12. Underworld (2003)
Director: Len Wiseman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen
Without a doubt, the best movie of this (increasingly stale) franchise is still the original. It has a pretty simple premise: Underworld tells us the story of a long-lasting war between vampires and werewolves, but there’s one fellow who’s got vampire *and* werewolf DNA, and he essentially becomes Neo from the Matrix to possibly put a stop to the war.
In short, Underworld hoped to dwell less on the monstrosity of vampires and instead explore a world where two opposing societies engage in a centuries-old war between elitist vampires and a lowly slave race of Lycans, better known as werewolves. That they’re monsters is incidental; this is a class struggle. In essence, the film is a modernization of the Hatfield-McCoy conflict, except with fewer beards, muskets, and no farm animals. Okay, so that’s not the best analogy (we’re probably looking more deeply into all of this than we should). More an actioner featuring superpowered players than your standard horror yarn, the movie’s paper-thin plot and tiresome acting are saved by the sheer gloss of the production. Overall, Underworld is a cinematic treat you can really sink your teeth into.
11. Wolf (1994)
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan
Worn down and out of luck, aging publisher Will Randall is at the end of his rope when a younger co-worker snatches both his job and wife out from under his nose. But after being bitten by a wolf, Will suddenly finds himself energized, more competitive than ever, and possessed with amazingly heightened senses. Meanwhile, the beautiful daughter of his shrewd boss begins to fall for him – without realizing that the man she’s begun to love is gradually turning into the creature by which he was bitten.
Wolf is an effective attempt to place a werewolf story in an incongruous setting, with the closely observed details of that setting used to make the story seem more believable. The first hour of Wolf is pretty razor-sharp: Director Mike Nichols delights in the blacks and yellows of a bedroom lit by the harvest moon, and the cinematography is damn-near breathtaking; writer Jim Harrison focuses as much on the back-and-forth of workplace politicking as on the back-and-forth between man and wolf, and the parallels he draws are amazing; to boot, a sparkling Ennio Morricone score doesn’t hurt. The metaphorical rise of the wolf is handled with a subtle sophistication, apparent only when you consider how hammy and over-the-top the entire thing could have been.
10. Wolfen (1981)
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Stars: Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines
1981 was certainly the Year of the Wolf. We got the John Landis masterwork An American Werewolf In London and Joe Dante’s equally excellent The Howling (two films we’ll be getting to in a moment), but there was a third wolf film out that year that many people have forgotten… Wolfen. What people didn’t know, and the studio did their best marketing spin to keep it that way, was that Wolfen was not a werewolf movie like the previous two. At no point in this film do we see anybody’s body parts stretch or shift and grow an abundant amount of hair. This is a different take…
A bizarre crime-horror tale set in a real, yet very dystopian New York, Wolfen deals with Native American wolf spirits known as, you guessed it, Wolfen. After a series of brutal murders with connections to Haitian voodoo and possible terrorist activity, NYPD detective Dewey Wilson is called out of what seems to be a forced retirement to investigate. While it may not be the traditional werewolf story, Wolfen has enough supernatural elements in it to make it a natural for any werewolf list.
9. Wolf Children (2012)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki, Yukito Nishii
If Twilight were an international anime sensation, then Wolf Children would be the alternate history Team Jacob fans had been demanding all along. Those displeased that Bella had a vampire demon baby can finally see how things might have gone had she chosen her half-wolf suitor instead, as anime helmer Mamoru Hosoda tenderly imagines the complications that follow when an ordinary girl takes a lupine lover.
Hana is a 19-year-old student who falls in love with a “wolf man”. Hana gives birth to two children, Yuki and Ame, or “Snow and Rain”. At first the family quietly lives in the city trying to hide their wolf heritage, but certain circumstances force Hana to make the decision to move to a rural town. This film asks questions that could only be raised on a cinematic landscape. How exactly do you raise wolf children? Doctor or vet? School or mountainside? Like vampirism, lycanthropy here becomes a metaphor for puberty – for growing up and choosing your own path – but telling the story through the eyes of the harried, bereaved but indomitable mother gives this calm, funny, family film a maturity Twilight could only reach in its dreams.
