Werewolf Movies: Lycanthropy and the Wolf Person in Cinema

A photograph of a werewolf from a British scary movie.
The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961) is a creepy werewolf movie from Hammer Studios from director Terence Fisher.

Werewolves are humans with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf either on purpose or after being bitten or scratched by another werewolf. These transformations commonly occur during the full moon and are referred to as lycanthropy. Werewolves are a concept recognized around the world, but the creatures are especially common in European folklore. At one time, people genuinely believed in their existence. The persecution of werewolves occurred at the same time as the persecution of witches in the 15th and 16th centuries, although it was much less common to be accused of lycanthropy than general witchcraft.

In Teen Wolf Michael J. Fox plays a werwolf where the werewolf is good, and cool!

In cinema, werewolves can represent a wide range of concepts, themes, and emotions. They can represent enemies in disguise as friends. They can represent temptation and the loss of control over your own behaviors. They can represent the fear of feeling like an outsider who doesn’t fit in with society. They can also represent the dichotomy between two selves who are at war with one another.

A photograph of a mean werewolf from The Return of the Wolfman by Paul Naschy.

Werewolves often have animalistic urges, for sex or hunger, that are difficult to control. However, most depictions of werewolves don’t include a full transformation. They tend to keep some semblance of their ‘real’ self, whether that is their facial features or their clothing. Since they are part monster and part human, it raises the question of whether humans are monsters in their own right. In order to see these themes in action, here are some of the best werewolf movies ever created.

Werewolf of London (1932)

American actor Henry Hull portrays a werewolf.

In this very early portrayal of werewolves in cinema, the plot follows a botanist searching for a special flower in Asia — “mariphasa” it is called — and when he returns from his trip, he learns that only this special flower can fix the werewolves that are starting to evade London. This early movie has inspired several pop culture references and cultural artifacts.

Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (1961)

An early visual depiction of werewolves in the cinema of the 60s.

This black and white horror mystery was directed by Richard Benson. The script was written by Ernesto Gastaldi, who created some of the best Italian cinema in the 1960s. It is about a school where girls are murdered by a wolf-like creature. Although the main plot is simple, there are intriguing subplots and atmospheric cinematography. It was originally released as a double feature along with Corridors of Blood (1958).

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

A very furry werwolf in The Curse of the Werewolf.

This film is a loose adaptation of “Werewolf in Paris”, a novel written by Guy Endore. It is about a werewolf boy who terrorizes his town in 18th century Spain. Although there is a bit of action and violence, this is mainly a story-driven movie that plays out like a historical drama. Roy Ashton was the makeup artist who created the looks for the creatures in this film. He based his work on The Wolf Man (1941).

The Beast Must Die (1974)

This werewolf movie plays out more like a mystery movie.

This 1970s werewolf flick was directed by Paul Annett and is based on the short story “There Shall Be No Darkness” by James Blish. This one is a mystery movie about a group of people on a remote island trying to find a werewolf. One critic of the movie desired it thus: “It’s a mash-up of The Most Dangerous Game and Ten Little Indians with a healthy dose of werewolf movie thrown in.” While it’s an amusing movie, it’s also incredibly cheesy.

Werewolf Women (1976)

Discover an erotic portryal of werewolves in this film.

This film, which was written and directed by Rino Di Silvestro, is an Italian sex-horror film. It is about a woman who dreams she is a werewolf, sleeps with men, and then rips out their throats. Although there are plenty of cheesy and erotic scenes, at its core, it is about a woman’s descent into madness. It is sincere horror. This film was shown at the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival in 1996 — and Quentin was a huge fan.  

The Night of the Werewolf (1980)

Powerful werewolf teeth as portrayed in this Paul Naschy film.

This film, originally titled El Retorno Del Hombre Lobo, is about a witch who brings a woman back to life. Paul Naschy, the writer and director, also plays the werewolf character. Naschy is commonly referred to as the king of Spanish horror cinema. Like all his horror films, The Night of the Werewolf has excellent acting and an engaging story. It also has some gory scenes and occasional nudity.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

The special effects and makeup in this movie are phenomenal.

This film, written and directed by John Landis, is about two college students who are attacked by a werewolf in Britain. Landis has claimed this as his favorite film he has ever made. Although it is gory enough to earn an R-rating, it also has several comedic moments – and even some romance. An American Werewolf in London was the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Make-up. The category was created in 1981.

The Howling (1981)

This film is about a newswoman who travels to a remote mountain resort after a dangerous encounter with a serial killer. Rick Baker was originally supposed to do the special effects for this film and left to work on An American Werewolf in London. His assistant, Rob Bottin, took over and spent over six and a half hours doing Robert Picardo’s makeup. Despite the change in plans, the film was praised for its makeup work. It was nominated for Best Make-Up and Best Special Effects at the 1981 Saturn Awards. There was also a sequel and third installment from Australian filmmaker Philippe Mora.

Wolfen (1981)

Wolfen is a classic horror/thriller part of the creature feature genre.

This horror slash thriller is about a cop investigating a series of animal attacks. Its effects are gory, disturbing, and far more realistic than CGI. This was the first ever film to use a thermographic visual photographic look to represent the point of view of a character. This has become a popular technique to use in movies when someone is being seen through a villain’s eyes. One of the most well-known films that have employed this method is Predator (1987).

Silver Bullet (1985)

In this campy Stephen King movie in this coming of age werewolf movie.

This film was written by Stephen King and is loosely based on his novel, Cycle of the Werewolf. It’s about a werewolf terrorizing a small, formerly peaceful city. Although it’s a horror movie, the murders are handled delicately and the story has a touch of comedy. The werewolf costume used for this film took a total of three months to design and create. It was operated by six people.

Teen Wolf (1985)

This movie from the 1980s would spawn a series of remakes.

