Tom Cruise's The Mummy is now in theaters, but it has seen a hard struggle towards box office success. The film has only made $56 million at the domestic box office, and even though Tom Cruise's stardom has helped to propel it to much nicer box office pull overseas ($295 million), this still isn't the most illustrious start for Universal's Dark Universe franchise.
In our own review of The Mummy, we said that - while this particular films has problems - the concept of an action/horror cinematic universe was something The Mummy successfully sells. So, in order for Universal to do better going forward, we thought we'd mine some successful strategies from two of the most successful and savvy movie universe studios out there right now.
Here's How Dark Universe Can Compete With DC and Marvel.
Refine the Brand Formula
One of the smartest things Marvel Studios did after the trials and tribulations of its Phase I films (which were largely director-driven) was to identify what works, what doesn't, and refine the Phase II films to be more "in brand" with what the studio was building.
DC Films is just now figuring out that approach, with Wonder Woman setting the new tone for what a DC Extended Universe movie should be. Universal could save itself a lot of trouble by knocking out that strategy now, and applying it to all the other films in the pipeline.
As stated, what works best in The Mummy is the mix of genuine scary horror and exciting action. The (attempt at) comedy, or the crazy psychological games that The Mummy attempted to the mix only dragged things down. Dark Universe needs to embrace its own uniqueness as a horror-themed cinematic universe of monsters, and make it the primary focus of its brand.
Don't Let Stars Run the Show
One of biggest stories coming out of the The Mummy right now is that Tom Cruise took over a lot of creative control of the film during production. While that may have seemed like a good idea for making the standalone production of The Mummy a success, it's not the best idea for when it comes to building an entire cinematic universe.
Going forward, Universal needs to retain tight control of the creative direction of Dark Universe - especially since it will be populated by some of the biggest actors working right now (Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp).
Having big-name talent will be a definite advantage - but not if each actor wants to do things his/her way. It's a proven fact that cinematic universes need to be cohesive and impeccably coordinated - a challenge that is bigger than any one actor.
Break New Ground
One major disadvantage that Dark Universe faces that Marvel or DC (by and large) doesn't, is that the characters and films in the franchise are rehashes of old properties and characters that - done the wrong way - won't feel new.
A lot of people saw The Mummy reboot trailers and wondered why they should bother. The film essentially looked like the Brendan Fraser version from 1999 through the 2000s, in terms of being a big blockbuster action/comedy, with a sandstorm-generating monster at the center, and a plucky adventurer as the hero. In short: it looked more like a modernized remake, than true reboot of the concept.
The challenge of selling Dark Universe isn't going to get any easier with The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, or any of the other characters. If Universal wants to make this cinematic universe a must-see series of event films, it needs to first give audiences something they must see. And that means taking what is old and giving it a new polish of novelty and excitement. When Bride of Frankenstein arrives in 2019, it needs to be something bold and new.
As The Mummy (2017) proved, nostalgia can only take you so far.