12 Pretty Good Werewolf Movies That Are Actually Deep Metaphors

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Our culture has a fascination with werewolves. These mythical creatures have been the focus of legends for hundreds of years, and there have been countless books, films, and television series that depict werewolves in all their ferocious might. A wolf isn't always a wolf however, and werewolves are often used as stand-ins for various social issues. Many werewolf stories are allegorical, using the werewolf as more of a metaphor than a monster. 

Werewolf movies are no exception, and pretty much every werewolf in cinema has some kind of metaphorical undertone to it. Sometimes, a werewolf stands in for a forbidden lover or the danger of traveling to a new country. Themes as broad as "coming of age" or as specific as the corruption of the Nixon administration have also been thoroughly explored in werewolf films, even if you weren't consciously aware of the point. 

  • John Landis's horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London follows two friends, David and Jack, backpacking through the UK. They're just college kids having a good time, and neither is really worried when some of the locals warn them to stay away from the moors. They don't, of course, and soon are set upon by a werewolf. Jack is slain, while David is infected with the werewolf curse.

    The rest of the film follows David as he drifts about aimlessly through London, trying to avoid the hard truth that he is now a werewolf. The film seems to punish David for his aloof attitude, condemning the whole lifestyle of entitled, aimless college students who take vapid vacations in foreign countries. He ignored the advice of the locals and ultimately pays for it. 

    • Actors: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover
    • Released: 1981
    • Directed by: John Landis
    182 votes

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  • 'Dog Soldiers': Corrupt Military Operations
    Photo: FilmRise

    Dog Soldiers may be an action/horror schlock-fest, but there's arguably some metaphorical baggage hiding behind all those British accents and heavy arms. The film follows a squadron of British soldiers on a training mission gone horribly wrong. The soldiers quickly realize something is wrong when they find the savaged remains of the team they were to meet up with, and slowly they learn that their "training mission" is actually part of a disturbing military operation to capture a live werewolf in order to develop it into a soldier.

    It's eventually revealed that the squadron was meant to be bait for the werewolves and were not meant to survive the mission. Here, the werewolves clearly become metaphors for the ravages of conflict, often inflicted upon the youth by generals who are nowhere near the action. It shows how corrupt military organizations are often willing to sacrifice the lives of their own to forward unsavory and despicable goals. 

    • Actors: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Darren Morfitt
    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Neil Marshall
    124 votes

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  • 'The Howling': Kooky California Pseudo-Cults
    Photo: MGM

    The Howling is what happens when you try to write a werewolf movie after an ayahuasca ceremony in the desert. The story follows Karen White, a person stalked by a deranged serial slayer. The police eventually catch the person with Karen's help, but she is deeply disturbed by the whole affair. Her therapist recommends Karen spend some time at the "Colony," an isolated commune centered on mental health and rehabilitation.

    Of course, the Colony is not at all what Karen was expecting. Like so many before her, Karen is accidentally conned into a weird California cult, only this time everyone is werewolves. To make things even worse, it turns out that her psychotic stalker is one of the head werewolves at the commune. The metaphor might not be subtle, but the werewolves are meant to represent the dangers of falling into a cult. It showcases how vulnerable people are at a greater risk of being taken advantage of by one of these cults as well. 

    • Actors: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski
    • Released: 1981
    • Directed by: Joe Dante
    128 votes

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  • 'Silver Bullet': Religious Zealotry
    Photo: Paramount

    Lots of werewolf stories have religious undertones to them, but Silver Bullet makes those undertones overt. The movie follows the residents of a small town as they are whipped into hysteria by a series of strange and grisly slayings. A mob soon forms, and local religious leader Reverend Lowe tries everything he can to stop them. It's soon revealed that it is Lowe himself who is the werewolf, and the process slowly turns him insane.

    He begins to believe that he is a holy warrior and that his slayings are sanctioned by God. His zealotry leads him to start slaying anyone in town who gets too close to the truth, in order to protect his divine mission. The film plays with a lot of religious themes, including how religion can justify atrocities. 

    • Actors: Gary Busey, Corey Haim, Megan Follows, Everett McGill, Terry O'Quinn
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Dan Attias
    141 votes

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  • Underworld is what happens after a horror movie producer watches The Matrix. The action-horror flick stars Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampire who hunts werewolves. The two species have been at odds for millennia, but that all changes when Selene falls in love with a human that becomes infected with the werewolf virus.

    There's definitely a Romeo & Juliet undercurrent to their relationship, which climaxes in the creation of a vampire-werewolf hybrid. It's a story about forbidden love, ancient rivalries, and cheesy action. 

    • Actors: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy
    • Released: 2003
    • Directed by: Len Wiseman
    125 votes

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  • Wer is a little bit horror movie, a little bit legal drama, and a lot about foreign relations. The story follows Katherine Moore, an American attorney living in France, as she discovers that a man she is defending, Talan Gwynek, is actually a werewolf. Gwynek is a Romanian living in France and is detained without much evidence in the slaying of an American father and son.

    His imprisonment is largely based on his brutish looks and ethnic heritage, which spurs Moore to want to defend him. She is terrified when she learns his secret but is also horrified when she learns that he was targeted because the government was looking for reasons to steal his land. The themes in this movie really revolve around expats living in foreign nations and the difficulties that can arise when you come into conflict with the local culture. 

    • Actors: A. J. Cook, Sarah-Jane Mee, Sebastian Roché, Angelina Armani, Vik Sahay
    • Released: 2013
    • Directed by: William Brent Bell
    71 votes