Despite being a concept deeply rooted in folklore and history, werewolf movies do not seem to receive the same critical consideration as vampires, zombies, or even just plain old ghosts.
Obviously, there are tons and tons of werewolf movies out there. Some of them are contenders for the best horror movies of all time. The werewolf movie genre has its fans, to be sure. I’m not disparaging these movies. It just seems as though they don’t receive quite as much respect as other horror films driven by a specific, popular type of monster (or several).
Why is this the case? Is it even reasonable to say you can think of 15 or 20 contenders for the best werewolf movies of all time? At least two people, when I told them this was going to be the next list article, responded with surprise. There is no way, they argued, anyone can come up with a list of 10, let alone 15+.
Well, fans of these movies can tell you how incorrect that assessment is. When it comes to any list of the top werewolf films in history, you can easily find what you want.
Werewolf movies are not only more prolific than some realize, but they’re more versatile as a concept, as well. When you look through this list, you will find pure horror, schlock, comedy, human drama, Hollywood excess, and films with a shocking element of organic grittiness going for them. Werewolf movies have been made all over the world. They are an integral part of film history, as well.
One thing is clear: The greatest werewolf movies of all time are fun, no matter what. Some of them are truly scary, or moving, or both of those things. The consistency among all of them? Movies that are a blast to watch from start to finish.
The Best Werewolf Movies
1. Werewolf of London (1935)
Director: Stuart Walker
Hollywood’s first mainstream werewolf movie, Werewolf of London was also an early horror hit for Universal. The film impressively continues to highlight the best features of any given werewolf movie. That would be the ability to create compelling human drama and tension out of a concept highly dependent on making the bizarre seem plausible.
Jack Pierce, who would go on to do iconic makeup work for other Universal horror classics, including Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, creates a fairly frightening creature, although this design would later be improved upon with The Wolf Man a few years later.
Werewolf of London also offers a strong lead with Henry Hull as Dr. Wilfred Glendon. Hull sets a good tone for how to play a human being who has fallen under a suffocating, hideous curse. His performance would provide a blueprint for many similar films afterwards.
Watch if: You want to see the granddaddy of all werewolf movies. Avoid if: You can’t overlook the fact that this movie is over eighty years old, and as such, looks a little creaky.
One of the most famous werewolf movies of all time, 1941’s The Wolf Man still amazes with its sinister atmosphere, beautiful Wolf Man makeup by Jack Pierce, and legendary performance by Lon Chaney Jr. To this day, there is still something about Pierce’s wolfman makeup that absolutely captivates. The makeup is combined nicely with Chaney’s crazed, violent gaze.
The Wolf Man is as much fun now as it was over seventy years ago. The film may be a little too straitlaced for some. It also probably won’t scare you the way it did 1941 audiences. Yet it remains fascinating, and you certainly can’t go wrong with that. Look for Bela Lugosi in one of his many underrated roles.
Watch if: You want to see one of the most richly atmospheric horror movies of all time. Avoid if: You prefer horror movies with more in the way of violence and jump scares.
By 1943, Universal decided to start throwing their monsters into each other. While these movies generally lack the tension and bleakness of solo ventures, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is still pretty entertaining. Its appeal is a bit limited at this point. It is difficult to imagine anyone who isn’t a fan of either Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, or Universal monster movies being interested in this. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man definitely operates under the assumption that you already know what’s going on.
Still, this is an enormously entertaining, ridiculous movie. It boasts another strong turn from Chaney, and it features the curiosity of Bela Lugosi playing Frankenstein’s Monster. Just seeing such legends together justifies the film’s inclusion on the list.
Watch if: You want to see one of the first horror movie icon collisions Avoid if: Your suspension of disbelief has you rolling your eyes already.
The cursed, tortured human trope is a common one in werewolf movies. Some delve more deeply into the subject than others. The Curse of the Werewolf explores family, curses, and madness with such intensity, you may occasionally forget you’re watching a werewolf movie in the first place.
That’s not a knock on this classic from director Terence Fisher and Hammer Films. Curse of the Werewolf features some vicious scenes of Oliver Reed as the cursed werewolf in question, transformed by powers beyond his control. Like many of the best Hammer films, The Curse of the Werewolf is also supported by a potent atmosphere.
The makeup also has a touch of the unreal, which certainly makes sense.