8. Teen Wolf (1985)
Director: Rod Daniel
Stars: Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine
It’s the ultimate dream for any mediocre high school male: Scott Howard is a scrub on the basketball team, and an even bigger dud when it comes to the ladies. He has friends, sure, but not ones that will earn him any extra goodwill amongst the school’s population of beautiful girls. Similar to any teenage guy who’s forced to take his best girl-friend to the prom, Scott’s in need of an edge.
Thankfully, his family’s big secret is that they’re lycanthropes. But not the dangerous kind; they’re fun-loving, slam-dunking hairballs that women love and guys want to emulate. In Teen Wolf’s fantastical set-up, an average kid becomes exceptional in all aspects due to his inner wolf, which, if you’re in the mood to analyze, is a horror-tinged metaphor for meek ones breaking out of their shells, so to speak. Though, in the innocently funny Teen Wolf’s case, it’s best to think less and chuckle more.
7. The Company Of Wolves (1984)
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Graham Crowden
In films like Interview With A Vampire, In Dreams, and Byzantium, director Neil Jordan has shown a keen interest in gothic atmosphere and classic myths reimagined. But it all started with 1984’s The Company Of Wolves, a lush, ambitious, strikingly outsized play on Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood that makes explicit the dangers of a budding young woman straying from the path. A dream within a dream — and with dreams within it, too — the film takes place in the mind of a ruby-lipped adolescent who has a nightmare about her older sister getting eaten by wolves. While her parents mourn, Patterson goes to live with her sweet, protective granny, but despite the old woman’s warnings, the girl’s curiosity gets the better of her and leads her to an encounter with the Big Bad Wolf.
Red Riding Hood has always been a good source for nightmares, and The Company Of Wolves is one of the more compelling of those bad dreams. To sum it up in a few words would be to call this a surreal nightmare filled with fever like imagery with droplets of blood and one of the best werewolf transformations put to celluloid. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, as well.
6. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Stars: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers
Suburban teenage sisters – Ginger and Brigitte – who hate the world and have a fascination with death, see their morbid existence turned upside down when the older of the two gets slapped with two curses: her first period and a werewolf bite. And you know what that means: lots of Tampax.
This small-town coming-of-ager regenders the werewolf myth as a riotously icky exploration of the monstrous feminine. Working from a lively, unsparing script by Karen Walton, Canadian director John Fawcett touches on the same unsettling feelings evoked by Carrie, which was also fueled by the intense mortification that goes along with the first signs of womanhood. Ginger Snaps is an original, intelligent in-depth look at two teenage girls going through the hardest episode of their lives… and one of them just happens to be turning into a werewolf.
5. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham
Neil Marshall’s directorial debut follows a squad of soldiers on a training mission in Scotland, where they soon find that their war games are no game at all: they’re being hunted by a viscous pack of intelligent werewolves. The first half of the film plays like an extended chase, as the soldiers try to outrun their pursuers and get to shelter, which they eventually find in the form of an isolated, apparently abandoned cabin. The rest of the film settles into the mold of Night Of The Living Dead, with the soldiers barricading the house against the threat outside, while inside the tensions established between the protagonist and antagonist boil to the surface.
With a meager budget (and no CGI), Marshall put together one of the best werewolf movies of all time. The story is great, the acting is top notch, the dialogue makes sense and the editing (also done by Marshall) makes for a very well put together endeavor. The lycans are both costume and animatronics and they look great. The gore is well placed with soldiers slipping around on entrails. Regrettably, during its initial release, Dog Soldiers was not picked up for a theatrical run in the states so it went to the “straight to DVD” pile. Don’t let that fool you though.
