Interest in supernatural archetypes rises and falls over time like any trend, and right now, werewolves are as hot as it gets. With the popularity of new shows like Wolf Pack and movies like Viking Wolf and Teen Wolf: The Movie, the demand for wolf media has never been higher. But where did this demand come from, and how has it risen to the point that werewolves have now surpassed even vampires as audiences’ romantic movie monsters of choice?
Werewolves and creatures like them have been part of mythologies all over the world for millennia, but they experienced their first peak on American screens in the 1940s with the release of Universal monster movie classics like The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Their next surge in popularity came in the 80s with a glut of werewolf properties that rivals even the number of werewolf shows and movies out today. This included 1981’s The Howling and the hugely influential An American Werewolf in London, which generated three sequels in just seven years. 1985’s original Teen Wolf, which capitalized on the popularity of a young rising star, Michael J. Fox, and from which the 2010s Teen Wolf series draws its inspiration also contributed to the growing trend of these hairy monsters.
The current fascination with werewolves arguably started with the Team Jacob diehards and the release of Twilight in 2008. Its massive popularity kicked off a deluge of both vampire and werewolf IPs and started the modern trend of the werewolf not as a horror monster but as a love interest. While True Blood (2008-14) and The Vampire Diaries (2009-17) are both based on book series that were published before Twilight, it was Twilight’s popularity that led to their adaptations for television and heavily influenced their on-screen storylines. The Vampire Diaries even spawned two spin-off series, The Originals (2013-18) and Legacies (2018-2022), which have a more wolf-centric premise.
Even the Underworld film series, the first of which was released in 2005, didn’t put serious effort into making the werewolves sympathetic and sexy until the third film in the series, 2009’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. While the love interest in the first two films, Michael (Scott Speedman), enters monsterhood as a werewolf, he doesn’t even get the chance to fully transform before being bitten by a vampire and becoming a hybrid that looks distinctly more human than Lycan.
None of these properties has had as much influence in keeping wolves popular — especially as love interests — as the behemoth that is Supernatural and its fandom. The episodic fantasy series following the monster-hunting Winchester boysfirst aired in 2005, but werewolves only make brief single-episode appearances until Season 8, when recurring werewolf characters are introduced. As anyone who’s been deeply involved in online fan communities since the mid-2000s can attest, Supernatural fans are legion, earning their own fan conventions as early as 2006. And although werewolves are just one of many paranormal entities that appear in the show and its spin-offs, Supernatural gave rise to another phenomenon that has probably done more to keep werewolves in demand over the last decade and a half than any of the movies or shows mentioned above: the fan fiction world known as the Omegaverse.
What is the Omegaverse?
Omegaverse is a subgenre of erotica that hinges primarily on humans having wolf-like physical and social characteristics, including falling into the sexual categories of alpha, beta, and omega. The first proto-Omegaverse story was posted to a Supernatural fan community in 2010, and since then, the genre has exploded, incorporating more fandoms such as Doctor Who and Teen Wolf and even non-fantasy properties such as Sherlock. Like a black hole, the Omegaverse absorbs everything that it touches and becomes more massive and irresistible as it does so, even finding its way into commercially published fiction. The devotion of these fandoms has ensured that the werewolf-as-love-interest trope not only survives but continues to grow, enabling Teen Wolf: The Movie to create buzz more than five years after the show’s conclusion, and allowing Wolf Pack to capitalize on the dearth of wolves left on TV after Teen Wolf, Legacies, Supernatural, etc. ended.
Because werewolves — especially sexy bad boy werewolves that everyone wants to date — have managed to stay hot for so long, nearly every platform has tried to cash in on the trend. This has resulted in a barrage of semi-successful series featuring attractive young people struggling to balance their lycanthropy with the pressures of romance and life, including Being Human (first produced by the BBC from 2008 to 2013, then remade for North American TV from 2011 to 2014), Eli Roth’s horror series Hemlock Grove (2013-15), the Canadian drama-horror Bitten (2014-16), and the short-lived Netflix series The Order (2019-20). The latest addition to this list is the Australian dramedy miniseries Wolf Like Me starring Josh Gad and Isla Fisher, whose six-episode first season dropped on Peacock in 2022 and which has been renewed for a second season expected to release later this year.
Disney’s decision to produce Werewolf by Night in 2022 was also almost certainly a result of this trend, as was Netflix’s move to promote the Norwegian film Viking Wolf to North American audiences when it otherwise would have likely flown under their radar. Instead, Viking Wolf became a surprise hit and the most-watched non-English film on Netflix in the first two weeks of its release.
As platforms have seen the ongoing pop culture obsession with werewolves and jumped in to capitalize on it, it has become a self-sustaining phenomenon with no end in sight. Fortunately for fans, this has resulted in a plethora of unique and interesting wolf media (with a wide range in quality, yes, but at least plenty of choices available). Of course, trends by their nature are ephemeral, and the current love for wolves in media can’t last forever. What will replace them remains to be seen (personally, I’m rooting for The Little Mermaid to kick off demand for sexy mermen), but in the meantime, werewolf lovers can wallow in the glut of IPs still eager to cater to their tastes.