Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Arguably the greatest werewolf movie ever made, An American Werewolf in London, will be hitting its 40th anniversary this year (August 21 to be specific) together with fellow werewolf flicks The Howling and Wolfen. Someone check the Chinese calendar because 1981 was apparently the Year of the Werewolf. Now you guys know how much I love werewolves, as I may have mentioned it a time or six in previous reviews. So there was no way I could let such an auspicious (that’s my one fancy word for the day) occasion pass by without taking a look back at the movies that actually managed to do this classic movie monster justice.
Just a quick heads-up—I won’t be including werewolf movies I previously gave kudos to (I’ll link that list for you below). And I’m also leaving out An American Werewolf in London as it’s obviously the best of the best and I want to focus on some other great lycanthropic flicks that deserve praise. With those two caveats here are the Top 10 Greatest Werewolf Movies Ever Made:
#10 Underworld and Underworld: Evolution
The Underworld franchise seemed to come out of nowhere with a concept that hadn’t really been explored on the big screen—Vampires vs Werewolves. Parts 1 and 2 can actually be viewed as one long movie, as the story seamlessly continues, so I like putting them together.
What I loved about these Lycans (as they preferred to be called in this universe) was their ability to change without the moon being full. Again, it’s something that wasn’t really done before this, and I also liked the design choices. The downsides for me is that I’ll always put practical effects ahead of CGI (the former just ages better) and, as per nearly every werewolf movie ever, there are ZERO female lycans to be found. No one likes a sausage fest people!
#9 The Company of Wolves
Would it surprise you to hear that the director behind Interview with a Vampire also directed a stylish, beautifully costumed and wonderfully weird werewolf movie?
Neil Jordan’s gory and erotic take on Red Riding Hood (which in itself is a sort of werewolf story) follows a teenage girl living in the 17th century and it is a gorgeous and macabre metaphor for the way society tends to blame the victims of sexual violence instead of the perpetrator. And if that’s too heavy for you, there’s some really awesome face-ripping you can focus on instead.
#8 Bad Moon
A modern day throwback to the classic Wolfman tale, Bad Moon tells the story of a mother, a son, and the coolest German Shepherd ever, who all become increasingly suspicious of the mother’s brother as he struggles to overcome his violent urges. Urges brought on (of course) by a serious case of lycanthropy.
I’ve always felt like this movie doesn’t get nearly enough love as it is one of the more straightforward and entertaining werewolf flicks out there. The small cast keeps the focus squarely on what’s important and Michael Paré does a wonderful job of showing how hard it can be to fight against your “animal urges”. The transformation suffers from CG that looked bad even back then, but the overall design of the werewolf is one of the best I’ve ever seen on screen.
#7 Teen Wolf
Who would’ve guessed one of the best werewolf movies ever made would be a straight-up comedy!
On the surface Teen Wolf is an obvious allegory for puberty, with Michael J. Fox as the title character, a teen whose entire life changes when he discovers he’s a werewolf. And it is a strange yet perfect way of describing how awkward and straight-up scary the changes your body goes through at that age can be.
I loved this movie, but as I’ve grown older I can also see validity in the critiques that point out how the movie also fetishises being black in America (a white kid who gains the power to play basketball and dance better than any other kid in his school). That said, I think it’s still a great werewolf movie with great looking makeup and a wonderfully likeable Michael J. Fox who makes it hard not to root for him, even when his character is being a jerk.
#6 Ginger Snaps
As I’ve mentioned before, 99 per cent of werewolf movies feature a male character who becomes cursed. So when Ginger Snaps came out in the year 2000 it was a breath of much-needed fresh air.
Like Teen Wolf, Snaps also touches on puberty, specifically the changes (both internal and external) that affect young women, and the way these changes can be both negative and positive when the opposite sex becomes an added factor. Two sisters who have a very close relationship have to deal with deadly consequences when one of them is attacked by a werewolf and ultimately becomes one herself.
With stellar acting by both leads, great practical effects, and a spin on the way these stories usually play out, Ginger Snaps still stands as one of the best teenage werewolf movies out there. Actually, the more I think about it, it might just be THE best. Period.
#5 The Wolf Man (1941 & 2010)
No list like this would be complete without the film that started it all. 1941’s The Wolf Man left a lasting impression on audiences and a lot of the myths that are now considered fact (silver bullets, full moon, wolfsbane and the curse) were actually created for this film. That’s how much of an impact it made. It may be hokey by today’s standards, but it still stands head and shoulders above so many others that have come after it. Which brings me to the inevitable remake that occurred in 2010.
Now this movie is considered by a lot of people to be awful (put your hand down Editor Jules), but I’m not one of those people. While it doesn’t come close to being as good as the original there’s still a lot of positive things to be said about it. The cinematography is gorgeous, the story has some updated aspects that makes it feel less like a remake and more like an homage, and the make-up by Rick Baker, the genius who gave us some of the most iconic special effects and creature designs ever brought to screen (Hellboy/The Exorcist/An American Werewolf in London/Men in Black, just to name a few) updated this wolfman’s design in a way that instantly brings to mind the classic film while adding true menace and terror to it.
In this fan’s opinion both films are worthy of being on this list as both gave me werewolves that make their respective films worth revisiting. One admittedly a bit more than the other.
