In 1891, Ben Talbot is confronted, and killed by a fierce creature in the Blackmoor woods.
Gwen Conliffe, Ben's fiancée, has contacted his brother Lawrence, a Shakespearean actor, saying that Ben has disappeared. Lawrence returns to his family's estate in Blackmoor where he has an uneasy reunion with his estranged father, Sir John. Lawrence discovers Ben's mutilated body kept in a slaughterhouse. At the local pub, Lawrence overhears the locals discussing the killing. Many blame Gypsies who are camped outside the town, while another patron claims there was a similar murder several decades earlier, and a werewolf was the suspected killer. He has flashbacks as he tours his family's home where his mother, Solana, committed suicide when he was a boy. Lawrence saw his father standing over her dead body; afterwards he was sent to an insane asylum in London having to suffer from delusions.
Lawrence visits the Gypsies during a full moon. The local townspeople raid the camp to confiscate a dancing bear they believe is the killer, but a werewolf attacks the camp, and bites Lawrence in the neck before being chased away by local hunters. A Gypsy woman named Maleva sutures his neck wounds, but her daughter insists the now cursed Lawrence should be killed before he destroys other lives. Maleva refuses, saying he is still a man and that only a loved one can release him.
Lawrence recovers unnaturally quickly, and develops heightened vitality and senses. His father's servant Singh shows Lawrence a set of silver bullets and implies that something monstrous is loose in Blackmoor. Inspector Aberline arrives to investigate the recent killings, and suspects Lawrence is responsible based on his mental history and portrayals of mentally-ill characters. Fearing for Gwen, Lawrence sends her away. He follows his father to his mother's crypt, where Sir John locks himself in a room alone as he gives a cryptic warning to Lawrence. Lawrence then undergoes a painful transformation into the Wolfman before running off into the woods and killing the hunters stationed there.
The next morning, Aberline and the police arrest the now human Lawrence. Taken to the same asylum he was committed to as a child, Lawrence is subjected to torturous treatments overseen by Dr. Hoenneger. Sir John visits Lawrence and explains that many years before while hunting in India, he was bitten by a feral boy infected with lycanthropy. Lawrence realizes his father, as a werewolf, killed his mother and his brother. Knowing that Lawrence would never be believed, he confesses before leaving his son at the asylum permanently.
By nightfall, Dr. Hoenneger conducts an evening lecture with Lawrence as a case study, and assures Lawrence that he is only a werewolf in his imagination, seeking to prove it by putting him on display during the full moon. As moonlight streams through the window, Lawrence transforms into the Wolfman and goes on a rampage throughout the lecture hall and London, with Aberline in pursuit. The next day, the now-human Lawrence visits Gwen's antique shop for help. They realize they are falling in love and share a passionate kiss. Aberline arrives and searches the shop, but Lawrence has already escaped to Blackmoor.
Lawrence arrives at Talbot Hall and finds Singh's mutilated body. He loads a gun with Singh's silver bullets, but when he attempts to shoot his father, he learns that Sir John had removed the powder from the cartridges years ago. The Talbots fight, transforming into werewolves when the full moon rises and setting Talbot Hall on fire. Lawrence kills his father as Gwen and Aberline arrive. Aberline attempts to shoot the Wolfman, but Gwen disrupts the shot. Attempting to physically contront Lawrence, Aberline is bitten.
The Wolfman pursues Gwen and traps her above a gorge. She pleads with Lawrence, whose consciousness recognizes her. As he hesitates, the hunters approach, distracting the Wolfman long enough for Gwen to shoot him. Lawrence reverts to human form, thanks Gwen for setting him free and dies in her arms. Aberline arrives with the hunters, but as he looks at the moon, he realizes his inevitable fate. As Talbot Hall burns, a howl is heard in the distance.
Max von Sydow appears as an elderly man who gives Lawrence the wolf-head cane; his part was cut from the theatrical film but is restored in the unrated director's cut. Make-up effects creator Rick Baker makes a cameo appearance as the Gypsy man who is the first killed. The Wolfman's howl incorporated elements from rock singers Gene Simmons and David Lee Roth, as well as opera singers and animal impersonators. Voice actor Frank Welker performed the roars and growls of the werewolves and the feral boy.
In March 2006, Universal Pictures announced the remake of The Wolf Man with actor Benicio del Toro, a fan of the original and collector of Wolf Man memorabilia, in the lead role. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was attached to the screenplay, developing the original film's story to include additional characters as well as plot points that would take advantage of modern visual effects. Del Toro also looked towards Werewolf of London and The Curse of the Werewolf for inspiration.
