On November 21, 1931, Frankenstein based on the novel by Mary Shelley and directed by James Whale was released in theaters.
The film came hot on the heels of Universal Pictures’ success with Dracula. The studio had been struggling and was actually in debt before the vampire count earned $700,000 in profit. Recognizing the draw of the film, the studio’s production manager, Carl Laemmle, Jr. set plans in motion for more horror.
It was the beginning of an era and Frankenstein was just what the studio ordered.
The film tells the story of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) who becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life from death. He is, of course, successful and soon his creation (Boris Karloff) must learn his place in the world.
Frankenstein was a huge success drawing in $1.4 million dollars (the equivalent of about $22 million today) in its first year, and was hailed by critics such as Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times who said, “There is no denying that it is far and away the most effective thing of its kind. Beside it, Dracula is tame.”
Karloff, who had a modicum of success in silent films previously, hit the proverbial jackpot in his casting as Frankenstein’s creature even though his name was not listed in the film’s credits. Instead, he was listed only as (?).
His portrayal of the creature would influence filmmakers and actors alike for decades to come, and established the foundation for his own legacy as a horror icon.
The film’s success spurred Universal to create several sequels and to continue seeking out new horror properties, marking its place firmly in the annals of horror history.