Why is Frankenstein So Hard to Do Right?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There have been movies based on Mary Shelley's classic for almost as long as there have been movies themselves. But why are so few of them any good?

With the news that Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov is set to adapt The Casebook of Victor FrankensteinPeter Ackroyd's novel which posits that Percy Shelley and Victor F. were classmates at Oxford University and one goads the other into breaking nature's laws — we got to thinking about the legacy of the Modern Prometheus.


There have been at least 60 filmed adaptations of Shelley's 1818 book — perhaps the first true science-fiction novel— from the sublime (James Whale's 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein) to the silly (1973's Blackenstein). It's drawn the eye of filmmakers like Kenneth Branagh, Mel Brooks, Tim Burton, and Andy Warhol and captured the imagination of actors like Boris Karloff, Robert De Niro, Christopher Lee, and the great Clancy Brown, who've all played Frankenstein's Monster.


I think, however, you'd be hard-pressed to need two hands to count the number of truly excellent Frankenstein films. Heck, even just thoroughly entertaining ones. But why? What is it about the Frankenstein mythos that is so attractive and yet so frustrating? Is Victor so sterile as a protagonist — devoid of passions or obstacles that aren't directly related to his scientific pursuits — that he's just boring to watch? (Not for nothing has the creature become known as Frankenstein; the true bearer of the name is a bit of a pill.) Is it that the most interesting character — the Monster itself — doesn't show up until too late in the story? Is it that there are so few surprises, to a modern audience, that the tale just feels rote?


I don't know the answer. I wish I did, as then I'd be rich beyond the ken of mortal man. But the proof is in the undead pudding. I hope that Bekmambetov cracks the Frankenstein code: It's a shame that one of pop culture's most enduring characters doesn't have a film made in the last 70 years equal to his stature.