Watch if: You want to see the legendary madman Oliver Reed in one of his best madman roles. Avoid if: You prefer werewolf movies that leave you with at least a glimmer of hope.
Technically speaking, this absolutely bizarre combination of the biker movie and the werewolf movie is probably the worst movie on the list. The acting isn’t particularly memorable. This is also a film that never escapes its low budget limitations. One could make the argument that it doesn’t really try.
Nonetheless, if you like exploitation movies, and you have a high tolerance for absurdity, Werewolves on Wheels is paradise. It isn’t the best biker movie, and it certainly isn’t the best werewolf movie, but it has an intensity that meshes well with its low-budget griminess. It certainly isn’t boring.
Watch if: You want to see one of the silliest werewolf movies of all time. Avoid if: You prefer werewolf movies that take themselves seriously.
The Beast Must Die was quite clever for its time. Building a mystery around the search for a werewolf, the movie invites the viewer along for the ride. You will be given a brief window of time, near the end, to guess the identity of the werewolf.
The mystery itself is appealing. Even if you figure things out early on, you will probably still stick around. This Amicus production benefits from a stellar cast, including Michael Gambon, Peter Cushing, and Charles Gray.
The Beast Must Die is a little slower than many werewolf movies. I would argue its worth the need to sit still and pay attention.
Watch if: You want to see a werewolf movie with a compelling mystery behind it. Avoid if: You like werewolf movies to be a little more action-packed.
Martial arts legend Sonny Chiba could make audiences believe just about anything, at the height of his long (still active, as of this writing) career in martial arts movies and similar films. Wolf Guy is one of his strangest. It may also be one of his best roles, on par with the likes of Street Fighter.
Also known as Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope, the film sort of plays out like a noir approach to the superhero movie. Our Wolf Guy essentially gets an origin story, which is only partially explained. The story gets a lot more interesting, when Wolf Guy’s paths cross with a tragic woman, out for revenge. Strap in for some of the oddest sex scenes ever committed to film.
Watch if: You want a werewolf movie with a truly unique backdrop and tone. Avoid if: You’d rather watch a horror movie that makes at least a little sense.
Has anyone put up with more misery in horror movies than the great Dee Wallace? Doubtful. This is a woman who has been harassed and/or killed by psycho dogs, Michael Myers, the U.S. government, mutant cannibals, dead exes, and more. The Howling is one of her best roles, as a news anchor who descends fully into a bizarre world of werewolves and optimistic townspeople.
Director Joe Dante has always had a knack for mining dark humor with a touch that could almost be described as slapstick. The Howling is one of the best examples of that talent, with an ending that still packs an exceptional punch to this day.
Watch if: You want to see a werewolf movie with slight touches of off-the-wall, dark humor. Avoid if: You just can’t watch poor Dee go through hell.
Released mere months after The Howling, few werewolf movies come with a sense of humor like the one An American Werewolf in London possesses. If anything, the film almost lulls you into a false sense of security with this tone. The humor is present in much of the film, but there are dramatic shifts in tone that give the movie, no pun intended, some teeth.
An American Werewolf London is also a good example of good casting. That tends to be more important with horror than with most other genres. In this case, David Naughton is a perfect tangible expression of this movie’s style. Naughton also creates one of the most sympathetic human beings in werewolf movie history. The real pleasure, however, is Griffin Dune as Naughton’s sarcastic, insightful, and extremely deceased best friend.
An American Werewolf in London also offers one of the best werewolf transformation scenes of all time. Nearly forty years later, few have even come close.
1981 was clearly a big year for werewolf movies. Although Wolfen, the story of New York City police detectives (lead by the towering, intensely engaging Albert Finney) investigating a series of murders, is perhaps not as famous as the previous two entries on this list, it has plenty to offer on its own terms.
While perhaps not as consistent in tone as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, there is a case to be made that Wolfen has the scariest werewolves of them all. The main quality of the creatures depicted here is one of pragmatic purpose. For a variety of reasons, particularly in terms of how they go about their business, the beasts of Wolfen are far more dangerous than their cinematic contemporaries.
A fast-paced film with striking atmosphere, Wolfen also runs with an element of social commentary that makes its point without being overbearing. Ultimately, this combination of supernatural horror with grounded police procedural expectations has some of the genuinely scariest moments of any movie featured here.
