Best Werewolf Movies of the 21st Century - Header - StudioBinder

Werewolves predate almost every other fictional monster. So, why aren’t werewolf films very popular?

Perhaps it comes down to a practical issue. The make-up is labor intensive. The transformation sequence might take longer to shoot than the rest of the film. The most important criteria for judging werewolf movies is the creature effects. The werewolf transformation scene is the hallmark for any film in the category and these films live or die on their success. Let’s look back at the best werewolf movies and see how they turn men (and women) into monsters…

The Best New Werewolf Movies

1. Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers pits soldiers against monsters, much like Aliens. But it also echoes the zombie film by trapping the survivors in a single location.

The zombie film set-up also extends to the narrative structure. Instead of a single, doomed protagonist, the soldiers "turn" one at a time.

Naturally, this war/werewolf hybrid movie has no shortage of action. Like combat situations in real life, the soldiers are outmatched against an enemy they don't understand.

It's a low-budget production, but the money is well spent. The werewolves are tall, imposing, and vicious. The transformations are handled with subtlety, which is antithetical to the werewolf movie. We might not get a full-body transformation, but there is enough to get the job done.

The Best New Werewolf Movies

2. Ginger Snaps (2000)

There are many examples of teenage werewolf movies. A notable early film comes from the 1950s when the concept of the "teenager" first began. I Was a Teenage Werewolf used the monster to tell a story about puberty and the perils of unchecked emotions.

The 80s werewolf movies, like Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too, take the high school/puberty metaphors and surround it with comedy. 

Ginger Snaps finds another route to combine teen angst with the werewolf. For one, the afflicted protagonists are female. The werewolf is typically presented through male aggression, but this film flips that notion on its head.

This new take on the werewolf might be modern, but the creature effects are pure old school. The first attack in the woods uses formal techniques to create a visceral scene. A combination of practical creature effects, editing, and sound work wonders.

The secret to practical creature effects has always been to use it sparingly. The longer we see an animatronic or model, the more time we have to contemplate its "fake-ness."

But we only need glimpses to secure the authenticity of the moment.

The Best New Werewolf Movies

3. The Wolfman (2010)

The mid-to-late 2000s saw a sharp rise in werewolf movies. This latest wave of lycanthropes includes a few good werewolf movies, many bad werewolf movies, and some of the best werewolf movies. Thanks to franchises like Underworld and Twilight, Hollywood saw the appeal of both vampire and werewolf movies.

Universal decided it was time to bring back one of their legendary properties. The Wolfman is a big-budget remake of the Lon Chaney Jr. original.

It returns the werewolf to its 19th Century roots and attempts to capture its gothic grandeur. 

Rick Baker handled the creature design and make-up. He already set the bar high with An American Werewolf in London nearly 30 years before.

But now there was a chance to return to the source.

Scheduling issues prevented Baker and director Joe Johnston from completing the transformations practically. Much to their disappointment, and the fans', CGI would be utilized instead.

For all its story and character problems, the transformations still work. The primary transformation in the asylum lecture hall is shot and edited excellently.

Despite the CGI, each shot focuses on a single element during the change. We see fingers break and reshape; we see claws bursting through his boots; we see the pupils dilating. The scene is given the same attention to detail and spectacle as a practical effects scene would have received.

There's even a fantastic moment where we see in the inside of his mouth as teeth are displaced to make room for fangs. This is an example where CGI can be used to show us something practical effects wouldn't have been able to.

We broke down the transformation (just the filmmakers likely did) to track the step-by-step progression. You can see the whole transformation in our storyboard below.

If you scan the shots, you see how meticulous this transformation is.

When designing a scene like this, preparation is key. You can do more than just give your team members a shot list. You can communicate with them regarding the finer details.

Communicate with your team in real-time about shot details. 

Let's jump into the next one.

The Best 90s Werewolf Movies

4. Wolf (1994)

If there is an actor best suited to play a werewolf, it's Jack Nicholson. His persona is not the mild-mannered doctor or scientist afflicted with lycanthropy.

