Universal renames its classic monster reboots Dark Universe, but there may be a problem
It only took a year and a half, but Universal Pictures has announced that its upcoming shared cinematic universe featuring adaptations of Universal’s classic monsters has a name. The films will henceforth exist under the banner “Dark Universe.”
The shared universe will begin on June 9 with the release of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise as a soldier that discovers an ancient tomb, and Sofia Boutella as the titular threat. The movie will also introduce a few other characters you’ll see in future films, most notably Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.
The plan is currently to make films based on all the classic Universal monsters, including Frankenstein’s monster (and the Bride of Frankenstein’s monster), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolf Man, Dracula (specifically a film that follows Van Helsing), and the Invisible Man.
Along with the news of the name, Universal also confirmed a release date for the next film in the shared universe. The second film in the Dark Universe will be Bride of Frankenstein starring Javier Bardem as the monster, and it will hit theaters on February 14, 2019.
Along with Cruise, Boutella, Crowe, and Bardem, Universal has also locked down Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man (presumably Dr. Jack Griffin). It’s not clear when he will first appear, but given the early casting, a cameo in The Mummy or a larger role in Bride of Frankenstein seems like a distinct possibility.
Following Disney/Marvel’s lead, it has become more and more of the norm to create a shared cinematic universe. It gives fans a feeling that there is more to a film than what they are seeing, and if done right it minimizes some of the risk from films that might otherwise be dangerous for a studio. WB and DC’s Suicide Squad is a prime example of this. Without the connection to a growing DC universe that includes Batman and the Joker, the film may have met a very different fate at the box office.
Universal’s Dark Universe joins Disney’s MCU, WB’s DCEU and its King Kong/Godzilla universe, Sony’s attempt at a Spider-Man universe, Fox’s X-Men universe, and others. If it works, it will certainly spur more studios to dive through their existing catalogs along with large properties that haven’t been swallowed up yet, so expect more of these types of films. In fact, it seems like this is the next stage in Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, remakes, and sequels. There is a lot of potential upside to this model for the studios, and even for fans, so don’t’ expect it to go away anytime soon.
Of course, studios need to be able to first establish the universe, which is easier said than done.
Although it is still several weeks away and Universal will likely unleash a massive advertising campaign, there are some concerns with The Mummy leading the way into the Dark Universe. THR is reporting that industry experts are expecting the film to debut between $40-$42 million domestically against a $125 million budget. When you factor in the potential international gross that number will jump significantly, but it’s still not a great opening for what is meant to be the first in a series of at least five films.
That hasn’t seemed to deter Universal, however, as evidenced by the name reveal and release date for the second film. The studio is waiting a year and a half before releasing the next film though, so there may be a bit of “wait and see” at work. Universal’s Dark Universe is also a little different from the others.
While DC and Marvel’s films are meant to be mostly stand alone (with the obvious exceptions like The Avengers), they are also designed to be very much connected to the greater universe. With Universal’s pictures, there will be several connecting threads but they don’t necessarily need to play off each other. It would hurt Thor if it didn’t exist in the same universe as Iron Man, but it wouldn’t necessarily make much difference if The Mummy is separate from the Wolf Man or the Creature from the Black Lagoon films. They are all connected through the mysterious “Prodigium” organization which Dr. Jekyll runs, but the films don’t need to connect ebyond that.
The narratives don’t need to connect like the comic book movies do, so even if The Mummy is a flop it may not significantly affect the others.
Of course, The Mummy might still be a huge hit, making it a moot point. We’ll know in a few weeks.