Happy Frankenstein Day! Today is Mary Shelley’s birthday, and if you’re looking to celebrate her genius, look no further than these books, movies, and TV shows.
Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797 and is best known for writing Frankenstein after Lord Byron challenged his friends to pen a ghost story while they were away on holiday together. Though she initially published it anonymously, and the extent to which her husband’s involvement in the creation of the story has always been called into question, Mary Shelley’s popularity has increased over the years.
What can’t be called into question is Shelley’s influence as one of the founders of science fiction. Her most famous novel has inspired countless adaptations and has continued to inform contemporary authors and their works. As her classic tale becomes more recognized and appreciated by modern audiences, Mary Shelley’s reputation as one of the most significant voices in literature only continues to grow.
Since Mary Shelley was born 221 years ago on this day and Frankenstein was published 200 years ago in 1818, I thought it’d be fun to gather together a list of books, movies, and television shows that are either direct adaptations of Frankenstein, chronicle her life as a writer in the 1800s, or were significantly influenced by her work.
I have not read every book on this list, so take each one as a suggestion and not a recommendation. This is also by no means a complete list, and is in fact just a taste of what is out there if you have any interest at all in Mary Shelley’s life or how much Frankenstein has influenced pop culture.
‘Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus’
I couldn’t start off this list without recommending you read (or re-read) the original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, now could I? As someone who doesn’t particularly like reading the classics, this story immediately captured my attention and has stayed with me long after I put it down. There’s a reason why it’s so influential, after all.
‘This Dark Endeavor’ by Kenneth Oppel
This is a prequel to Frankenstein and explores the life of 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein. His twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. With his best friend Henry and his cousin Elizabeth in tow, Victor sets out to create the Elixir of Life.
‘Monster’ by Dave Zeltserman
This book is, essentially, told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s Monster. Friedrich is left for dead and wakes up on a lab table, transformed. He sets out to take his revenge on Victor Frankenstein, only to discover there is a much larger conspiracy at hand.
‘Spare and Found Parts’ by Sarah Maria Griffin
Most people in this story are missing parts, but thanks to Nell’s scientist of a father, they’re able to be fitted with biochemical limbs to make life a little easier. Nell is an outsider because her only spare parts are on the inside — her heart, which ticks like a clock. When she decides to build herself a companion, she learns that her city and her father are both hiding secrets.
‘This Monstrous Thing’ by Mackenzi Lee
If you’re looking for a re-imagining of Frankenstein a la Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, then this is the book for you. In this world, some people are made from clockwork parts, but Alasdair Finch takes it one step further by using those same parts to resurrect his brother. As you can imagine, not everything goes according to plan.
‘Man Made Boy’ by Jon Skovron
As the son of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride, it can be a bit difficult to incorporate yourself into society. Boy, as he’s named, turns to the internet, where he becomes a hacker and finds solitude. But when his home life becomes too much, he runs away and joins the granddaughters of Jekyll and Hyde.
‘Romantic Outlaws’ by Charlotte Gordon
This book isn’t fiction, but rather a dual biography about Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. Though Mary Wollstonecraft died two weeks after giving birth to her daughter, it’s clear Mary Shelley was influenced by her mother’s feminist ideas. Though both their stories have been told separately, this book explores them together, which provides a different kind of context for their legacies.
‘Mary Shelley’ by Miranda Seymour
If you want a straight up biography on Mary Shelley, this is the book for you. We’ve seen the tweets and memes going around, especially of late, about the kind of person Mary was and the life she chose to lead, but how much is fact and how much is fiction? This book will, hopefully, answer all of your questions.
‘Frankenstein: A Cultural History’ by Susan Tyler Hitchcock
It’s obvious how much Frankenstein has influenced pop culture, but have you ever wondered exactly how far it reaches? If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you were asking yourself that question just today. This book explores the different adaptations and incarnations of the story while simultaneously trying to explain why we, as a society, just can’t let go of this story.
‘The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator Mary Shelley’ by Catherine Reef
This is another biography of Mary Shelley, but it’s geared for readers 12 and up, which means it’s a little less dry and a little more succinct than some of the other book out there. If you’re interested in just getting your feet wet regarding the world of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, this is a great place to start.
