. It stars the expressive Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein, who inherits his infamous grandfather’s Transylvanian estate and resumes Victor’s efforts in reanimation. A comedic servant, a busty assistant, and a housekeeper who strikes fear into the hearts of horses help to flesh out a cast of characters foreign to the original work.
Source: Tumblr/Nun Final
Accuracy level: 2
There is a doctor and someone is brought back to life! That’s about where it ends. If compared to the original film, accuracy would jump to 8.
Frankenstein starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe
Through countless adaptations, perhaps the biggest change to Shelley’s original novel is the addition of the character known as Igor, the bumbling and hunchbacked assistant to the mad doctor—made famous by Bela Lugosi’s “Ygor” in Son of Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein‘s “Eye-gor.” Rarely more than comic relief, the character is being given a fleshed out backstory in the upcoming 2015 filmFrankenstein—starring Daniel Radcliffe as Igor and James McAvoy as Doctor Frankenstein.
In an interview with SiriusXM, Radcliffe admitted that it isn’t like the book: “It’s kind of a Frankenstein of Frankenstein.” He also cited it as one of the most original scripts he’s read since Harry Potter. Hopes are already riding high on this adaptation, as fans once again place their faith in the abilities of the former boy wizard.
Accuracy level: 2
Hard to gauge accuracy on an unreleased film, but considering it stars a character that was created 113 years after the original novel, we do have to slate it low for accuracy but high in anticipation.
Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein
This five-book series is a modern take on Shelley’s classic tale of man playing God. Victor Frankenstein renames himself Victor Helios after using science to extend his own life by 200 years. When granted extra time on Earth, Victor did what any mad scientist would: He sold his research to famous dictators, became incredibly wealthy, and decided to wipe out the entirety of the human race and remake the world in the image of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. (Talk about a serious misreading of a novel!)
Deucalion, his original creation, and two detectives set out to stop Helios from taking over the world. USA Network adapted the first book into a film and intended for it to continue as an ongoing series, but they weren’t able to bring it to life.
Source: Tumblr/Ribbons & Curls
Accuracy level: 4
While the protagonist and creature are technically the same characters that Mary Shelley created (both having survived 200 years), Shelley’s Victor was horrified by what he made, and this Victor is a bit more “Nope, not evil enough, let’s try it again.”
The original, Boris Karloff Frankenstein
“It’s alive!” This iconic line was delivered not by Mary Shelley, but by actor Colin Clive in the 1931 adaptation of Peggy Webling’s play, which was based on the original novel. An adaptation once removed, this film provided many of what we now consider to be modern staples of the tale: the inept sidekick who confuses the good brain with the criminal one, the characterization of the green-skinned, neck-bolted monster as a simpleton, villagers with pitchforks, and (of course) “It’s alive!”
Source: Tumblr/Nitrate Diva
Accuracy level: 5
The greatest part of Shelley’s creation is how intelligent he becomes and how he longs for companionship and understanding. The film loses accuracy points for cutting back on the humanity of our favorite monster.
Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
This 1994 film adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro arguably adheres more closely to the original novel than any other film—so much so that Shelley’s name is included in the title. The critics weren’t so convinced: Numerous reviews suggested that Branagh had bitten off more than he could chew. The most serious deviation from the novel occurs when the monster kills Frankenstein’s bride Elizabeth, and then, grief-stricken, attaches her head to his mate Justine’s body and brings her back to life. The reanimated Elizabeth is horrified to see she is a monster, too, and subsequently kills herself.
Accuracy level: 6
They would have been better served to focus on only one creature grafted from different bodies.
Frankenstein’s Monster in Comic Books
Leave it to Stan Lee to introduce Frankenstein’s Monster into Marvel Comics—and, surprisingly, a lot of it checks out! The comics pick up where the book left off: After Victor dies in the Arctic, the Monster is frozen for centuries. He gets thawed out to fight the Avengers (in one decade) and team up with Spider-Man (in modern-day). Because it’s comic books, there are multiple versions of the Monster in existence: a robot, two Nazi clones, and an intelligent clone—the latter which winds up working at S.H.I.E.L.D.!
On the other end of the comics spectrum, the Wachowskis (behind The Matrix) wrote the short-lived series Doc Frankenstein: The Monster not only assumes his creator’s title, but earns several doctorates on his own. Then, he dances through history, from gunslinging in the Wild West to supporting Roe v. Wade. Um, OK…
Accuracy level: 6
You had us up until Nazis…
Adam in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Considering that most of the demons on Buffy resemble their classic forms, it was refreshing when season 4’s villain turned out to be a modern-day update of Frankenstein’s monster: Genetic experiment Adam is an amalgamation of human corpses, demon parts, and technology. However, this creation comes with a design flaw: He replaces his scientist creator with technology, killing her for her redundancy.
Source: Tumblr/Goodbye Piccadilly
Accuracy level: 7
Without an equal yin to his yang, this Frankenstein proxy doesn’t hit us in the feels as much as the others.
It’s enough of a treat that Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller took turns playing both Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature in Danny Boyle’s 2011 stage adaptation. However, it’s even more pleasing to see that the play follows the novel down to nearly every detail, from the Creature’s first lessons in love from a country family to the revenge it wreaks upon Frankenstein’s brother and wife. The one very problematic addition, however, is a rape scene. Otherwise, we would’ve given this adaptation 10/10.
Accuracy level: 9.5
Every Frankenstein adaptation should have just as serious a case of identity crisis.