Those films might produce a more tragic character arc. But Nicholson's physicality and unpredictable nature suggest the plausibility of a transformation.

The creature designs in Mike Nichols' film are subtle but effective. Taking a cue from Werewolf of London, the less-is-more approach allows Nicholson's performance to shine.

Because of this, the film is light on transformation spectacle. 

The end result is an attempt to ground the mythology. It uses the werewolf more for social commentary than for anything else. So, while it might not rank with werewolf purists, it occupies a colorful and enigmatic space in the canon.

The Best 80s Werewolf Movies

5. The Company of Wolves (1984)

A decade before director Neil Jordan made one of the best vampire movies, he made one of the best werewolf movies.

The film is a dark fairy tale. Alice in Wonderland meets The Wolf Man. Red Riding Hood for adults. In this way, the focus on fantasy allows the imagery more freedom than we've seen in other werewolf movies.

The transformation scene with the Huntsman is wild, evocative, and cinematic. His lolling tongue and undulating, sweaty back is nothing short of sexual. It is also a birthing scene. The Huntsman doesn't merely change into a werewolf. He gives "birth" to the wolf inside as it emerges from within his body.

A much more visceral scene has a young groom peeling off his flesh to expose the monster inside. More than the typical elongating fingernails and distending muzzle, this scene is closer to Hellraiser than to The Wolf Man.

The Best 80s Werewolf Movies

6. Wolfen (1981)

There is a debate about whether Wolfen belongs on any werewolf movies list, let alone a list of the best werewolf movies. Primarily, this is because it doesn't exactly have any werewolves in it.

The film does provide alternate mythology, which shouldn't be dismissed outright. There is an obvious connection between this film and the traditional werewolf movie. And there's room in the canon for an outlier like this one.

Instead of lore based in medieval Europe, Wolfen explores Native American mythology. This allows for a kind of "reset" for the sub-genre. A way to revisit and expand what the core of the mythology is really about.

The Best 80s Werewolf Movies

7. The Howling (1981)

Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante's film is also a classic. It strikes a similar dark comedic tone and features top-shelf creature effects. Rob Bottin, a legend in the effects world, gives us another show-stopping transformation. The fully-formed creatures are also the perfect mix of style and function.

The 1980s gave us some of the best werewolf movies ever. The decade also brought a considerable evolution in werewolf creature design. The previous guiding principle was to create "wolf-looking men." Now, thanks to Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, werewolves look more like wolves than men.

The Howling is a darker, bloodier film than its predecessors. It's also scarier. Dante is a horror film fanatic himself, and his joy comes through. The tributes and references to his idols make this a "film buffs werewolf movie."

But it doesn't stop there. It's accessible to everyone else who didn't go to film school, and it's one of the best werewolf movies.

The Best 80s Werewolf Movies

8. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

The consensus on werewolf movies points to John Landis' 1981 film being the best of the best. The transformation scene is a masterclass in special effects, but it's not the only reason this film reigns supreme.

For one, it's a "smart" werewolf movie. It understands the sub-genre down to the blueprints. Like many other horror films of the 1980s, this film uses the genre's legacy to its advantage.

With direct references to The Wolf Man, the film shrinks the distance between our world and the world of the film. More than just throw-away jokes, these references can make the movie scarier.

For example:

If I've seen The Wolf Man, and David's character has seen The Wolf Man, that means we live in the same world. And that suggests that werewolves exist in our world, too.

It doesn't hit the level of meta-horror that Scream did years later. But it does use the audiences' knowledge of the werewolf mythology against them.

About the infamous transformation, the film takes its time. It's a slow build. Like David Naughton's character pacing in the apartment, we wait for the inevitable. When it arrives, our reward is almost three minutes of pure gold.

Let's use StudioBinder's script breakdown feature to see how preparation for a sequence like this is done. You can highlight lines like “mouth bleeds,” and tag it as “make-up”.

In the "scene notes", you can share thoughts and ideas with your team members including photos and video.

Now let's go back in time and examine some older werewolf gems.