This comedy, starring Michael J. Fox, is a fun, classic movie that never becomes outdated. It’s about an awkward teenage boy who starts turning into a werewolf. It took nearly four hours to apply Fox’s makeup before filming (which luckily only lasted twenty-one days). While in his werewolf costume, Fox was unable to eat solid food. He had to survive on milkshakes and soup.

Wolf (1996)

Jack Nicholson becomes a wolf in this 90s classic.

This film is about a man who fights to keep his job after becoming a werewolf. It stars a lot of famous faces, like Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, and Christopher Plummer. While Nicholson viewed this film as a celebration of oblivion, the director, Micke Nichols, saw it differently. He viewed the movie about loss and death. Regardless of its meaning, this is an off-beat horror film with a big budget and a star-studded cast.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

A werewolf movie that goes overboard in every which way.

This film, written and directed by Neil Marshall, is a motif of the classic fairytale about Little Red Riding Hood. Although Marshall went on to work on popular films like Hellboy (2019) and Doomsday (2008), this was his first feature film. He admits he went overboard when it came to filling the movie with references to other movies. Some of the most notable nods are to The Matrix (1999) and The Evil Dead (1981).

Ginger Snaps (2014)

Wild animals are on the loose in Ginger Snaps.

This film, directed by John Fawcett, is about two sisters who are obsessed with death. When one gets bitten by a werewolf, they have to suffer the consequences. All of the effects used in the film are done with prosthetics and makeup. Fawcett refused to have any CGI in the film. Although the movie was banned from certain UK cinemas because of the violence amongst teenagers, it still ended up being the fifth highest grossing Canadian film in 2001. It also received international success, which inspired a sequel.

Late Phases (2014)

A werewolf haunts a retirement home in this one.

This film, also known as Night of the Wolf, is about a blind war veteran. He moves into a retirement home where the residents have been dying from animal attacks. This film features a talented cast, solid special effects, and an original plot. It was directed by Adrián García Bogliano who is also known for Here Comes the Devil (2012) and I’ll Never Die Alone (2008). Overall, the story, the makeup, and the creatures were well done.

November (2017)

Watch the trailer for this Estonian werewolf movie.

This is a slow burn werewolf movie based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp ehk and directed by Rainer Sarnet. This one is filled with symbolic and real threats of spirits, werewolves, and incarnations of satan. It’s also a dark romance in many ways. Here is how one IMDB reviewer explained the film: “November might be little bit difficult to follow and understand to those who haven’t read the novel before. Or someone who doesn’t possess much knowledge about Estonian mythology and history. At least magnificent black and white cinematography offers some visual beauty to strange surreal land for those who don’t get all what is hidden in the story.”

Full Moon: More Werewolf Movies

In the Twilight Series, vampires and werewolves feud, as they always do.

The titles listed above are some of the most notable werewolf films of all time. However, since werewolves are one of the most popular creatures in horror, there are plenty more movies starring them. Keep reading to find more options you can watch now.

  • The Werewolf (1913) are you wondering what the first werewolf movie is in cinematic history? This silent film was based on story “The Werewolves” by Henry Beaugrand. However, if you’re looking to watch it, you can’t as the film was lost due to a fire.
  • Wolfblood: A Tale of the Forest (1925) a silent wolf film and is the first werewolf movie we know of that is still in existence. You can watch the full movie here.
  • The Wolf Man (1941), directed by George Waggner, is one of the earliest werewolf movies. It introduces the lycanthrope to American cinema.
  • She Wolf of London (1946) set in 20th century London, a she wolf haunts the streets.
  •  I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) is a black and white classic where the transformations of being a teenager are synonymous with the transformations of werewolves.
  • Monster on the Campus (1958) a college campus is haunted by a sci-fi werewolf.
  • Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971) is a Spanish horror movie. Paul Naschy stars as a convincing werewolf. This film also addresses the common connection/animosity of vampires and werewolves.
  • Wolf Guy (1975) is a Japanese exploitation movie with a great deal of nudity, a supernatural tiger, and of course, werewolves. It is an underground classic.
  • The Company of Wolves (1984) is a British gothic film starring Angela Lansbury. It’s about a teenage girl who dreams of wolves outside her window.
  • Hour of the Wolf (1986) is a surreal movie from Sweden that does not actually have werewolves. However, it has illusions to lycanthrope folklore.
  • My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989) a super weird, super campy werewolf movie. It is classified as both a horror and a comedy film.
  • An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) is about French werewolves who can transform at will. Although this film original received negative reviews, it went on to develop a strong cult following.
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (2001) throughout the Twilight saga werewolves and vampires are fighting against each other, but in this particular movie Taylor Lautner as werewolf, well technically a shape-shifter, comes to the forefront.
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) is based on a real creature that lurked in the Auvergne and South Dordogne regions of France. It killed around 100 people.
  • The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (2010) is a good werewolf movie for kids. It was released by Nickelodeon and also streams on Netflix for free.
  • Wer (2013) is a werewolf movie that released directly to video on demand in the 2010s. It’s about a defense attorney and her murderous client.
  • Howl (2015) is about a werewolf who attacks a train. This is a new-ish werwolf movie with horror, mystery, and thriller elements.
  • Curse Of The Wolf (2006) a very low budget, independent werewolf movie. The plot: a woman discover the cure of lycanthropy.
  • Valley of Shadows (2017) is a Scandinavian Gothic fable about a mysterious werewolf-like creature.
  • Good Manners (2018) is a Brazilian film by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas. The story centers around a werewolf.
  • Wildling (2018) is Fritz Bohm’s directorial debut. However, it is Liv Tyler’s second horror film.
  • The Order (2019) is not actually a movie. It is an extended series from Netflix that deals with werewolves and sorcerers.