Universal’s fledgling monsters-based cinematic universe is on life support.
It’s possible that we’ve seen the end of Universal’s Dark Universe movies. The franchise quickly went off the rails when the film that was meant to ignite the franchise, the Tom Cruise-led $125 million picture The Mummy, crashed and burned at the box office, earning a piddly $80 million. Despite its huge budget and A-list star and the studio’s giant push, The Mummy flopped hard, so it’s understandable that Universal has developed cold feet. And rather than trying to work out the franchise’s kinks, it looks like the Dark Universe’s main players are instead abandoning ship.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dark Universe’s architects, writer-producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan are leaving for greener pastures. From the report:
Kurtzman, whose deal with Universal lapsed in September, is focusing on television (he’s an executive producer on CBS All Access’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ and his overall deal with CBS involves more than a half-dozen shows), while Morgan has returned to the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise and is writing a spinoff for Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
Despite The Mummy’s failure, for a while it looked like Universal would soldier on with the next Dark Universe installment, writer-director Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein. That movie had already begun preproduction when Universal put the kibosh on it, allegedly due to a poor script. Now, even if Bride of Frankenstein resumes production there is no way the film would make its February 2019 deadline.
Universal president of production Peter Cramer has this to say, via THR:
We’ve learned many lessons throughout the creative process on Dark Universe so far, and we are viewing these titles as filmmaker-driven vehicles, each with their own distinct vision. We are not rushing to meet a release date and will move forward with these films when we feel they are the best versions of themselves.
I can’t help but feel that everyone involved in the project is overthinking things. Dark Universe and its core characters are ill-defined, which works in the franchise’s favor. The concept of a Wolf Man or Dracula movie is so broad that it offers screenwriters limitless possibilities, as with The Lego Movie and Battleship. The thought of adapting such bland source material turned the collective internet into a massive eye-roll emoji. But director Peter Berg did something fresh with Battleship, turning it into an alien invasion movie because, why the fuck not?
MTV’s Teen Wolf series spun-off an athletic werewolf into six seasons of television, and The Walking Dead’s joyless and nihilistic dystopia continues to draw in killer ratings. People love monsters, and Universal’s classic bunch present limitless possibilities. The studio could make a zombie apocalypse movie like World War Z but make those zombies mummies instead. Guillermo del Toro just wrapped The Shape of Water, a stirring love story about what is essentially The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And does anyone really believe that a major studio like Universal can’t crank out a decent modern day Dracula story? Please…
As someone who grew up obsessed with monster movies, I’m disappointed that Dark Universe is DOA. Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster are timeless characters that can work outside of their classic gothic horror settings. Just because the first film didn’t crack the code for success doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. People will continue crapping on the Dark Universe concept until it suddenly works, like Warner Bros. cranking out several divisive DCEU movies before striking gold with Wonder Woman. Whether Universal brings in an uber-producer like Jason Blum to put his lo-fi signature on these monsters or they stick with The Mummy’s Michael-Bay-hem style of bombast, Dark Universe and its roster of characters still have potential.