Watch if: You want to see one of the most underrated werewolf movies of the 80s. Avoid if: You don’t like your werewolf movies to be too heavy-handed.
Director and cowriter Neil Jordan’s second feature is one of the most beautiful, haunting gothic horror movies ever made. The otherworldliness of the movie is made clear from the beginning, setting itself in the elaborate dreams of a young girl (Sarah Paulson).
This is a world where most people seem to accept that sinister, even demonic things can be found in the woods. Only a fool would be anywhere after dark that isn’t safely behind their own door.
In a world such as this, anything can happen. The Company of Wolves emphasizes this with one surprise after another, backed by strong creature effects.
Watch if: You want to see one of the oddest entries on this list of the best werewolf movies. Avoid if: Fair warning, Angela Lansbury, who is a treasure, is extremely, bone-chillingly annoying as Sarah’s grandmother.
Teen angst and werewolves seem to work well together. Teen Wolf, which was a hit for Michael J. Fox in the same period in which he did Back to the Future, takes the most lighthearted approach to this storytelling blend. Fox, whose likability has always been easy to understand, is a good, frantic fit for a teenager who suddenly gets lycanthropy on top of the usual puberty woes.
Teen Wolf was a massive hit. Enough to get a sequel, which is best avoided. Several years later, MTV resurrected the basic premise for what proved to be a very popular TV show.
Why do people like werewolf stories that are more or less stories about the physical and emotional perils of growing up? It will always be a relatable concept. Werewolves seem to be a fun way to get the ball rolling.
Watch if: You want to see an extremely charming, decidedly funny werewolf movie. Avoid if: You just can’t stand that Michael J. Fox fella.
One way to look at Silver Bullet, based on a Stephen King book, is to see it as a small miracle. By all rights, Silver Bullet should have crashed and burned. It certainly didn’t seem to have the budget it deserved, and there are moments still in which the movie has to rely on something else beyond a great cast.
Because ultimately, the cast is one of the biggest strengths for this. People like Gary Busey, Terry O’Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, and Megan Follows bring respect and detail to a less-than-perfect script. Silver Bullet is also one of Corey Haim’s better roles. This is more or less a story about childhood, which just happens to involve werewolves.
The midnight movie tone of Silver Bullet makes it much more enjoyable than you might think.
Watch if: You want to see what is essentially a very ambitious B-movie. Avoid if: For whatever reason, you refuse to watch movies based on Stephen King books.
It may seem strange that Mike Nichols, the guy who directed films like The Graduate and Silkwood, directed an erotically-charged werewolf tussle movie in which Jack Nicholson shifts an ongoing midlife crisis and an encounter with a werewolf into a resurrection of his career as a book editor. However, this movie definitely happened, and it’s a lot more fun than you might think at first glance.
Nicholson’s aging book editor is transformed by his werewolf encounter in more ways than one. This drives the movie nicely, with Nicholson clearly having fun in a movie that generally knows how to keep a balance between comedy and a blend of horror and action. Those two portions don’t always work, particularly when Jack becomes a wolfman, but it’s hard to really care.
At least, it’s hard to care when the scenes between Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, as well as any scene with James Spader as a shady co-worker of Nicholson, are so much fun. This movie runs on a tone similar to Misery, and benefits as that film did with an effectively told story, supported by a fantastic cast.
Watch if: A dry werewolf comedy with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer sounds pretty delightful. Avoid if: The age difference between Nicholson and Pfeiffer is already bothering you.
Once again, teen angst proves to be good fodder for a werewolf story. However, Ginger Snaps puts more of an emphasis on the experiences of a teenage girl (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister (Emily Perkins). One of the most interesting things about Ginger Snaps is how it manages to tell several different fascinating, crucial stories.
On the one hand, it is a story of sisters, and family. On another hand, it has a vicious, absorbing feminist streak with plenty to say on what our society puts young women through. If you don’t care about any of that, it’s okay, because Ginger Snaps also works as a violent, tense, and often darkly humorous example of the best werewolf movies.
Watch if: You want to see Ginger absolutely snap. Avoid if: You don’t.
