The film starts with featuring Will Randall (Nicholson), the aging managing editor of an influential publishing house. His skills have somewhat diminished with age, and his disloyal protege, Stewart Swinton (James Spader), has taken full advantage. Their employer, tycoon Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer), announces Will's demotion in favor of Stewart, while Will's wife Charlotte (Kate Nelligan) has started an affair with Stewart.
However, Will's life seems to be about to change for the better. A chance encounter with a lone wolf on a snowy country road of Vermont results in a single small bite on his arm. Gradually, he becomes rejuvenated, revitalized, and more aggressive, which allows him to outperform Stewart and get his job back. His sexual appetite has also increased, and he seems to have a mutual attraction with Laura Alden (Pfeiffer), Alden's world-weary daughter. His new superhuman senses of sight and smell are part bewildering and part fascinating.
But then our hero discovers himself taking on animal characteristics and spending nights hunting deer in nearby forests, waking up at morning with hazy memory of the night's activities but plenty of blood on his hands to give him a hint. Will finally realizes what is going on. He is becoming a werewolf...and the process has just begun. Worse, he's not certain he hasn't been spreading his condition to others.
Wolf provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguous Ending: Is Will's transformation permanent, or just part of the full moon cycle? The question is never definitively answered, leaving the audience to decide.
- Attempted Rape: Laura is on the brink of being raped by Stewart, until Will manages to put a stop to that.
- Ax-Crazy: Stewart, after becoming a demon wolf, becomes vicious and truly savage.
- Black Sheep: Laura to her family. Pfeiffer said it best in an interview:Michelle Pfeiffer: Laura has always been the outcast, the black sheep within her family, ... And I think that the wildness within her is attracted to the newfound wildness in Will.
- Cursed With Awesome: How Dr. Alezais sees Will's transformation: if he is a good man, then becoming a wolf could be a wonderful gift. Alezais even asks to be bitten so he too can share the gift.
- Deadpan Snarker: Will, Laura, Stewart and Alden all have moments of very dry sarcasm.
- The Darkness Gazes Back: After the wolf bites Will and runs off into the woods, we see a whole pack of wolves glaring at him. Will appropriately flees as the wolf that bit him gives a Kubrick Stare.
- Dark Is Not Evil: According to Dr. Alezais the Indian mystic Will consults, a man who becomes a wolf doesn't also become evil; he will be an evil wolf if he was already an evil man.
- Demonic Possession: Or at least that's how Will sees it.
- Evil Me Scares Me: Will handcuffs himself, afraid of causing harm on his next night out.
- False Soulmate: Charlotte, to Will, because he separates from her after he discovers she's been cheating on him, but before she gets killed by Stewart, whom she's been having the affair with.
- Faux Affably Evil: Stewart can put on a seemingly friendly attitude, namely him saying to Will that he loves him, but its completely false.
- Jerkass: Stewart, who is also an odious Smug Snake.
- Like a God to Me: Roy to Will, when Will pulls off a spectacular bluff.
- Literal Transformative Experience: After becoming a werewolf late one night, Randal is revitalised, dramatically increasing his aggression, assertiveness and sexual appetite. With his passion restored, he manages to regain his position, excel at his job, and start a new relationship with his boss's daughter.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Will kills a Mule Deer, a western species, in New York State.
- Mugging the Monster: A trio of hoodlums attempt to "borrow" money from Will. This proves to be a mistake; they probably would've had more luck during the day time.
- Nobody Poops: Averted. Will and Stewart are using the urinals together. Will (who is becoming a werewolf) pees on Stewart's shoes and says, "I'm just marking my territory, and you got in my way."
- The Nose Knows: Among the first indications of the transformation.Will: *sniffs* How the fuck can you drink tequila at this early?Gary: How the fuck did you know?Will: You kiddin'? I can smell it a mile away!
- Not Hyperbole: Averted at the end by Stewart, when he has fun with the guard.
- Not Quite Back to Normal: By the finale, Laura has yet to notice some physical changes on herself, thinking everything has gone back to normal.
- Not Quite Dead / Jump Scare: So, trying to drag the wolf that Will accidentally hit with his car off the road probably wasn't a good idea.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: The word "werewolf" is never said in this movie.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: The bigger the moon is at night, the more wolf-like the person becomes. By the full moon, the person completely transforms into a natural wolf.
- Personality Powers: Dr. Alezais tells Will that being bitten doesn't necessarily ensure transformation into a wolf; one also has to have the passion of the wolf in their hearts in the first place in order for it to take hold of them. He even implies that for some people, the passion is enough and that being bitten by a wolf may not even be a requirement for them to change.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Jack Nicholson's character assumes this of Michelle Pfeiffer's, and calls her out on it.Will Randall: You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way, you're your own problem.
- Supernatural Gold Eyes: In the film, yellow eyes are a sign that a character is turning into a werewolf.
- Super Senses: Nocturnal vision, superhuman sense of smell.
- Took A Levelin Badass: Will becomes more assertive and daring as he transforms.
- The Virus: Lycanthropy spreads like this in this film. Will inadvertently bites Stewart, who becomes a homicidal werewolf. By the end of the film, there is a close-up of Laura's face fading into dark, demonstrating lupine eyes and indicating her transformation has begun.
- Wham Line:Laura: I can smell it a mile away.
- Wolf Man: Will transforms into this at first, transforming into a full werewolf in the finale. It's indicated that those who undergo a complete change become full wolves, although they seem to have human intelligence.
- Working-Class Werewolves: Zig-zagged: After being bitten by a werewolf, Will Randall loses his white-collar job as editor-in-chief and finds out his wife is cheating on him (with the guy who ousted him from his job). However, he soon embraces his newfound abilities, standing up to his boss, improving his work and sex life, getting his old job back and generally manages to bounce back better than ever...when he's not going feral every other night and savaging/accidentally turning the townsfolk into werewolves, that is.
- Your Cheating Heart: Charlotte cheats on Will who, in turns, falls for Laura, though the marriage probably had gone stale. Well, Will did turn to his wife first with his renewed sexual energy, but he quickly found he didn't like cheaters.
- You Sexy Beast: One of the additional signs of becoming a werewolf is becoming more sexually aggressive.