Universal’s Dark Universe may come to an end before it ever properly begins.
The proposed shared cinematic universe featuring the classic Universal monster characters has lost its creative leads as producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan depart the project, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Kurtzman and Morgan’s contracts with Universal expired in September and both producers have left for new, or old, projects. In Kurtzman’s case, he’s chosen to focus on television. He’s the co-creator and executive producer of Star Trek: Discovery and has an overall deal with CBS that includes several more shows.
In Morgan’s case, he is returning to the Fast and Furious franchise to write the spinoff film starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
It was earlier this year that Universal officially announced the Dark Universe with a sizzle reel featuring classic footage of Universal’s most iconic characters. The studio then released a cast photo showing the top tier talents who would bring the modern versions of the monsters to life, including Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein, Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, Sofia Boutella as the Mummy, and Tom Cruise as Sergeant Nick Morton, the cursed human introduced in The Mummy movie which was meant ot kickstart the Dark Universe.
The Mummy opened in June and underperformed with critics and at the box office. This poor first impression immediately left the future of the Dark Universe in question. The next film set to enter production was Bride of Frankenstein, with Angelina Jolie eyed for the lead role, but production plans were put on hold and Jolie is no longer attached.
Universal is still exploring its options with regards to its monster characters, and may either find a new creative leader for the Dark Universe or instead shop the individual characters around to big name directors and producers, with one possibility being Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures, whose low-budget horror films have topped the box office three times this year.
"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," says Universal president of production Peter Cramer. "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."
In the end, the Dark Universe may end up serving as a cautionary tale to movie studios warning against putting the cart before the horse when it comes to building a shared cinematic universe.