4. Silver Bullet (1985)
Director: Daniel Attias
Stars: Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, Megan Follows
Based on Stephen King’s novelette Cycle Of The Werewolf, Silver Bullet follows teenage girl Jane Coslaw and her paraplegic brother Marty as they go on the hunt for the werewolf that they believe is responsible for the murders that are happening around their town. Luckily, they have a loveable uncle named Red who is willing to not only believe them, but help them hunt the beast down.
One of the few Stephen King adaptations in which the script was actually written by King, Silver Bullet captures the writer’s rich, nostalgia-strewn portrait of small-town life and the paranoia, anguish and anger caused when a werewolf begins picking off residents right and left. At its heart, though, it’s a good old-fashioned murder mystery with just enough humor to lighten the mood. Jay Chattaway serves up a nice piano/synth score that’s at turns tender and foreboding. There’s just enough gore and violence to warrant an R-rating, and the werewolf effects by Carlo Rambaldi aren’t too shabby.
3. The Howling (1981)
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone
After being assaulted by a bizarre serial killer, Karen White, a TV news reporter traumatized by the incident, heads off for the country to recover. Once there, Karen and her husband discover that something is seriously wrong with the people living in and around this isolated retreat.
Superb hair-raising horror from the fabulous filmmaking hand of New World ex-cohort, Joe Dante, who, along with his crew, manage to imbue this modest production with a frightfully wicked sense of dread laced with an endearing self aware sense of humor. As opposed to eliciting laughter, the humor here is more akin to bringing a smile to a horror fans face from all the references and cameos from notable genre personalities. Although occasionally eclipsed in conversation when [insert the name of the next film on our list] is brought up, it’s nigh impossible to discuss one without the other not to mention both films coming out just a few months apart. Aside from one film being an independent and the other from a major, The Howling was the first film of its type in a good number of years.
2. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Arriving a few months after The Howling, John Landis’ seminal werewolf film is more expensive and more adventurous, with frequent 180-degree shifts in tone that make Evil Dead 2 look straight-faced by comparison.
In the film, a couple of American backpackers wander through the English moors. A werewolf attacks. One of them dies, although he’s not that dead; the other one gets bitten. And then the movie sets off on a series of tangents: A screamingly funny werewolf-soldier dream sequence, a screamingly horrifying transformation sequence constructed by effects legend Rick Baker. A freaky nighttime attack sequence leads into a farcical scene in which the protagonist, having transformed back into a human, finds himself naked at the zoo. There’s an extended interlude set inside of a porno theater; there’s an elaborate action scene set in London’s busy Piccadilly Circus. Then it ends. Werewolf movies are all about releasing the monster within, and American Werewolf In London is a magnificently energetic mess that feels directed by pure id. Carnivorous lunar activities definitely don’t come much more entertaining than this.
1. The Wolf Man (1941)
Director: George Waggner
Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Evelyn Ankers
This is it, the OG. The most influential werewolf movie in history. The plot would get reflected in pretty much every werewolf movie that followed: Man goes to remote location; Man gets bitten by werewolf; Man struggles with the basic realization that his two options are to become a werewolf and kill people or kill himself. Over 70 years old and just 70 minutes long, The Wolf Man remains a quietly bleak stunner, with a final showdown that packs an emotional wallop.
Scariest moment: Prowling at night, during his first time as the wolf, the transformed Larry Talbot attacks, and ultimately kills, an unsuspecting gravedigger. Horror movies today rely on gore and as many jump out of your seat moments as they can throw at you. This one relies on old fashioned atmosphere and acting ability and that’s all it really needs.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (movies that feature werewolves but wouldn’t be considered a “werewolf movie”) : Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965), Conquest (1983), The Monster Squad (1987), Big Fish (2003), Van Helsing (2004), Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night (2010), Chillerama (2011), The Cabin In The Woods (2012), Hotel Transylvania (2012).
Let us know your favorite werewolf flick in the comment section below.