Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis in “The Mummy” (Credit: Universal Pictures)
Last week The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Universal’s so-called “Dark Universe” — a planned cinematic universe containing classic Universal monsters like the Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and others — had been effectively cancelled. No official corporate obituary has been issued yet, of course, but with the producers cleared out and all impending projects in stasis, it’s fair to assume that the planned universe has been abandoned.
Where did they go wrong? There are actually so many ways, that it’s easier to straight-up list them.
1. They didn’t bother making a good movie.
As I noted in my review of “The Mummy,” the biggest problem with this film is that it felt like it was made by a committee. Instead of trying to tell a good story of its own — whether atmospheric and scary like the 1932 movie or action-packed and campy like the 1999 remake — this version spent more time trying to set up future Dark Universe films than being a memorable or even simply enjoyable flick of its own. When you look at movies that successfully launched modern cinematic universes — “Iron Man” in 2008, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015 and so on — they were fun, well-crafted movies on their own that subtly planted the seeds for sequels and spin-offs. Even though the studios were planning future movies while creating the original films, they still clearly took the time and energy to attach strong storytellers (Jon Favreau, J. J. Abrams) to those projects so that they would stand on their own terms. By contrast, “The Mummy” threw everything trendy it could think of at the screen in the hope that as much of it as possible would stick. Because it had tried to stuff in so many different genre identities, it wound up lacking any distinctive mark.
2. There was no indication that anyone was clamoring for a Universal Monsters universe.
Once again, the success of the Marvel and Star Wars universes come to mind. While Iron Man and Thor may not have been particularly popular characters among casual moviegoers prior to their films, the massive successes of the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” films had clearly established that audiences had an appetite for superhero fare. While trying to create new fanbases for more obscure characters was a risk, it was at least grounded in recent box office trends. Similarly, even though the “Star Wars” prequels wound up being maligned by fans as vastly inferior to the original trilogy, they still made bank at the box office, indicating that fans still wanted to see new installments in that universe. By contrast, the last Universal monsters property that had done well was the original “Mummy” trilogy, and even that had done little to drum up enthusiasm for more Universal monster films.
3. They don’t understand what audiences want in horror movies.
Yes, I’m not entirely sure “The Mummy” …read more