Throughout horror movie history, mummies have seemed like the forgotten classic monster. Lumbering around, covered in bandages, they don’t have the literary cache of Frankenstein’s Monster or the sexual appeal of Dracula. But mummies have a historical edge, a faded part of lost empires, angry at the modern world, desperately longing for the days of their past glories and lost loves.
Despite years of monstrous marginalization, mummies can be and in many cases have been really freakin’ scary and are worthy of recognition in horrordom. In fact, when Universal Studios tried (and failed…miserably) to relaunch its pantheon of monsters into a Marvel-inspired shared universe, they looked to The Mummy to kick it all off.
Allow us to celebrate the Mummy with the 13 greatest Mummy films ever produced. These are the films that prove that mummies can be just as colon-clenching as any monster. So, respect the bandages and join us as we part the mists of the past and seek out those terrifying creatures of rot and ruin and count down the greatest Mummy adventures of them all.
13. Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
Directors: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras
Mummies are the quirkiest of the traditional monster archetypes, and this might be the quirkiest mummy movie of the 20th century. Brought to mummy lovers by the fine folks at the beyond legendary Hammer Studios, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb does not feature your typical mummy, not at all, this fine film features the hottest mummy this side of the Nile River. There is never an actual mummy in this film but there is a dead Egyptian princess with a severed hand.
When a group of archeologists finds the tomb of the long dead Egyptian beauty, the head archeologist, a man named Fuchs, finds he ring he eventually gifts to his beautiful daughter Margaret (played by the hotter than the desert sands Valerie Leon) a ring that once belonged to the recently unearthed one-handed Queen Tera (also known as Princess Lef-Tee). Tera possesses the daughter who seeks vengeance on the archeologist team.
The film was very low budget, but like most Hammer gems, has a lush and expensive feel. The set pieces are extraordinary and Leon rules every frame she is in. The film was based on Bram Stoker’s story The Jewel of the Seven Stars otherwise known as that other Stoker novel that was turned into a movie. It might’ve also inspired the original Mummy movie, which we explored here. There may not be a shambling, bandaged, necrotic beast but there are Egyptian motifs a plenty making Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb a must-see for any mummy fan.
12. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
Director: Charles Lamont
After the success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Universal Pictures wanted to rekindle the monstrous success of their original horror comedy. So they turned to the one classic Universal monster that didn’t appear in the first monster comedy, The Mummy. Instead of the traditional Kharis, Bud and Lou ran afoul of Khalis played by Lon Chaney Jr.’s stunt double Eddie Parker.
The story centered on a cursed medallion that, of course, Lou mistakes for a hamburger and swallows at one point. Hilarity ensues as Parker plays it straight and Bud and Lou run through some of their classic routines. Bud and Lou are not at the top of their game in this film, referring to each other by their real names rather than their character names and kind of just going through the motions. This film would be way down on an Abbott and Costello list, but it hits all the right notes to make it a standout mummy film. From the creepy tombs, to the vengeful spirit of the mummy, this movie did try its level best to fit the mold of a classic Mummy yarn if not a classic comedy.
The film does not have the same resonance as when the boys met Frankenstein in ’48, but Parker plays a really cool looking mummy with tremendous screen presence and the film returned the monster to a sort of glory after the Universal horror cycle had ended in the late ’40s. He may have played second fiddle to two slapstick legends, but Khalis was still a mummy to be reckoned with.
11. The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
Director: Christy Cabanne
The first sequel to the original Universal Studios The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand had a huge legacy to live up to. The franchise had lost original director Karl Freund and Boris Karloff was no longer beneath the bandages. Universal solved the Karloff conundrum by featuring an all new mummy replacing Karloff’s classic Imhotep. The new Mummy, Kharis, was played by Tom Tyler who gets maximum geek cred for also being the actor that played the serial versions of Captain Marvel (Shazam!) and the Phantom.
Like most films in the Universal cycle, The Mummy’s Hand has tremendous atmosphere even if it is pretty much a note by note retelling of the first Mummy. The film did feature the first Mummy death by fire as the film’s hero Steve Banning (Dick Foran) used a brazier to dispatch Kharis. It may not hold a candle (HA!) to the original, but The Mummy’s Hand is a delightful little creep fest in its own right. It also holds the distinction of introducing two of the only recurring Universal Monster film heroes in Banning and his sidekick Babe Jenson, two likable characters who would return in future Mummy tales.
While breaking no new ground, The Mummy’s Hand features some of the coolest Mummy make-up ever as the blackened out eyes and mouth of Tyler truly makes Kharis look like a soulless husk.
10. Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964)
Director: René Cardona
Let us leave Egypt for a moment and travel to Mexico for this little bit of wonderful. In probably the most on the nose title in the history of cinema, a bunch of lady wrestlers take on the mummy Xochitl. Now, Xochitl can turn his undead ass into a snake and a bat, something that not even Karloff could do. How the hell do you suplex a snake?
Anyway, the Wrestling Women have a lady wrestler mummy on their side so there is more than one mummy in this masterpiece. Yeah, it may be schlock but Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy is still more original than anything the WWE has crapped out in the past half a decade.
9. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Director: Michael Carreras
Time has been kind to the Hammer Mummy films, originally panned as schlock, the four films in Hammer’s Mummy cycle have aged very well, often receiving more modern praise than Universal’s series of films.
The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb breaks a number of Hammer conventions; first, it was filmed outside of the legendary Bray Studios, instead, this Mummy pot boiler was instead filmed at Elstree Studios. Second, other than character actors Michael Ripper and George Pastell, director Carreras and designer Bernard Robinson, most of the cast were outside the Hammer crew of regulars, so no Lee, no Peter Cushing, no Ralph Bates, and none of the usual Hammer ingénues. The film’s female lead was played by Jeanne Roland, who had to have her voice dubbed because her French accent was too thick for an English production.
The misty, moody atmosphere was also thick as Hammer presented a predictable yet thoroughly enjoyable mummy film centering on a mummy brought back to England who goes on a rampage and kills lots of jowly old dudes. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb breaks no new ground, but it’s another intriguing addition to the Hammer House of lurid technicolor creeps.
8. Los Monstruos del Terror aka, also known as Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Reincarnator and Assignment Terror (1970)
Directors: Tulio Demicheli, Hugo Fregonese and Eberhard Meichsner
This movie is the mash up to end all mash ups, for starters, this bit of fevered madness was directed by a mash up of three directors! Even in the great Universal monster mashes House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, the Mummy never had the honor to appear with the Mount Rushmore of terror, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. Well in this Spanish-German-Italian horror film (it even mashes up languages!) and the third in actor Paul Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky cycle of werewolf movies, a mummy is added to the monster mix alongside the other classic beasts.
Ok, follow this now, aliens come down to Earth and revive Frankenstein’s Monster, a vampire, Naschy’s werewolf, and a mummy. The aliens want to discover why earthlings find these particular monsters so frightening. When the secrets of the monsters are discovered, the aliens plan to clone the classic beasties. Waldemar Daninsky turns on the aliens and fights each of the monsters, individually defeating them and sending them packing back to wherever they came from. Oh yeah, the aliens also ran a traveling circus because the early ’70s.
The movie was choked by budget problems and reportedly the film was supposed to also feature flying saucers and a Golem. A Golem I say! Despite the sheer insanity of the plot, the bandaged shambler in this film was a pretty classic looking mummy and will scratch the mummy itch as the hardened fan tries not to lose their soul while watching this sublime bit of well intentioned madness.
7. Monster Squad (1987)
Director: Fred Dekker
1987’s Monster Squad (co-written by Iron Man 3 director Shane Black) was the ultimate gathering of creatures. The entire pantheon of Universal Monsters was present and accounted for and the Mummy in this fantastic piece of ’80s nostalgia was every bit front and center as the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster. The Monster Squad’s Mummy was one of the greatest mummy designs in film, with his demonic face and filthy wrappings; he looked like a cross between Karloff and Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie.
The film featured a live-action version of the Scooby-Doo method of dispatching a mummy, the high speed unwrapping, so props to Dekker and company for that. The Monster Squad is not only one of the coolest movies of the ’80s but it also treated the usually overlooked mummy as a monster equal to the big boys. So thank you Monster Squad, thank you from mummyophiles everywhere.
6. The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
Director: John Gilling
Another Hammer Films atmosphere fest, The Mummy’s Shroud isn’t going to break any new ground in the sub-genre but boy does it look good. The film hits every trope one would expect a mummy movie to hit from the dire warnings on the mummy’s tomb, to the systematic killing of the team of archeologists, to the climatic clash with the shambling undead, but it does so in the inimitable Hammer style.
The Mummy in this film was played by Eddie Powell who was Christopher Lee’s regular stunt double, so The Mummy’s Shroud gets points for being the only Mummy movie that almost stars Christopher Lee, and once again, Hammer’s vivid colors makes this mummy just pop off the screen. The story might be as predictable as the rising sun over the burning Egyptian sands, but man, does it just look like a Mummy film is supposed to look.
5. The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Director: Harold Young
The Mummy’s Tomb is a direct sequel to The Mummy’s Hand with the same group of heroes (although Wallace Ford’s character is now call Babe Hanson instead of Babe Jenson) returning for a rematch with Kharis. This Universal Mummy film (the studio’s third) stands out because Lon Chaney Jr. stepped into the wrapping, becoming the only actor to play Dracula (well, the Son of Dracula), Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy for the studio.
The film featured an incredibly effective sequence where Chaney’s Kharis sneaks into a house and steals away with Bannon’s girlfriend Isobel Evans; the scene really set the standard for old school atmospheric creepiness. The mummy was at his monstrous best with Chaney beneath the make-up, even though the actor reportedly despised the process. Despite his misgivings, Chaney’s mummy is a sight to behold making this film a mummy staple.
4. The Mummy (1999)
Director: Stephen Sommers
1999’s remake in name only of Universal’s original Mummy has one of the most fascinating production stories in the history of monster films. When Universal first decided to remake The Mummy, they turned to Clive Barker who reportedly crafted a very dark and sensual tale of time, lost love, and death (and a movie I would give me left arm to see). The story goes that Barker could not get on the same page as the studio and dropped out so Universal turned to George Romero.
