What are the best werewolf movies? Be warned, there’s a full moon tonight, and that means there might be something inhuman stalking the streets. Luckily, there are plenty of monster movies for you to spend the night in with instead.
Myths and folklore about werewolves stretch back hundreds and hundreds of years, across multiple cultures. Cinema has been utilising this rich history to create some of the most fearsome thriller movies, gory horror movies, and effective dark comedy movies for over a century at this point.
Rarely as prolific as vampire movies, the best werewolf movies do tend to have a little more fun. They provide an excuse to let the effects department run wild, and give actors license to be as loud and raucous as they’d like to be. In matters of wolf and man, anything goes, and so it is that our choices here demonstrate a broad range of carnal creations.
What are the best werewolf movies?
- Dog Soldiers
- An American Werewolf in London
- Ginger Snaps
- The Wolf Man
- The Company of Wolves
- The Curse of the Werewolf
- The Howling
- I Was A Teenage Werewolf
- The Beast Must Die
Perhaps the definitive werewolf movie of the century thus far. Dog Soldiers is a mean, bloody monster film about a group of British soldiers on a training exercise in Scotland that goes completely sideways.
After being cut down by some mysterious force in the Highlands, they seek refuge in a local cabin. But that just makes them easier prey. Neill Marshall’s directorial debut is positively gnarly, with the squadron having to claw their way to survival. Some wry humour makes it appropriately schlocky, perfect for any gore-hounds.
An American Werewolf in London
We all know this body horror movie by the incredible transformation scene, overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, who earned an Academy Award for his work. Besides the skin-wretching effects, An American Werewolf in London is a finely-tuned horror-comedy by John Landis that offers some legit giggles among all the scares.
A pair of American backpackers in rural England, David and Jack, encounter a werewolf on their travels. After being scarred, David begins to undergo lycanthropic transformations, while Jack’s body starts to decay due to an overhanging curse. Their existence fleeting, their attempts for a solution lead to more and more bodies. Exactly what you’d expect from the guy who directed Schlock.
A gothy take on werewolves that channels Heathers, Buffy, The Craft, and a healthy dose of grungy nihilism. Two inseparable horror-obsessed sisters Ginger and Brigitte find their relationship strained when one starts becoming a werewolf right after her period starts.
The terrifying, life-altering changes mirror throes of adolescence and puberty, all delivered with macabre sensibilities by director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton in a way that mirror Ginger and Brigitte’s own home movies. Tragic in its way, but self-aware, and a starmaking turn for Katharine Isabelle.
The Wolf Man
Universal’s second lycanthropic monster proved to be the standard many others would follow. Lon Chaney Jnr is the forlorn man-beast, who starts as Larry Talbot, a man who’s bitten by a wolf while visiting Wales.
Rapid healing and rabid night-time behaviour proves local legend of werewolves to be true, and it’s revealed he’s not the only one either. As atmospheric as the other iconic Universal Monsters entries, Chaney Jnr’s comfortably sits alongside Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein. It’s not a competition, but this film may well be the bloodiest of the franchise.
The Company of Wolves
Neil Jordan’s sophomore feature has Angela Lansbury as an occasional narrator for a young girl, Rosaleen, who undergoes a layer fantasy full of wolves that stalk her. The overarching narrative begins with Rosaleen being killed in her sleep by rabid dogs, and gradually evolves into a chilling, Kafkaesque fairytale.
The Company of Wolves was co-written by Jordan and Angela Carter, who created the short story on which it’s based. It’s an unscrupulous, distinctly ’80s movie that really needs to be seen to be understood, and makes for an excellent pairing to Jordan’s adaptation of Interview With A Vampire.
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi had a string of pulpy thrillers in the ’70s typified by the Sister Street Fighter films, spin-offs from martial arts cult classic The Street Fighter. Among those was Wolf Man, a delightfully comic superhero movie about a man who essentially has all the physical prowess of a werewolf without the extra hair.
Descended from a clan of wolf-people, Akira Inugami wields his power to save a women from crooks. It’s very much of the time, using the manga from Kazumasa Hirai to have the hero be completely over-the-top with star Shin’ichi Chiba. Not the easiest to track down, but a legitimate hidden gem.
Somewhere between Predator and The Exorcist 3, and preceding both by several years, Wolfen is a picture that was considerably ahead of its time. NYPD detective Dewey Wilson is assigned some grisly deaths that defy all logic, eventually discovering these aren’t conventional wolf attacks.
Purists might argue Wolfen’s placement as a werewolf film, but it’s exploration of the spiritual connection between man and beast certainly has the feel and tenacity of a more conventional lycanthrope. As Woodstock documentarian Michael Wadleigh’s one-and-only directorial effort in fiction, it’s a trendsetter.
The Curse of the Werewolf
Hammer Horror’s single addition to lycan-canon positions notorious partier Oliver Reed as a man who becomes insatiable come nightfall, prescient casting if ever there was such. The Curse of the Werewolf is a bit atypical of Hammer’s campier style, taking place across generations as a man, Leon, grows up suffering from the consequences of his own horrifying conception.
Hammer mainstay Terence Fisher directs, creating some of his most beautiful work when decoupled from the gothic furnishings of Dracula and Frankenstein. Nestled in the vestiges of 18th century Spain is a bestial tale, slow to start, that ravages by the end.
It must be said, something was definitely in the air during 1981 that The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and Wolfen all came out in the same year. Carrying on from 1978’s Piranha, Joe Dante got a little more sincere for The Howling, a quasi-slasher featuring a killer that absolutely refuses to be put down.
When Karen’s stalker is shot in front of her, she’s sent to a camp known as the colony for psychiatric treatment. Sadly, her ordeal isn’t over, and the obsessive murderer that’s been following her re-emerges in the isolated location. Arguably the weakest of ’81’s lycan trilogy, Dante’s predilection for effects and jet-black humour amid genuine terror still make it essential.
I Was A Teenage Werewolf
The film that created the blueprint for monstrous transformations as metaphors for troubled teenage development. Unfortunately, I Was A Teenage Werewolf doesn’t have any of the laughs of Teen Wolf or Turning Red, focussing more on what happens when a child doesn’t get appropriate resources or outlets to express their frustrations.
Gene Fowler Jr, known for editing It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, tranistioned to directing for this feature, and the film was met with some resistance for the young age of its main character. Nowadays, it’s been used as fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Tricky subject matter it may be, Michael Landon in the lead helps counteract any doubts.
The Beast Must Die
Peter Cushing, Calvin Lockhart, and Michael Gambon are just three of the reasons this spritely feature-length game of werewolf leaves an impression. Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart), is a millionaire who invites several guests to his mansion in order to test if they’ve a wildd beast lurking within them. Cue several rounds of tense experiments to tease out who it might be.
While the tests are ongoing, the caged animal starts to lash out, and soon it all becomes about survival. For his only feature film, Paul Annett creatively bent genres in a way that makes us ponder what else he might have achieved if he hadn’t gone back to TV.