Universal's Attempt at a Cinematic Monster Universe under Review after Tom Cruise's "Mummy" Flop

Universal's Attempt at a Cinematic Monster Universe under Review after Tom Cruise's "Mummy" Flop

The new Marvel superhero movie, Avengers: Infinity War, was triumphantly released to the theaters a couple of weeks ago and has already seen fans raving about the instalment that finally brings together all of their Marvel Cinematic Universe favorite characters – at the MCU’s tenth anniversary, to boot. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman practically elevated the DC Extended Universe to new heights and set a different tone that has drawn fans in, while Sony finally struck gold with Spiderman: Homecoming and everyone’s favorite wall-crawler has finally got the reboot both he and fans deserved, according to critics and audiences. It seems to be a golden era for superhero franchise movies. So, why is Universal struggling so much – and what does its Mummy flop mean for the future of the much-advertised Dark Universe?


The new Marvel superhero movie, Avengers: Infinity War, was triumphantly released to the theaters a couple of weeks ago and has already seen fans raving about the instalment that finally brings together all of their Marvel Cinematic Universe favorite characters – at the MCU’s tenth anniversary, to boot.

The Golden Era of Superhero Franchises

For Universal, it seemed like a recipe for success: follow up on the momentum of great superhero movie franchises that all major studios have been fervently working on by rebooting classics. Marvel did it first – and, so far, best. With the release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel introduced the concept of a cinematic “Universe”, with movies that are linked to each as sequels or prequels, but also function as standalone installments so that even new fans can have a good time. Of course, if you are a hardcore fan, things get even better, as every new movie is full of inside jokes and Easter eggs. And its movies seem to get better with each instalment: 2017 saw Thor: Ragnarok retell a classic Norse destruction myth in what was perhaps the funniest Marvel movie to date and, in 2018, Black Panther, the 18th movie in the Marvel universe, became first black superhero standalone movie for Marvel (we can’t forget Halle Berry’s Catwoman – even though everyone really wishes they could). And audiences loved it.

Now, the Avengers have taken the lead and broke another record: it became the 34th film to reach $1 billion at the box office – but it did so in just 11 days. That is faster than Star Wars, which also lost the record to the biggest opening weekend box office to the Avengers, who grossed $257.8 million. And let’s not even get started on the complex X-Men Universe and Ryan Reynold’s refreshing Deadpool. Over to the Warner Bros DC camp, things have been slightly more underwhelming but they do hold the rights to everyone’s favorite superheroes, even if Marvel has wooed us over for now. Audiences will always rush to watch Superman and Batman, while the latest Wonder Woman shook things up for the franchise and Ezra Miller’s addition as the iconic Flash is an extremely promising move. Sony seems to have sorted itself out – even though they will forever regret passing up on the opportunity to buy the rights to all of Marvel’s characters for a mere $25 million back in the day. After a lot of legal issues over the rights to Spidey’s adventures, Sony teamed up with Marvel’s Midas’ touch, and they are now set to release Venom with Tom Hardy in October 2018.

A Breakdown of Universal's Dark Universe

So, it seems that superhero movies are a sure bet, even if you struggle a bit at first. Among this lot, Universal had an amazing idea: reboot old classic “monsters” as a modern version of anti-heroes – remember Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that got turned into a movie by 20th Century Fox? Sort of like that, only with the biggest names in Hollywood, like Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp. It would play on the Universal monsters franchise of the 1920s through the 1950s, when Universal acquired the rights to popular literature “monsters” like Frankenstein and Dracula. With modern day reboots, the films would be united by the thread of a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization, Prodigium, with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as its director, portrayed by Russel Crowe. The franchise was set to feature other A-list actors like Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster (and the studio was pursuing Angelina Jolie as Frankenstein’s Bride) and Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, before moving on to icons like Dracula, Van Helsing (Channing Tatum was reportedly in talks for the role), the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

All in all, 7 movies were in the works for the Dark Universe. The choice for the first instalment was obvious: the Mummy is a character that still captivates audiences across the globe and pop culture is full with references to it even in the most unlikely places, from old cartoons to Backstreet Boys’ Everybody music video that sent Nick Carter fans to a frenzy, to video games like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor from Sierra video games or Betway Casino's - Temple of Tut online slot game, which sends the player to Ancient Egypt in search of King Tutankhamun’s cursed treasure. Tom Cruise, armed with his Mission Impossible adventure experience from Paramount movies, starred as lead character Nick Morton, aided by Russel Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, it seems. The film disappointed fans who were expecting something with a little less Hollywood polish and a bit more anti-hero self-sarcasm, while critics also panned it for its poor storytelling and lack of inspired narratives and dialogue - qualities that, frankly, were evident even from the movie's trailer. According to Gizmodo it made a surprisingly low $400 million and forced Universal to put its plans on hold, postponing the Frankenstein film that was set to be released in February 2019.

Yet, the Dark Universe concept has not been scrapped completely. Universal plans to revisit its core tenets and come back stronger – and they already seem to be onto something, as they have decided to move away from big names in favor of director-driven instalments with a vision that will bring a breath of fresh air to this shared universe. Could this be the rocky start of something gruesome and great?

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