Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of the classic gothic horror novel Frankenstein, didn’t just write a book – she invented a genre. The world of science fiction didn’t exist before Mary Shelley got her hands on it. There had been minor forays but it was Mary Shelley who took the concept of threading drama, theme, and theoretical science together to make a novel. To narrow down a handful of movies or books that were inspired by her would be nearly impossible; from Mr. Spock to Ellen Ripley to Han Solo and even to Tony Stark, characters involved in science fiction owe their existence to an 18 year old girl who had a nightmare one summer night.
The unfortunate thing is that not many know about this. Frankenstein was considered amoral and irreligious when it came out, so when the original film adaption came out, it didn’t include much of her original story about a Creator abandoning his Creature and the consequences of bringing life into the world. Despite the fact that there have been quite literally dozens of adaptions in the past decade alone, most of these movies take their inspiration from the original film, and not Mary Shelley’s original novel at all.
The initial inspiration for Frankenstein came from a nightmare Mary Shelley had at a cottage. Mary and a group of writers were staying at a villa together for the summer and the group decided to try their hand at telling ghost stories. Mary, who had already developed a fascination with life and death due to the passing of her mother, the miscarriage of several children, and the suicide of her lover’s wife, spent a while attempting to think of something, suffering from some sort of writer’s block. Finally, she had a nightmare – she saw a horrific human-like creature laid out on a table, and a scientist standing over the Creature. In her nightmare, the scientist shocks the Creature to life and then, horrified by the life he has created, he runs off as the Creature opens it’s horrible, yellow eyes.
And thus, Frankenstein was born.
There are of course more obvious stories that take their inspiration from her. Some of theme even wind up being more faithful to her story and themes than the hundreds of adaptions that bare the name Frankenstein. In this list, you’ll find not just adaptions but also works that more heavily derive themselves from her story.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are so many similarities between the creature of Ultron and the creation of the Creature, it’s almost impossible to miss it. Tony Stark, in his bid to create an intelligent suit, winds up creating a robot that is bent on destruction. Two things stand out: firstly, that Tony literally brings Ultron to life with a bolt of lightning – an obvious homage to Mary Shelley. The second is less obvious but still notable: Ultron is an eloquent creature who frequently talks like someone out of the Romantics Era. Much like the Creature, he is an intelligent being with a violent streak.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The popular action sci-fi series that recently got a boot has a surprising amount in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Starting with a medical experiment gone astray, Rise of the Planet of the Apes focuses on the relationship between a Creature and it’s father, in this case the ape Cesar and his caretaker Will. Cesar, like the Creature, is capable of kindness and complicated thought, but because of the form he takes, is looked down on by humankind. Granted, Cesar’s life takes on a much happier theme than the Creature’s does, in no small part because Will refuses to abandon Cesar, and Cesar holds onto that feeling – compared to the Creature, who is promptly abandoned by the horrified Victor Frankenstein.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Like her classic novel, the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde combine many of the concepts that were popular with writers during the Romantics Era and threads them with science. Both novels focus on what happens when humans play God, with Shelley focusing a bit more on what makes us human and author Robert Louis Stevenson focusing more on unleashing the id.
The classic Marvel character, the Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner is essentially a modern day version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which means it already bares many stylistic similarities. What’s more interesting is that both characters deal with issues surrounding childhood – the Creature is abandoned by Dr. Frankenstein and spends much of the novel hating his father for abandoning him. Bruce Banner’s childhood bares a striking resemblance – Bruce’s father frequently abused him to the point that Bruce started acting out at school as a way to cope with his own feelings of neglect.
The sleeper hit show combines the stories of many gothic horror books including Dracula, Van Helsing, An American Werewolf In London, and Frankenstein. This story is much more faithful to the original book written by Shelley. Frankenstein is a young man instead of a mad old scientist, played by the then 28 year old Harry Treadaway. His Creature, Caliban, is terrifying and eloquent, even quoting literary novels and scripture. Their story starts out the same – young Frankenstein, horrified by what he has created and knowing he can’t control it, abandons Caliban when he first makes him, but Caliban seeks his creator out anyways, with disastrous results.
Despite being one of the most unpopular Van Helsing movies to ever come out, Sommen’s Van Helsing is in many ways more faithful to its adaption of The Creature than the majority of Frankenstein movies. The Creature in this movie is not the grunting, slow moving Creature from many adaptions, but an intelligent man who seeks a purpose – and to be left alone. Van Helsing even outright states in the movie that while evil may have brought Frankenstein’s Monster into the world, the Creature himself is not actually evil.