To be sure, Brotherhood of the Wolf is the only film on this list that is French, includes a multinational cast, features martial arts, and offers creature effects from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The film has all of these things and manages to never collapse under the weight of using werewolves and similar creatures to tell a story that is firmly in the center of fantasy and horror.
Without ever sacrificing style for substance, Brotherhood of the Wolf also draws from an excellent cast, including Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, and Monica Bellucci. The period drama elements are nicely established, but the film is never afraid to go beyond that for the sake of being memorable. Everything stays within a realm that makes sense, while never failing to be impressive.
Indeed, at times, Brotherhood of the Wolf is remarkable.
Watch if: You want a chaotic-but-endlessly-fun mix of martial arts and horror movie creatures in a period setting. Avoid if: No one has ever been able to get you to like movies set in the 18th century.
Few make horror films that feel like they’re actively screwing with your DNA, to the extent that writer/director Neil Marshall (who followed this up with The Descent) seems to prefer.
Dog Soldiers is quite possibly the most intense, affecting werewolf movie ever made. I can promise you a certain measure of emotional exhaustion getting through this. That is a good thing, but the brutality of Dog Soldiers should be mentioned nonetheless. It is the kind of thing that is admittedly not for everyone.
If you think you can handle it, you’ll experience a werewolf movie that proves in no uncertain terms that werewolves can be just as scary as any other monster you can imagine. Not surprisingly, Dog Soldiers also comes with a pretty low opinion of humanity. Fair enough.
Watch if: You want to see a movie as horrific as it is violent. Avoid if: You have a weak tolerance for the items mentioned above.
WolfCop makes it abundantly clear early on that you’re in for one of the silliest movies ever made. In no way, shape, or form is WolfCop going to scare you. However, there is an excellent chance that it will astonish you with its strait-laced humor, even as cults, werewolves, sex magic, and other elements take over a story set in a fictional Saskatchewan town.
WolfCop is a small budget wonder, proving that creativity and practical effects can cover a lot of ground, if you know how to use them. WolfCop also boasts a script that wisely avoids parody, as well as amazing performances from Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, and Jonathan Cherry.
Watch if: You’ve always wanted more movies featuring cops who are also werewolves. Avoid if: You don’t think your sense of humor will make for a good match.
The question of what constitutes a werewolf movie will almost certainly cross your mind by the time you finish this unsettling film from writer/director/actor Jim Cummings. Less about werewolves, or any sort of fantastical monster, and more about a weak-willed, generally well-intentioned police officer who must reconcile his past and present, or perish, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is nonetheless a very satisfying movie.
The film is a murder mystery, with a mysterious creature rampaging through a small town. The aging sheriff (Robert Forster, brilliant and powerful to the very last) is in no position to handle this, so it falls to one of the officers, who also happens to be his son (Cummings). Unfortunately, due to a variety of issues, he almost immediately experiences a nervous breakdown.
That last part is where much of this film derives its unsettling tone and darkly comedic character study. This isn’t for everyone, to be sure. However, with strong supporting performances by Chloe East and Riki Lindhome, the people who do like The Wolf of Snow Hollow are going to like it a lot.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for a very different werewolf movie. Avoid if: You have very, very strict rules for what should be considered a werewolf movie.
One-part werewolf movie, one-part whodunnit, and a third part possibly made with the spirit of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street in mind, Werewolves Within gives the werewolf genre one of the best recent horror comedies to come out. Its humor comes through in several winning ways, but mostly by creating and then running amok with a plethora of colorful characters.
These characters all live in the same small mountain town, trapped in the local inn due to severe weather. Joining the locals is a new forest ranger, Finn (a wonderfully likable, enduringly pure performance by Sam Richardson), who just wants to do a good job and help people. He didn’t ask for a town caught between environmental concerns and the prospect of a pipeline built right through the town. He certainly didn’t also ask for an unknown creature to set about slaughtering the townsfolk.
Yet he will deal with these things in a film that is more tension than straight horror, but which nonetheless keeps us hooked. Werewolves Within focuses on its characters, particularly Finn, with additional standout performances from Michaela Watkins, Catherine Curtin, Wayne Duvall, and Harvey Guillén. Even in such a crowded field, Milana Vayntrub might be the scene-stealer as Cecily the mail carrier. Endlessly upbeat and clever, Cecily has just as many secrets as the rest of the town, and Vayntrub appears to be having a blast.
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