Bad franchise beginnings like The Mummy can soil an entire brand.
Over the past weekend, we saw two entirely different cinematic universes fight for the box office crown. On one side we had the DCU with Wonder Woman going into its second weekend of release with fantastic word of mouth and critical scores. Then there was The Mummy. The Mummy is supposed to be the initial offering from the cinematic universe from Universal known as the ‘Dark Universe’. As the beginning of a franchise, The Mummy would’ve liked to make a good impression, but it fell flat. Not only did review poorly, but audiences couldn’t be bothered with it either. When you are using a film to start a franchise there is a lot of pressure for that film to succeed, especially when you have multiple tie-in films already mapped out years into the future. A quality film matters more than ever and when a film misses the mark, it can ramifications for years to come.
The Mummy had plenty of expectations from Universal Pictures. It carried a hefty $125 million budget, while only making a return of $32 million on opening weekend. Thankfully for Universal, the international market plays into the sum as well since it should do fine abroad. It’s just hard to fathom such a colossal failure to launch a multi-film franchise. Hollywood exec-turned-producer Doug Belgrad talked to Variety about what to expect from the Monday morning meeting at Universal. His simple reply was that “It won’t be fun.”
Universal isn’t the only studio in town that has committed to the cinematic universe format for their films. Disney has cinematic universes in place for Marvel and Star Wars. Warner Bros. has the DCU. Soon Hasbro will have its own cinematic universe featuring their brands. It seems as though everyone is taking a leap of faith into interconnected universes for their brands, but the pressure for success is bigger than ever.
When Disney released Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in late December, there was a lot on the line. Sure it was a Star Wars movie and with that comes a built-in audience of sorts. There was just one issue. Disney could not afford to release a film that would dilute the brand.
If Rogue One had seen horrible reviews, not only would it affect Disney’s ability to make future spin-offs in the Star Wars universe, but it would’ve also caused audiences to be apprehensive about The Last Jedi. That was something that Disney just couldn’t afford, so the film went through reshoots to assure it would live up to expectations. Costly reshoots that if the film hadn’t of been successful, we would be seeing a lot less Star Wars related features coming down the pipe.
It is amusing just how quickly fortunes change in the realm of cinema. Had Wonder Woman been another failure, the DCU would be in significant trouble. It is easy to imagine that this iteration of the DCU would be put on hiatus for now and in the future, many of these heroes would be recast and they would try again. Wonder Woman is a success though and now DC can build on that momentum and good will with featuring her image and character at length in the new Justice League film. The success of one film has turned everything around and the feeling in the Warner Bros board room on the second-weekend success of Wonder Woman must be one of elation.
Hasbro is in a much different place than all these other companies. They have the monstrous success of the Transformers series that they are willing to leverage against all their other middling properties. They want to continue their relationship with Paramount and build a lot more of their franchises into the same cinematic universe. It is hard to imagine that the same amount of anticipation will be built from properties such ROM, Micronauts, Visionaries, and M.A.S.K., but Hasbro is eager to try. G.I. Joe was never the success that Hasbro had always envisioned, but perhaps their thinking is that G.I. Joe is missing Transformers to make it into a huge success.
Every studio is in some way or another trying to take advantage of the idea Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Film, has done successfully since the original Iron Man. The idea of tying separate films together adds some security to new projects. Take the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film for instance. By bringing in a character everyone is familiar with like Iron Man, the film already has the box office strength of being in the shared Marvel Universe. The idea is that if you don’t see this film, you’ll miss how it ties into the larger picture and you’ll be left out of the loop. Just by putting the Marvel name on it, you guarantee that the same audience will show up for this new Spider-Man picture, regardless of whether or not it actually is a successful film. The thing that all the other studios don’t understand is that you have to build that trust with a solid foundation.
Universal continues to strike out when it comes to bringing their classic monsters back to life. When audiences are busy remembering the Brendan Fraser Mummy series with great reverence, you know you’ve done something wrong. Had The Mummy been successful, each new film in the Dark Universe would be met with excitement. Now it is hard to imagine Universal salvaging this mess and continuing forward with their great shared universe idea. Every studio wants a shared cinematic universe, but they must also remember that the quality of these films matter since it will affect every other film released in that franchise. Audiences expect better films and making sure you start off on the right foot is extremely important. Maybe the Dark Universe will be officially restarted with The Bride of Frankenstein? We can only hope that it exceeds expectation.