The Best Old Werewolf Movies

9. The Wolf Man (1941)

This is the definitive werewolf movie. That doesn't mean it tops the list of the best werewolf movies, but it might. It is definitive in the literal sense. It has shaped and defined what we know of and expect from a werewolf movie. 

Quote

“Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.”

-The Wolf Man (1941)

The Wolf Man is a fantasy film. It is one or two steps removed from reality, which only adds to its power.

Consider the design and execution of the night time forest scenes.

The fog floating on the ground, the sharp and jagged trees. All silhouetted by moonlight. This combination of production design and cinematography create an iconic setting. More elemental than real, it solidifies the film's identity as a dark fairy tale.

Werewold Image

Lon Chaney Jr.

The werewolf design is more extreme than Werewolf of London, but we still get Chaney Jr.'s eyes. The tragedy of his character registers through his eyes as he stalks his prey.

The transformation sequence is skirted a bit. We see his feet transform through a series of dissolves and follow them outside. Only then do we get our first glimpse of the Wolf Man.

Werewolf movies have changed a lot since 1941, but their essence will always point back here.

The Best Old Werewolf Movies

10. Werewolf of London (1935)

Werewolf of London gets lost in most discussions of Universal's classic monster movies. Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolf Man remains the defining werewolf movie of the era.

But there is plenty to appreciate about this film. The atmospherics and simplicity of the creature design are certainly noteworthy.

The original plan for Henry's Hull's make-up was closer to what we saw in Chaney's later film. Instead, at Hull's insistence, the creature design is minimal to be more in line with the script.

This is a smart move for a couple of reasons. One, the less make-up, the less risk there is that it will look fake. Two, the audience will also recognize the character, and their connection remains intact.

Many werewolf movies focus on the protagonist and their harrowing journey into monstrousness. When our hero goes full werewolf, it can be challenging to remain sympathetic. If our sympathies aren't interrupted, in theory, our emotional investment continues.

In your projects, consider this decision. Will your creature design serve the character/story or not?

In this film, Jack Pierce's effects make-up does an excellent job of finding that balance. It's subtle, but that's when cinematography can pick up the slack.

Vampire and Werewolf Movies

11. Killer Crossovers

Some of the top werewolf movies are actually hybrids. Vampire and werewolf movies have their own individual legacies. Vampire vs werewolf movies have also enjoyed their own success, especially in the last 20 years.

For many horror fans, the Twilight series is nothing more than vampire and werewolf romance movies. The Underworld franchise leans more towards action than horror.

We’ve discussed these two main franchises of vampire vs werewolf movies in our list of the best vampire movies. But let’s give a quick filmography of the best vampire and werewolf movies.

Vampire and Werewolf Movies

12. Underworld (2003)

Blade and Blade II were undisputed hits. They ushered in the golden era action vampire movies and were soon followed by Underworld. In this series, it is a blood feud between vampires and werewolves.  

The film (and its sequels) have been quite successful.

In terms of scale and popularity, the Underworld films just might be the most successful werewolf movies. 

The transformations are primarily achieved with CGI but there are interesting practical effects as well. What the Underworld movies do well is to give the werewolf a detailed and substantial backstory. The mythology surrounding werewolves has always been a little thin but these films aim to rectify that.

Vampire and Werewolf Movies

13. Twilight (2008)

The Twilight series is probably one of the most polarizing pop culture properties in recent memory. The films have made a fortune at the box office but the backlash has also been strong. For our purposes, it wouldn’t be a list of the best werewolf movies without mentioning Twilight.

There is also the issue of whether or not the creatures in the Twilight franchise are actually werewolves. Their mythology is closer to Wolfen and the relationship between wolves and men, not “werewolves.”

No matter how derided these films are, their popularity is unquestionable. If we consider that the success of Twilight and Underworld, perhaps there is a chance we’ll see a renaissance of werewolf movies. 

Vampire and Werewolf Movies

14. Honorable Mentions

The House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Dracula (1945)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Van Helsing (2004)

Vampires Suck (2010)

Dark Shadows (2012)

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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