I’m a huge fan of the original Frankenstein and think the new Dark Universe franchise could learn some lessons from the original Universal Monsters. Frankenstein (1931) has had a huge impact on what we picture when we think of Frankenstein’s Monster, so you really can’t go wrong by watching Or re-watching) this film.
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1973)
This is a pretty loose adaptation of Frankenstein’s story, but there are obvious influences — including Dr. Frank-N-Further and his creation, Rocky. It’s a bit difficult to explain the concept in just a sentence or two, but if you haven’t seen this and you like comedies, “bad” movies, or anything that’s just a little bit out there, you have to watch this film.
‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)
Though this is a parody film, it’s a classic in its own right. Directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder, it’s a staple of a comedy that that not only spoofs Frankenstein, but the genre as a whole. If you want a little bit of horror and a whole lot of hilarity, you just can’t go wrong here.
‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ (1994)
You can’t go wrong with the cast for this one. It stars Kenneth Branagh, who also directed it, along with Robert De Niro and Helena Bonham Carter. It’s also much more faithful to the novel than the classic 1931 film, so if you’re looking for a true adaptation, this is the right film for you.
This is a classic Tim Burton film that’s actually a remake of his short film of the same name. It stars Victor, who loses his dog and finds a way to resurrect him. When the town finds out, he’s blackmailed into resurrecting other people’s pets, which (as is the case with most of these stories) doesn’t lead to anything good.
‘I, Frankenstein’ (2014)
This movie was based on the graphic novel of the same name and stars some well-known names like Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, and Jai Courtney. Adam, aka Frankenstein’s Monster, decides to rid world of evil, and while that concept is pretty cool, the critical reception was not. This movie has one of the worst ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, but it might still be worth checking out, depending on your tastes.
‘Mary Shelley’ (2017)
Starring Elle Fanning, this is one of the few movies about the creator of Frankenstein. It’s as much about her relationship with her husband as it is about the creation of what will become her most famous work, and if you’re interested in learning about the woman but maybe don’t want to dig into one of her lengthy biographies, this is a good place to start.
‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (2019)
Okay, you can’t quite watch this one just yet, but I would keep your eye out for it when it does finally hit theaters in 2019 (that is, if Universal continues to move forward with its new franchise following The Mummy’s poor reception). Javier Bardem will play Frankenstein’s Monster, and the film will take place in the shared Dark Universe.
‘The Addams Family (1964)
There have been quite a few incarnations of The Addams Family, including both live-action and animated, as well as movies and TV shows, but this is the original show, and it deserves to have a place on this list. Lurch isn’t exactly Frankenstein’s Monster, but the similarities are too clear to ignore.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997)
For this show, I’m talking about one episode in particular: “Some Assembly Required.” It doesn’t take a genius to see the connection here, and considering this episode (and the song “My Girl”) still haunts me, I had to mention it. (P.S. If you love Buffy, check out our ReWatchable podcast episodes about the show!)
‘Once Upon a Time’ (2011)
Though Victor Frankenstein shows up in season 1 as Dr. Whale, we have to wait until season 2 to get his backstory. Once Upon a Time was always the most clever when it was mashing up stories and surprising us with its different takes on classic characters. Frankenstein’s role on the show is no exception.
‘Penny Dreadful’ (2012)
Victor Frankenstein is one of many characters in this show who team up together to combat supernatural threats in Victorian London. This show explores the origins of many characters we’re already familiar with against a thrilling backdrop resonant of the kinds of tales they belong to.
‘American Horror Story: Coven’ (2012)
Love it or hate it, AHS has some powerful imagery no matter which season you’re watching. Coven may be about witchcraft, but there’s a Frankenstein-inspired storyline nonetheless after Evan Peters’ character is killed and then revived following the attachment of the limbs of his dead frat brothers to his body.
‘Frankenstein, MD’ (2014)
This is a web series from the same company that gave of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It’s a horror comedy that’s flipped the story of Frankenstein on its head by introducing us to Victoria, a medical student who has a proclivity for experimentation.
‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ (2015)
Starring Sean Bean, this British crime drama follows an inspector as he discovers a corpse made up of body parts from eight different children. It also stars Anna Maxwell Martin as Mary Shelley.