Universal deemed the zombie master’s script too frightening so they turned to Joe Dante, who crafted a dark, fantastical romance with Daniel Day-Lewis set to star as the Mummy. Day-Lewis on board might have upped the Mummy’s monster cred, but it was not to be. Universal then turned to Mick Garris and Wes Craven. So we have Barker, Romero, Dante, Garris, and Craven, any of whom could have crafted the greatest Mummy saga of them all. Instead, we got Stephen Sommers’ Indiana Jones-esque Mummy film, and you know what? It all worked out.
Sommers took the original skeleton of the 1932 Mummy and turned up the volume to 11. The director found a period action-comedy in the cracks between the dark iconography of the original film and somehow, it played extremely well. Instead of a morbid dark fantasy, Sommers inserted adventure and humor with a cast highlighted by breezy and utterly watchable performances, such as heroes Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The movie grossed enough box office to fill a pharaoh’s tomb and a number of sequels, a spin-off (The Scorpion King), and an animated series. It may not have been the movie mummy fans expected, but it became the highest grossing mummy movie of all time thanks to some of out the tomb thinking by Sommers.
Man, I would have loved to see the Barker version though.
3. The Mummy (1959)
Director: Terrence Fisher
Moody as hell, Hammer’s first Mummy film returned the monster to greatness after the Universal Mummy cycle fell in quality during the Chaney pictures. This film stars Christopher Lee as the Mummy (Hammer resurrected the name Kharis for their opening Mummy salvo) and Peter Cushing as his adversary, John Banning.
Really, it’s Lee and Cushing working the same dark magic in a mummy film that they displayed during their Frankenstein and Dracula efforts at Hammer. It’s the two at their absolute best as Lee wrings out every ounce of horror and monstrousness from his mummy. Kharis is brutal and imposing, and Cushing is the complete hero package, standing up to the bandaged threat. Like Karloff’s Mummy, there is an undercurrent of humanity to Lee’s Kharis as he refuses to kill the beautiful Isobel Banning (Yvonne Furneaux) because he believes the beautiful girl to be his beloved Princess Ananka returned to life. As Kharis saves Isobel and sinks into the mire, the moment is heartbreaking and harkens back to the romanticism of the early Universal films.
Some standout moments include the police riddling the advancing mummy with bullets and the slugs going right through Kharis, and a vengeful Kharis killing his master Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) when he threatens dear Isobel. Hammer’s first Mummy film brought the concept back, as he had been relegated to comedy roles and schlock fests, back to horror glory.
2. Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)
Director: Don Coscarelli
The most original, strangest, and oddly endearing mummy film ever made, 2003’s Bubba Ho-Tep starred the man himself Bruce Campbell as an (get ready for this) aged Elvis Presley who faked his own death and now lives in an East Texas rest home. Elvis must defend his home and fellow elderly housemates from a soul-sucking mummy, whom Elvis dubs Bubba Ho-Tep.
As mummies go, Bubba Ho-Tep is kind of a dick, scrawling hieroglyphic graffiti in the rest home bathroom (things like “Lick the asshole of Anubis”) and joyfully ending the lives and taking the souls of the feeble patients. Bubba targets the old because no one will notice if they just slip away, and elderly Elvis ain’t having any of it. Along with his best pal, a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), Elvis will try to save the rest home from the douchiest mummy this side of the Sahara Desert.
For such a batshit insane premise, the film is shockingly life-affirming. Bubba Ho-Tep is based on a short story written by the great Joe R. Lansdale (Cold in July, The Thicket) and is one of the most original monster films of the modern age. It takes its cues from the mummy classics of yesterday but bends it into something wholly original.
1. The Mummy (1932)
Director: Karl Freund
Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, Karl Freund’s The Mummy set the standard for all that was to come. Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the previous two installments of Universal Horror films, The Mummy had no literary basis; instead Freund and screenwriter John L. Balderston crafted a story that preyed on the fear of the foreign, of the unknown, and of the ancient.
Boris Karloff’s Mummy is still the best looking Egyptian corpse on film, even though Karloff only wore the iconic bandages in one scene. The rest of the movie, he wore traditional Egyptian robes, subtle make up that enhanced the actor’s gaunt appearance, and a fez. No one rocked a fez like Karloff.
This mummy, the original mummy, was a tragic monster in the same vein as Frankenstein and unlike most mummies that came after, Karloff’s Imhotep was no mindless beast. No, Imhotep was a magic user and a thinker, an immortal creature that used guile and shadow to inflict his will. And he did it all for love. He believed that the lovely Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) was the reincarnation of his lost love Ankh-es-en-amon.
This idea of a mummy seeking his time lost love would be repeated many times in future creature features but never with such tragic class as Universal original Mummy. It’s amazing that the popular mummy look, the bandaged ghoul that has appeared in so many films, was inspired by a scene that only lasted minutes; a precious few minutes where Karloff wore the wrappings that inspired almost a century of nightmares.