A while back I decided to work on what I considered to be the Mount Rushmore of Horror Franchises. Meaning, I would try and select the top four and most iconic horror film franchises based on particular criteria including influence, legacy, longevity, box office, etc. There are numerous contenders to these four spots to which I’m sure you all have your own opinions. However, no matter how I or anyone else tries to weigh different data, facts, and opinions, there is one undeniable conclusion.
In order for sculptor Gutzon Borglum to execute his masterpiece of carving 60-foot granite likenesses of four different presidents, he was going to need a big foundation. Gutzon was able to find that foundation in the Black Hills of South Dakota and after fourteen years of labor, he finished that masterpiece that still stands today. Mount Rushmore is one of the top tourist spots in the world and home to a national treasure. Therefore, after going back and forth on which top four franchises should be the faces on my Mount Rushmore of Horror Franchises, I decided to not only take the easy way out but to also honor the foundation that these franchises were built upon. That undeniable conclusion and foundation is the Universal Horror franchise.
Universal Studios was founded by several individuals most notably Carl Laemmle Sr. As president of the company, he would open the world’s largest production studio, Universal City Studios, on 230- acres of farmland. Their first foray into monsters would be in 1923 when well-known actor, Lon Chaney, would take on the role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It would go on to be one of their biggest successes grossing over $3 million. A couple of years later the studio would work with Lon Chaney again as they would take on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Even though the reviews weren’t great, the film was still a box office success. However, even with the success of these “monster” films, Carl Sr. wasn’t too thrilled about furthering their stock into the horror genre. His son, Carl Jr., who had been named head of Universal Pictures, encouraged his father to move forward with more “monster horror” films. Carl Sr. relented, and Carl Jr. would carve his own mark by beginning a series of horror films. The rest is simply history.
After the success of Quasimodo and the Phantom, Universal would start churning out the heavy hitters and the most iconic monsters that still resonate to this day. Universal Classic Monsters would essentially cover four decades from the 1920s through the 1950s and branch out into several different franchises. Someone could write forever about the different movies, characters, and legacy each and every film created for the world of horror. The most iconic of the Universal Classic Monsters are Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as the monster in Frankenstein and Imhotep in The Mummy, Claude Rains as The Invisible Man, Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man and Ben Chapman as the Gill-Man in Creature from the Black Lagoon. These would inspire generations of other characters, films, genres, franchises, sequels, merchandise, TV shows, podcasts, websites, toys and on and on.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Dracula- He is just the man and the ultimate predator who gave vampires a regal touch.
The Invisible Man- Claude Rains was simply maniacal in this performance and the special effects were out of this world for 1933.
The Monster- The most iconic and perhaps the most influential to not just horror but other genres as well. Instantly recognizable and a timeless character.
Where are they?
Frankenstein just wants to play
“I’ll show you who I am!”
“We belong dead!”
It is safe to say that the franchises I consider the top four in horror and horror films, in general, would not be what they are today without the trail Universal blazed across the motion picture medium. To build anything of significance, you must first have a solid and amazing foundation. Universal Horror provided that with some of the greatest characters and moments in the history of cinema. Therefore, I simply want to show my appreciation and say thank you to the foundation of which my favorite genre was built upon. Thank you to the Universal Monsters!
Please share some of your favorite films, characters and moments from the Universal Horror franchise.