In February 2007, director Mark Romanek was attached to helm The Wolfman. Romanek's original vision was to "infuse a balance of cinema in a popcorn movie scenario", stating, "When there’s a certain amount of money involved, these things make studios and producers a little nervous. They don’t necessarily understand it or they feel that the balance will swing too far to something esoteric, and we could never come to an agreement on the right balance for that type of thing. Ultimately it made more sense for them to find a director that was gonna fulfill their idea of the film that they wanted, and we just sort of parted ways." In January 2008, Romanek left the project because of creative differences. Brett Ratner emerged as a frontrunner to replace Romanek, but the studio also met with Frank Darabont, James Mangold and Joe Johnston. They were also interested in Bill Condon, and Martin Campbell was interested. Johnston was hired to direct on 3 February 2008, and the film's shooting schedule and budget remained as intended. Johnston hired David Self to rewrite the script.
Shooting took place from 3 March to 23 June 2008, in Britain. At that time the film was budgeted at US$85 million. They shot at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Castle Combe in Wiltshire. They transformed Chatsworth House by adding weeds, dead grass and ivy. They also shot in Lacock in Wiltshire, a village conserved by the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, for a day. Universal donated £5,000 to the village, in return for filming in the tithe barn for a scene involving frozen corpses. A funeral scene was also shot beside the Temple of Ancient Virtue at Stowe House, with the temple coated in false ivy and copious amounts of smoke/mist floating over the setting. There were also scenes filmed on Dartmoor, Devon at Foggintor Quarry. Pick-ups at Pinewood were conducted in May 2009.
Rick Baker created the make-up for The Wolfman. When he heard Universal was remaking the film, he eagerly pursued it, as both The Wolf Man and Frankenstein inspired him to become a make-up artist as a child. He acknowledged transforming del Toro was not difficult because he is a hairy man: "Going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolf Man isn't a really extreme difference. Like when I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from Hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who's practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth."
Baker and del Toro were adamant about the design resembling the make-up created by Jack Pierce for the 1941 film, but Romanek went through thousands of concept art renderings. When Johnston signed on, Baker returned to his second design, which is the finished result. The make-up took three hours to apply, and one hour to remove. New pieces of latex prosthetic makeup and loose hair was applied to del Toro's face each day, while several dentures and wigs were created in case some were damaged. Baker said the transformation would likely be computer-generated, which disappointed him as he would not be involved and felt it would look unrealistic (as the animators did not have his knowledge of the design). Director Joe Johnston explained that joining the film three weeks before photography placed limitations on his ability to film without using CG effects. He has stated, “I recognised that there were things that I was going to be able to do from the beginning to the end, and things that I had to rely on post-production for." In reference to filming Benicio del Toro's actual transformation into the Wolfman, Johnston further explained, "I decided to basically shoot just Benicio, in the sequence where he transforms and decide in post-production what I wanted the transformation to be. That was really my main reason [for using CG]; it gave me so much more flexibility." In February 2009, ZBrush art of the transformation by Baker leaked online. In addition to the film, at the 2009 Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Florida added The Wolfman to the event.
The cast and crew were back on location re-shooting the film in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College and park in Greenwich over the weekends of 22-25 and 30–31 May 2009. The purpose of the re-shoots was to change the way one werewolf looked in the film. Previously, it stood on two legs, but now, it stands on four. Also, an action scene was added between "the Wolf Man and the Werewolf" according to second unit director Vic Armstrong.
It was reported that Danny Elfman wrote a dark, melodic, and moody score for The Wolfman, which was rejected by the studio after the film was cut down half an hour in length and the music became too "wall-to-wall," creating what Johnston called too much repetition. Due to his not being able to come back and re-score (because he was contractually obligated to work on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland feature film), the producers decided that, rather than expand on his ideas with a new composer - a path that they would eventually take - they would instead attempt a completely different approach with a different composer, which would include extensive re-shooting of scenes. The idea was to quicken the pace and strike a similar tone to the successful Underworld film series, turning a slow-paced story into a much faster one. Paul Haslinger subsequently wrote an electronic contemporary incarnation of The Wolfman score, which the studio quickly realised was not appropriate for the late 19th-century Gothic setting. Elfman's previously recorded original score is, as a result, the one that is used in the final film. Although Elfman's original recording was used in the final film, several additional composers (Conrad Pope, Edward Shearmur and Thomas Lindgren) were brought in to shape Elfman's score to fit the final cut of the film, as well as compose new material.
Some confusion has surfaced regarding this, as many news sources are claiming Elfman never "completed" his score, sidestepping that he did, in fact, complete it, but had not re-shaped it to fit the studio's ever-evolving changes. Conrad Pope, one of the additional composers, previously worked with Elfman on Sleepy Hollow as an orchestrator and is a frequent collaborator with composer John Williams.
A similar situation developed regarding Elfman's score for Spider-Man 2, where the music in the final film stood mostly separate from the original work on the CD release, which reflected the first incarnation of the score.
