Two years ago, Universal Pictures announced its Dark Universe, a shared universe of reboots focusing on their iconic monsters. In the time since it was first announced, the shared universe's official Twitter account has shared only two tweets, one being featured above and the other being a photo of the cast attached to the universe. Both posts being shared on May 22, 2017 and, as of this writing, the account currently has less than 5,000 followers. That's right, it never even promoted The Mummy hitting theaters.
What could have been a huge success for the horror genre has seemingly fizzled out, as the first film in the series, The Mummy, was a relative disappointment, with no further confirmed plans for the franchise.
To celebrate and/or memorialize the Dark Universe, we look back on the current status of the series, what went wrong, and what Universal needs to do to right the ship.
While it wasn't an official entry in the Dark Universe, the Luke Evans-starring origin story of Dracula was meant to serve as a soft-launch of the franchise, with the studio hoping to test the waters and discover what fans' interest in a series of prequel/reboots of these characters would be.
Unfortunately, the film only brought in $56 million domestically and garnered only 22% positive reviews, according to review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Given this lackluster performance, the film was completely ignored when Universal began detailing plans about their Dark Universe.
Star Evans, however, is still interested in reprising his role, were the opportunity to present itself.
“I think it was a really enjoyable process for me," Evans told Screen Rant of his experience on Dracula Untold. "I think it definitely had a few flaws in it but I’ve had a lot of good feedback from and I get people asking me will there be a sequel. We left it very wide open, you know, this is a character who could transcend many different times and different periods of history. Who knows. I’d love to bring him back in some concept or context, but honestly, you know as little as I do when it comes with what is going in on the dream rooms of Universal Studios. I really don’t know.”
Sitting at 15 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the official kick-off of the Dark Universe was described as "an utter bore, one with only the faintest grasp of what made Universal's monster pictures so iconic, " a "mess," and "the worst movie that Tom Cruise has ever made."
The film ultimately took in $80 million domestically, though it fared much better overseas, raking in nearly $330 million in foreign markets.
"I think every movie will be different. I certainly know that the legacy of the monsters have endured across the world throughout the years. Almost a century. So I have to believe American audiences will find it too with the right ingredients," The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman shared with IGN in 2017 of the underwhelming American response. As far as whether future films will cater more towards international audiences accordingly, he added, "It's hard for me to know, is the truth."
As for his personal involvement in the future of the franchise, Kurtzman confessed, "You know the truth is, I don't know. I really don't know." He continued, "I haven't really decided. Is the honest answer."
The planned next entry in the franchise, The Bride of Frankenstein, featured Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon at the helm with Javier Bardem slated to portray Frankenstein's Monster.
The film was scheduled to shoot last year, though Universal released a statement in October of 2017 that confirmed the indefinite delay of the reboot.
"After thoughtful consideration, Universal Pictures and director Bill Condon have decided to postpone Bride of Frankenstein," the statement read, as reported by The Wrap. "None of us want to move too quickly to meet a release date when we know this special movie needs more time to come together. Bill is a director whose enormous talent has been proven time and again, and we all look forward to continuing to work on this film together.”
Rumors circulated that Condon was interested in either Gal Gadot or Angelina Jolie starring as the titular character, though no actress was ever announced.
No confirmed reports about the film's future have emerged, yet it hasn't officially been scrapped.
Given that Bride of Frankenstein had a director and star attached, we can assume that a remake of The Invisible Man would have been the next chapter in the series, considering that film had Johnny Depp attached to star in addition to a script having been produced.
In 2016, Depp's then-wife Amber Heard filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against the actor, claiming he was both verbally and physically abusive during their relationship. Understandably, Depp's public persona was tarnished, with the overall tepid response to the concept of the Dark Universe immediately being soured at the announcement of Depp's involvement.
Unfortunately, the Invisible Man reboot ran into more troubles when its writer parted ways with Universal.
