Next month Universal will introduce their latest take on The Mummy. It involves an ancient female princess, Tom Cruise, an airplane and explosions. Universal wants you to know that it’s just the opening to a gigantic cinematic world that will span dozens of movies….the DARK UNIVERSE! It’s like the MCU, only with monsters instead of superheroes, get it?
This kind of over-optimistic estimation of success is becoming a problem for Hollywood lately (see the previous newspost for yet another example of this). What makes Universal think they can make really old movie monsters THIS successful again? Well….technically, they founded the original shared movie universe, way before Disney or Marvel thought of it.
Back in the early days of cinema, Universal practically owned the horror genre. Their takes on Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, the Mummy and other classic monsters defined how we view them to this day. Usually when pressed to make a vampire impression the average person will impersonate Bela Lugosi, even if he or she has never seen the film where it came from.
Establishing a cinematic “universe,” however, is much much harder than studios seem to think. Marvel Studios is the only one to successfully do it in modern times, and this is because they slowly built up their brand over many years, looking at the overall goal instead of how individual movies performed. Other studios don’t seem to have the patience for this, so we’ll get one or two movies of setup and promises of eventual payoff, followed by abandonment. See: Amazing Spider-Man 2.
If Universal really, really wants to make a “Dark Universe” out of their monsters they have to be willing to commit to the long haul and not bail because Movie #1 made $550 million when they projected $660. They also need to make sure the individual movies are satisfying on their own and do not contain “to be continued” hooks, an overload of characters, or constant teasing for plotlines that may never be. See: Amazing Spider-Man 2 again.
Universal originally hoped to kick off a Dark Universe with 2015’s “Dracula Untold,” but the tepid response caused them to rethink their strategy. It is full of the mistakes I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We don’t know yet if Universal plans to repeat them — we’ll see what the reviews say.