How in movie god’s name more people don’t know about this movie?! It’s not only one of the most original and intriguing werewolf movies ever made, but it also feels like it was way ahead of its time when it came out four decades ago.
It was the first horror movie to introduce in-camera thermography (think Predator-vision) which was used to show the werewolf’s point of view. This works to put you in the mind of the lycan (which are depicted as full-on wolves here) and made viewing this horror movie all the more visceral.
The story focuses on the damage gentrification can do, as it tells the tale of Native Americans (in a modern setting) and their land rights. Some would argue these creatures are wolf spirits and not werewolves (I myself swing back and forth on this when I think of Wolfen) but that doesn’t take anything away from this high concept movie that uses the mythology in a way that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking.
#3 Silver Bullet
Not a year passes by where I don’t revist this movie. From the pitch-perfect opening that sets the tone without wasting any time, to the whodunit mystery that unfolds as you’re trying to figure out which one of these small-town folks is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Silver Bullet is another werewolf movie that proves these monsters are at their best when the storytelling is kept simple and tight.
The late Corey Haim plays Marty, a young paraplegic boy who is the first to figure out what’s going on in his sleepy little hometown. Gary Busey is somehow perfect here as his Uncle Red and, along with Marty and his sister Jane, these three ordinary people are all that stands against this extraordinary foe. The transformation here is one of the absolute best ever shown on screen and, while the actual werewolf doesn’t show itself properly until the very end, it’s still tops in the arena of all things furry, fanged and furious. EDITOR JULES: Hey, that sounds like a good Fast and Furious title. *Receives annoyed death stare from Sommer*. Excuse me while I slink back into the shadows.
#2 The Howling
Speaking of best transformations ever shown on screen, if An American Werewolf in London is number one, The Howling most definitely gets the silver medal.
I remember watching this movie and my Dad walked in on the part were we first see the “full” change of man to lycan. The woman in the scene stands there while it’s happening and never makes a move. My Dad said, “This is why I don’t like horror movies” followed by, “She so stupid, why doesn’t she run?” I responded, “If a man started transforming into something else, something monstrous in front of you, what would you do?” After thinking for a second, my Dad said “You have a point there” and then sat down and watched the rest of the movie with me. It’s one of my favourite movie memories as it reinforces how jaw-dropping a great werewolf transformation (and a good story) can be.
It spawned a lot of terrible sequels, none of which I would recommend, and none of them had werewolves or thrills quite as good as the original Howling.
Honourable Mention: Wolf
I’ll admit, I haven’t rewatched this one in a very long time. And I think I only saw it twice. That’s because I didn’t like the pacing and couldn’t care less about some old dude’s (played by Jack Nicholson) mid-life crisis (which is where the werewolf metaphor kicks in). That said, I think the makeup here was a nice throwback to the original The Wolf Man, and the scenes with Michelle Pfeiffer, especially the final one, were so perfect, they’re the ones that have stuck with me all this time. Honestly, I think it would’ve been a much better movie if she was the focus of the entire plot.
Side note: James Spader gets a pass because he’s James Spader, and I will always love me some Red Reddington.
#1 Dog Soldiers
There aren’t any full transformations shown here and the werewolves don’t really show themselves until the final act, yet Dog Soldiers is by and far one of THE BEST movies of this sub-genre. So good in fact, fans are STILL begging for a sequel, myself included.
Before the days when the internet, social media, and terrible trailers would spoil movies by telling you everything, Dog Soldiers came seemingly out of nowhere. And writer/director Neil Marshall smartly kept his cards close to his vest by giving audiences what seemed like a straight-up action movie, one that followed a group of soldiers on a routine military exercise in Scotland. When they discover another group of soldiers nearby have gone missing and their camp has been violently destroyed, they realise they might not be the only dangerous things out in the woods.
Like Aliens and Predator, Dog Soldiers does a great job of getting you fully invested in the fates of these soldiers. The character development never slows the pacing though, and with a tight runtime of about a hundred minutes you’ll never take your eyes off the screen. With a small budget, Marshall allowed your imagination to run wild until the very end when he shows us exactly what these soldiers are up against, delivering some of the best (and possibly largest) werewolves I’ve ever seen! The designs are perfect, the execution is flawless and Dog Soldiers is a werewolf movie that proves this particular monster in the right hands can still deliver fantastic thrills.
Doing this list reminded me of how much potential werewolves have as both straight-up fun monster flicks and solid metaphors representing real-life fears. There’s been talk for a while now of another sequel to director John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (after 1997’s CGI-heavy An American Werewolf in Paris). His son Max Landis is also talking about making a remake. While personally I think both are bad ideas (the story was perfectly concluded and I can do without another remake), I still love me some werewolf. And with so many talented horror directors working today, I can only hope a few of them love lycans enough to keep giving me more incredible werewolf movies to add to my collection.
Until then, we can always rewatch one of these timeless classics, or go outside and howl at the next full moon. Hey, whatever works right?
So that’s my list. What’s your top three werewolf films of all time? For more lycan love you can check out my Top 5 Awesome Werewolf Movies You Haven’t Seen (Probably) by clicking here. Or for more on the original The Wolf Man you can check out Featured Writer Alice’s review here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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