"At the end of the day, I think Universal and I had a different idea of what the movie was gonna be," Ed Solomon shared with Digital Spy. "We began thinking that our notions would meld, and I should've listened more closely to what they really were wanting. I think Universal has had to come to a kind of reckoning of, 'What are we doing with the Dark Universe?' and, 'What is our real intention with it?', and I think they're reconfiguring it now, which I think is probably good. So I'm not working on it."
On the bright side, Upgrade writer/director Leigh Whannell is developing his own take on the film with Elisabeth Moss attached. Jason Blum, who produced last year's Halloween, serves as a producer, which could see the lower stakes reboot being the key to reviving interest in the classic character.
Unlike many of the attached actors in the Dark Universe, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is one of the few that had the chance to be brought to life, thanks to Russell Crowe's appearance in The Mummy.
Audiences weren't quite sure why Dr. Jekyll would appear in the film at all, other than the filmmakers creating a tenuous connection between the doctor and the film's lead character, Nick Morton, played by Tom Cruise. Admittedly, Crowe's performance was one of the standout elements of the film, as he played it with camp and ferocity, which juxtaposed the overall serious tone of the rest of the film.
The future of Crowe's involvement in the franchise is unclear, as a release date for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reboot was never announced.
Between the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Extended Universe, and the Star Wars saga, it's clear that there is a lot of money to be made off of films that feature overlapping characters and crossover events. Each
The failure of the Dark Universe rests mostly on The Mummy and the amount of pressure put on that film to excite fans about future installments. Were that film to have never been promoted as the shared universe kickoff, it could have quietly disappointed and allowed Universal to course correct with future chapters.
The franchise's demise doesn't
The Mummy does have to take the brunt of the disappointment, as it was perplexing in its shortcomings. Tom Cruise took center stage, and his star power cannot be denied. Audiences expected the character to potentially serve as a Van Helsing figure, with future installments seeing him collide with the iconic monsters. Instead, Cruise's character was transformed into the living undead, leaving viewers confused about how this was intended to kick off multiple big-budget blockbusters.
It might sound simple, yet Universal clearly had a hard time with this concept, but just make one good movie before figuring out how to develop a massive franchise. That's it.
2017's The Shape of Water was director Guillermo del Toro's love letter to monster movies, which was effectively his own Creature From the Black Lagoon reimagining. The film went on to earn Best Picture at the Academy Awards, in addition to a slew of other accolades, confirming that, with the right director at the helm, monster movies can be more than just a cash-in on a popular brand.
Somehow, Universal had completely ignored the lessons they learned with the financial and critical disappointment of 2010's The Wolfman, which failed to capitalize on the original film's strengths or even its title.
One of the last updates on the franchise came from artist Robert Vargas, who shared photos of his visit to the offices of Universal Studios last year, posting a photo of a sign reading "Dark Universe." While the artist typically crafts murals, seeing any indication at all about any activity in those offices ignited theories that the franchise could return from the grave.
Shortly after The Bride of Frankenstein was postponed, the studio admitted they had stumbling points, and would rather focus on the quality of the franchise than a title and release date.
"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," Universal president of production Peter Cramer shared with The Hollywood Reporter. "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."
Cramer appears to have accepted the series' shortcomings, no matter how expensive those missteps may have been.1comments
The studio might have to wait longer than expected to move forward with the Dark Universe, hoping audiences have forgotten about The Mummy, though nearly a century after their debut, fans will always be excited to see their favorite monsters return to the big screen.
It's worth noting, however, the Warner Bros. ran into similar frustrations as Universal when attempting to launch the DC Extended Universe, as its focus was to connect all of its heroes together in an eventual team-up film as opposed to focusing on standalone successes. Following the successes of films like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!, the studio seems to have learned from their mistakes and have delivered both financially and critically successful films. If the upcoming Invisible Man is a success, its possible that Universal can get more experimental with their iconic monsters and see lower-budgeted reboots build excitement towards a possible team-up.