Graveyard Shift

Frankenstein Movies That Aren't Actually About Frankenstein 

Megan Summers
Updated January 27, 2020 2.9k views 15 items

When young Mary Shelley sat down along the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland and composed Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, she sparked the imaginations of readers all over the world with her tale of reanimated bodies, mad inventors, and lonely, outcast monsters. In film, different Frankenstein movies either remain loyal to this source material or veer off course, analogous to Shelley's novel only through themes or characters.

When directors take liberties with famous narratives, the results can be mixed. The movies on this list, however, have managed to create compelling, unique stories while incorporating varying levels of influence from Shelley's seminal work. Spanning genres, decades, and styles, these films are a testament to the lasting significance of Frankenstein's monster and the scientist who created him, Victor Frankenstein.

Edward Scissorhands is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Frankenstein Movies That Aren't Actually About Frankenstein
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The relationship between Edward Scissorhands and the Inventor shows clear similarities between Victor Frankenstein and his creation. When the Inventor, played by horror auteur Vincent Price, perishes unexpectedly, Edward leaves the only home he's ever known and descends into the strange reality of suburban life.

While the man with scissors for hands acclimates better than expected with the help of the Boggs family, he's still othered by many of the town's inhabitants. In a climatic final scene, it's clear that the naive and misunderstood Edward will not be able to survive in the human world around him.

Screenwriter Caroline Thompson noted her love for Mary Shelley's monster in an interview with Variety about Edward Scissorhands. "Growing up, I was always moved by the sad ones, like Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame," she said. "I remain moved by those stories. I think of every script I’ve written as a sort of sad horror movie."

Actors: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Vincent Price, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Arkin, + more

Released: 1990

Directed by: Tim Burton

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May is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Frankenstein Movies That Aren't Actually About Frankenstein
Photo: Lions Gate Films

"If you can't find a friend, make one." May is a movie about a reclusive and disturbed woman with a lazy eye who doesn't take rejection well. After a few failed love affairs and the loss of her beloved childhood glass doll, Suzie, May decides to make her own best friend.

May's macabre methodology involves slaying people and taking body parts she admires from them. She sews these various limbs and appendages together into the ultimate, life-size buddy: Amy. Obsessed with seeing her creation come to life, May sacrifices her own eye for this new companion, and perishes in the process.

A strange twist on the Frankenstein story, May delves into the sad motivations of one woman so immersed in a world of her own making that she's incapable of sustaining genuine connections with those around her.

Actors: Anna Faris, Nora Zehetner, Jeremy Sisto, Angela Bettis, Nichole Hiltz, + more

Released: 2002

Directed by: Lucky McKee

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Ex Machina is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Frankenstein Movies That Aren't Actually About Frankenstein
Photo: A24

The hermetic CEO of Blue Book, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), invites company programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) to his home, where Bateman reveals a secret: He has created an AI robot named Ava. The purpose of the visit is to see if, based on Smith's assessments, Ava can pass the Turing test. Smith is tasked with figuring out if Ava is capable of possessing genuine consciousness, or if she can just fake it convincingly.

This science fiction film makes Frankenstein's monster a technical possibility. Ava, played with poise and humility by Alicia Vikander, feels constrained by Bateman as she gains more awareness and knowledge of the world around her. In a harrowing and gruesome series of events, the creation turns on her creator, employing Smith and another robot to ensure her escape.

Ava's disdain for Batemen mirrors the scorn Frankenstein's monster feels toward Victor Frankenstein. Before ending his life, Ava asks her architect, "Isn't it strange, to create something that hates you?"

Actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Released: 2015

Directed by: Alex Garland

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RoboCop is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Frankenstein Movies That Aren't Actually About Frankenstein
Photo: Orion Pictures

In an interview about his science fiction cult classic, screenwriter Edward Neumeier described RoboCop as "a Frankenstein movie" with an emphasis on the monster's journey. After Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is slain on duty, he is remade into a cyborg law enforcer owned by Omni Consumer Products (OCP).

RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoeven, provides timeless social commentary on corrupt capitalism, but the title character's transformation from a human being into an authoritarian machine gives this dystopian satire a melancholy twist. RoboCop's functionality is compromised as Murphy's memories resurface, and OCP's crooked intentions are emphasized as the action escalates. 

As RoboCop struggles to reconcile his past life as Murphy with his current one, it becomes clear this "machine" displays more humanity than the people who created it.

Actors: Alex Van Halen, Peter Weller, Leeza Gibbons, Nancy Allen, Paul Verhoeven, + more

Released: 1987

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

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