Danny Elfman's version of The Wolfman score was officially released on 23 February, 11 days after the film's release. This is actually the original score Elfman made for the earlier cut of The Wolfman before it was temporarily rejected. A believed-to-be sample of Haslinger's rejected score was released around the same time, but was ultimately confirmed as false by Film Score Monthly record producer Ford A. Thaxton and Haslinger himself.
Dark ambient musician Lustmord mentions on his personal website that he made "some sounds for the score". However, he is not credited for his work on the film.
During the course of its production, The Wolfman saw its release date postponed several times. Originally scheduled for a November 12, 2008, release, it was first pushed back to February 12, 2009. Then, in April 2008, it got moved to April 3, 2009. In December 2008, Universal moved the release to November 6, 2009. Finally, the film was moved yet again in late July 2009 to February 12, 2010. The first trailer for The Wolfman was attached to Inglourious Basterds, which was released to cinemas on August 21, 2009. In most European countries the film was released on February 10 and 11, 2010.
The film grossed $9.9 million on its first day, and $31.5 million in its opening weekend, coming in second at the box office after the film Valentine's Day. The Wolfman eventually grossed $62 million in North America, and a total of $139.8 million worldwide, failing to recoup its $150 million budget. In 2014, the LA Times listed the film as one of the most expensive box office flops of all-time.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 34% based on 209 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Suitably grand and special effects-laden, The Wolfman suffers from a suspense-deficient script and a surprising lack of genuine chills." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 43 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four, praising the atmospheric locations and melodramatic scope but lamenting CGI effects that he regarded as detrimental. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone assigned the film one and a half stars out of four, concluding that "The Wolfman bites, but not — I think — in the way the filmmakers intended." Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly praised Del Toro's performance as Lawrence Talbot, comparing it favourably to Lon Chaney, Jr.'s, in the 1941 film.
Ronald Meyer, president of Universal Studios, regarded the film as "crappy" and considered it to be "One of the worst movies we ever made."
In 2010, The Wolfman won at the 37th Saturn Awards for best make-up. In 2011, make-up effects creator Rick Baker and supervisor Dave Elsey, received an Academy Award for Best Makeup at the 83rd Academy Awards.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US on June 1, 2010. Both editions include the theatrical version and an extended director's cut, which incorporates 17 minutes of footage back into the film.
The Blu-ray Disc's special features include featurettes on the making of the film, including two alternate endings. The only special features included on the standard DVD are deleted and extended scenes. Best Buy released an exclusive 2-Disc DVD set that includes a bonus disc featuring most of the BD special features. Upon the Blu-ray's release, viewers had the opportunity to stream the original 1941 film.
The U.S. DVD and Blu-ray releases earned a total of $27 million in sales.
The DVD/Blu-ray releases include an "unrated director's cut", featuring an additional 17 minutes of footage and the inclusion of the classic 40's era Universal logo at the beginning of the film.
Johnston said the reason for deleting the 17 minutes from the theatrical cut was "to push the story along so that audiences would get to the first Wolfman transformation sooner." The extra footage contains the origin of the silver cane-sword and also the uncredited and completely removed part played by Max von Sydow who was the original owner of the cane. The character indicates that he obtained it in Gévaudan, a French province where in the 18th century villagers were attacked by an unknown beast known as the Beast of Gévaudan. Though Max von Sydow's credit is absent from the theatrical cut, there is still a credit for "Assistant to Mr. von Sydow".
Several companies were involved in the merchandising of the film. Rubies Costumes produced both child and adult costumes. Because such costumes are sold to retailers months in advance, the Halloween costumes came out in 2009 since the film being pushed back to 2010 happened after the costumes had been shipped to retailers.
Mezco Toyz produced 7 inch and 12 inch tall Wolfman action figures. They also produced replicas of the medallion from the film. In early January 2010, Mezco Toyz donated the prototypes of the toys to the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.
Jonathan Maberry wrote a novelization to the film, the paperback of which was released on 2 February 2010, the same day the original The Wolf Man film was re-released on DVD through Universal's Legacy Series. It includes a scene early in the story which explains how Lawrence obtained the cane with a silver wolf's head (which features prominently in the original film and director's cut of the remake), with Lawrence exchanging his ordinary wooden cane with an elderly Frenchman for the silver wolf's head cane on his initial trip to Blackmoor. It also has Gwen and her father owning an apothecary rather than an antiques shop, suggesting this was changed during the remake's development to be closer to the original film.
Reboot and shared universe
Universal announced that it would reboot their Universal Monsters properties as part of a shared cinematic universe, with Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan attached to develop the structure of the shared universe. In November 2014, Universal hired Aaron Guzikowski to write the shared universe's reboot of The Wolf Man. In June 2016, Deadline reports that Dwayne Johnson may star as the character. In October 2016, it was reported that David Callaham was brought on board to re-write the script.