Three 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 were shared on May 22, 2017 and, as of this writing, the account currently has just over 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, but this year's The Invisible Man proved to be a major hit and has inspired talk of bringing the series back from the dead.
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.
Dracula Untold (2014)
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.”
The Mummy (2017)
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 Bride of Frankenstein
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.
Condon's version of the film would appear to be dead, but rumors have emerged that John Krasinski was involved with developing a take on the concept, which has yet to be confirmed.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
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.
The Invisible Man (2020)
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.
Whatever plans might have been developing for Depp's take on the Invisible Man were seemingly scrapped, as Leigh Whannell developed his own take on the concept last year, which starred Elisabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. One of the few films to earn a theatrical release before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered theaters around the world, the film sits at 91% positive reviews on aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, thanks in large part to Whannell completely reimagining the core concept and delivering a standalone, terrifying adventure.
While the name "Dark Universe" has largely been dropped, last year saw the confirmation that Ghostbusters reboot director Paul Feig was developing Dark Army, which is set in the world of Universal Monsters. No details have been released about whether any famous monsters will appear in the film or if it will merely exist in that universe, but the filmmaker aims to capture the spooky, silly spirit of those classic films.
“I really want this to bring the same feeling that those old monster movies that I loved growing up watching [did]," Feig shared with Collider earlier this year. "I’m not as interested in doing a horror movie as I am in doing a true monster film. So, hopefully that will see the light of day. You never know in Hollywood these days, but I love it. I’m very excited about it. I’m excited about the characters that I’ve created and about some of the ones that I’ve been able bring over from the old movies.”
Another project moving forward that is connected to the world of classic monsters if Renfield from Rick and Morty writer Ryan Ridley and Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher, based on a concept from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.
Few details are known about the project, but much like Dark Army will take place in a familiar world, Renfield has previously been described as “a monster movie centered on Dracula’s henchman.” While Whannell's Invisible Man was an entire reinvention of the mythology of the character, this project could take an all-new approach to a character who is well-known to horror fans, but by shifting the focus away from Dracula himself, it could present a number of new storytelling possibilities.
The Invisible Woman
Only weeks after The Invisible Man landed in theaters to much fanfare from audiences and critics, it was announced that Elizabeth Banks would star in and direct a reboot of The Invisible Woman.
As the title would imply, the film was inspired by the success of the 1933 The Invisible Man starring Claude Rains, but the tone of the original 1940 Invisible Woman was quite different from the Universal Monsters. Despite its inspiration being from the world of horror and sci-fi, the original Invisible Woman was more of a screwball romantic comedy, so given Banks' comedic skills, we could assume the film will be at least somewhat comedic in nature, but with how little we know about the film, it could also dive into more horrifying arenas.
Another project announced in the wake of The Invisible Man's success is an adaptation of Dracula from The Invitation and Jennifer's Body director Karyn Kusama.
Few horror figures have been as popular on the big screen over the years as Dracula, due in large part to the fact that the character belongs in the public domain and any studio can develop projects based on the bloodsucker. While this new take on the character might not necessarily connect in any way to other reboots of Universal Monsters, with the project also coming from Blumhouse, it could potentially exist in the same universe as its various other reboots, with its interconnected nature merely being implied without any characters or events crossing over with one another.
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.1comments
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.
As confirmed by The Invisible Man, merely offering one compelling film without any even subtle hints at a franchise's future entirely alters the expectations of a viewer and allows a filmmaker to focus on making the best single film they can.