Postmodern Prometheus

Awaiting a new Frankenstein, we look at past portrayers

Published January 16, 2024

It’s alive!

Guillermo del Toro’s Frankenstein movie is headed into production for Netflix, and we can’t wait to see what spin this imaginative creator puts on his creature creation. 

In the past Del Toro has been open about his obsession with Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel, calling it his “favorite book of all time.” Back in 2012 when he completed a favorite-films poll for Sight and Sound, he listed the iconic 1931 adaptation. And in an interview with Vanity Fair, Del Toro brought up the links to his first Netflix project, Pinocchio: “They are both about a child that is thrown into the world. They are created by a father who then expects them to figure out what’s good, what’s bad, the ethics, the morals, love, life, and essentials, on their own.”

Casting Frankenstein

But our first question is always, who will play the monster? Happily, Netflix recently tweeted a teaser listing the cast, and making it known that it will be Jacob Elordi, known for his recent, acclaimed portrayal of Elvis Presley in Priscilla

Elordi has big shoes to fill – and not just the literal kind. Behind the grotesque exterior of Frankenstein’s monster are charisma, compassion, and sensitivity paired with complicated and at times, vengeful emotions. Because his movements are so wooden and his words limited, these things must appear in the facial expression and the eyes—not a role for a weak actor.  

So, who will Elordi be compared to when he fills the role of “the Creature”?  Let’s take a closer look at his stiffest competition. 

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster, 1931

Boris Karloff, Frankenstein (1931)

Boris Karloff played the role in del Toro’s noted favorite Frankenstein film—the classic 1931 version, directed by James Whale, that’s so iconic it’s enshrined in the U.S National Film Registry. Reprising the role several times after that, Karloff’s performance perfectly captured the emotion and the innocence of the terrorized monster with brilliant and requisite lurching, flailing, and grunting. 

Bela Lugosi, 1943

Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Best known for his historic title role in Dracula (1931)—a role he got after turning down Karloff’s Frankenstein part—Lugosi finally got his chance to play the monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It’s a largely unspeaking role, but Lugosi still nails the desperation and the triumphs of his character.

Glenn Strange, 1944

Glenn Strange, House of Frankenstein (1944)

At 6’5”, Strange had the height to play the monster, though his leathery good Gunsmoke looks didn’t do him much good. In House of Frankenstein, he co-starred with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man… and Boris Karloff as Dr. Gustav Niemann, who is trying to replicate Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments. Strange went on to star in several other Frankenstein films, and even got his own range of toys and games. 

Christopher Lee, 1957

Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Long before he was Saruman and Count Dooku, Lee played the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). This gothic horror take shows a grotesque looking monster-Lee with more human features and characteristics… which is a little more scary than silly, and thus a perfect fit for this updated horror film. 

Robert DeNiro, 1994

Robert DeNiro, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

After much of his mob-related work, but before all the Ben Stiller stuff, De Niro impressed in his 1994 role as the monster in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He gave an emotional and frightening rendition of the character, closer to the book’s description: more reanimated man, not just a monstrous giant. The film is widely considered to be the best adaption of her novel (so far).

Honorable mention: Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein (1974)

We don’t even need to explain it. Just watch the clip.