Nearly a century after these characters first terrorized movie theaters, the various ghouls and beasts that make up the Universal Monsters library are as recognizable to the general public as ever. It’s a particularly impressive feat considering that characters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and others are firmly in the public domain, and any film studio can reinterpret these characters. There’s no shortage of other stories about these monsters out there, but the versions performed by actors like Bel Lugosi and Boris Karoff continue to be an integral part of the zeitgeist.
What is Universal’s copyright protection for its monsters?
The reasons for their continued popularity are numerous and include some very practical factors in why the Universal Monsters, especially other incarnations of these characters, remain so popular. First off, Universal has a copyright claim to certain aspects of their versions of these monsters. Most importantly, they’re the only ones who can make movies with a version of Frankenstein’s monster that’s green and has bolts on its neck, among other things. If you’ve ever wondered why, say, the same character in the Hotel Transylvania Movies had blue skin, there’s your answer.
Having such key visuals in a stranglehold doesn’t mean Universal can stop them Frankenstein Film in a competing studio going into development. It does mean, however, that this company has a firm grip on what is arguably the most visually iconic version of this beast. Meanwhile, other Universal Monsters like The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon Gil-Man is owned by Universal. This kind of control over the universally loved aspects of these characters, or the monsters themselves, provides a logical explanation for why the Universal Monsters continue to chug as mainstays of pop culture. As long as people think of Frankenstein’s green-skinned, neck-bolted monsters, the universal monsters will endure.
Having so many of these productions in its library has also ensured that Universal is constantly squeezing all the extra bucks out of this franchise. Rare is the home video format that isn’t greeted with a new collectible re-release of every Universal Monsters film. The studio also keeps these characters constantly in the public eye with recurring remakes like The Mummy or Van Helsing. These characters and their most famous interpretations never seem to stay in the limelight for long given how often Universal tries modern interpretations of characters like The Invisible Man.
Universal’s monster stories resonate with their audiences
These are the realistic answers to why the Universal Monsters have proved so enduring in pop culture, and they provide the context for why this horror series has never left the radar of the general public. But there are deeper reasons why people can’t get enough of this incarnation of these special characters. Most notably, many of them operate at a deeper level than just nostalgia or deliver quick scares. The classic Universal monster movies, viz James Wal‘s Frankenstein titles, exploited the allegorical possibilities of these monsters in a way that resonated deeply with audiences.
whale The Bride of Frankenstein, for example, wouldn’t have lasted as long if it hadn’t spread like wildfire through the LGBTQIA+ community. Also modern reflections on how eroticism crept into moments of 1931 Dracula have made this title an object of fascination for many viewers. Meanwhile the way Creature from the Black Lagoon offers a fascinating time capsule of what terrified moviegoers in the 1950s lent all kinds of longevity to this particular Universal Monsters title. The deeper layers of those traits and the interpretations viewers bring to them have been a crucial part of why Universal Monsters has endured.
It also helps that such deep themes give moviegoers a lot more to munch on than other non-universal movies about the same monsters. what does I, Frankenstein and its sinister, hysterically heterosexual vibes offer viewers? Is that long forgotten James McAvoy/Daniel Radcliffe Movie Victor Frankenstein Do you have an ounce of the insight or pathos of Whale’s vision of Frankenstein’s beast? The deeper themes of the Universal Monsters films would have found fans no matter what. But when you compare Universal’s Frankenstein films, for example, to so many other projects starring this character, it becomes clear why Karloff’s interpretation still reigns supreme in pop culture.
Universal’s flexibility with its characters allows them to transcend genre
It doesn’t hurt that Universal’s flexibility with these characters allowed them to exist in multiple genres, opening up even more possibilities for how broadly an audience could appeal to these monsters. Maybe you’re not a fan of darker horror movies, which would understandably rule out movies like the original wolf man. But if you like comedy, then you’ll like other titles featuring characters from Universal Monsters Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein there might be more up your alley. Being able to appeal to so many different cinematic sensibilities has been a boon to the longevity of characters like Dracula and The Mummy.
Even the once utterly idiosyncratic shared continuity between entries in the Universal Monsters films explains why those films remained so popular. While it’s common today for Marvel superheroes to cross paths in different films, it was far less common in 20th-century cinema. A rare instance where this phenomenon even occurred was at the Universal Monsters library, where Dracula’s and Frankenstein’s monsters collided, creating unparalleled spooky sights. Claiming to call itself one of the earliest examples of interconnected cinematic storytelling gives the Universal Monsters historical significance and an additional reason why these characters were so unique to moviegoers.
Actor rejection also contributes to universal monster popularity
Of course, the enduring legacy of the Universal Monsters cannot be separated from the actors who brought the characters of this franchise to life. People like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff will forever be known for their work as characters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, respectively. However, the duo also have a large following who love the actors for more than just their works as creepy screen beasts. People are always talking about other projects they are forever intertwined with, like Plan 9 from space for Lugosi or the Chuck Jones grinch especially for Karloff.
A rising tide lifts all boats and so does the call of Lugosi and Karloff. These two aren’t going anywhere as pop culture legends, nor are they the most famous films in their respective works. Being connected to performers like them (not to mention other actors like Lon Chaney Jr.) helped the Universal Monsters tremendously to stay in pop culture consciousness. One can even see this phenomenon with more modern features using Universal Monsters characters. Above all, Brendan Fraser‘s enduring fanbase has preserved 1999 The Mummy around on people’s radar while Elizabeth Moss has undoubtedly helped attract many moviegoers to the 2020 update of The Invisible Man. Through these and other actors, one can see how the Universal Monsters derive much of their fame from being part of a larger pop culture tapestry, in addition to having many enduring qualities.
Universal doesn’t have a monopoly on making interesting monster movies or even compelling movies about its most famous monsters (see: Francis Ford Coppolas Movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula). But they have an advantage in being associated with the most famous pop culture depictions of characters like Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Part of that accomplishment stems from basic copyright law, but it also speaks deeply to how well these versions of these characters, and the actors who played them, resonated with the general public. After all, not every version of Frankenstein’s monster becomes such an enduring icon. Just ask I, Frankenstein.
https://collider.com/universal-monsters-horror-dracula-mummy-timeless-love-explained/ Why Do We Still Love Universal Monsters?