Now that Universal’s “The Mummy” has unwrapped poor reviews and mixed financial performance, what does it mean for the studio’s planned Dark Universe franchise?
A lot of expectation management, recruiting top talent, and diversifying the types of films they’ll adapt from their own storied vault, industry experts and studio insiders told TheWrap.
“When you’re launching a new universe, you hope for a bigger bang than what they got,” analyst Paul Dergarabedian of ComScore told TheWrap.
Dark Universe, as it was only formally named weeks ago, was a long-gestating concept to revive classic studio properties like Frankenstein and his Bride, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man and more. It would also give the company an answer to other shared universe cash cows like Disney’s Marvel and Lucasfilm, and Warner Bros.’ DC Films.
To start the monster party, Tom Cruise and director Alex Kurtzman offered up “The Mummy,” an action adventure with Sofia Boutella as a relentless entombed demon who breaks free and wreaks havoc. This past opening weekend delivered Cruise the best international numbers of his career, earning $141 million in 63 markets and all at No.1.
But Domestically, the film only fetched $32.2 million, a baffling number for a star of Cruise’s caliber in the prime summer season. It was bested by the second weekend haul of “Wonder Woman,” at $57.2 million.
“You could lay it at the doorstep of IP, but the other ‘Mummy’ movies did pretty darn well,” Dergarabedian said.
Indeed, Universal previously trotted out the troublemaking Egyptian spirit for a Brendan Frasier trilogy in 1999, 2001 and 2008 — which made $1.2 billion combined at the global box office, per Box Office Mojo.
Numbers like that contradicts speculation that the iconic Universal gods and monsters of the ’30s and ’40s would not play for modern audiences — or not play as well as, say, Iron Man or Batman.
The brass at Universal is unfazed and moving ahead with plans, one insider on the lot told TheWrap. While the general feeling was that the domestic opening is “soft,” higher-ups have faith in the vision moving forward and plenty else on the slate to make shareholders and consumers happy. Think the billion-dollar “Despicable Me” franchise and the grittier, non-fantasy Cruise action film “American Made” from Doug Liman in September.
“With every film, you can erase the sins of the past. Look at Warner Bros., they took a beating with ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman v. Superman,’ and now the incredible success of ‘Wonder Woman,'” said Dergarabedian.
Turns out another female-led franchise could right the ship at Dark Universe, as well. Bill Condon will deliver his take on “Bride of Frankenstein” for Valentine’s Day weekend in 2019. Angelina Jolie has long been at the top of the wish list for that part, and the studio and filmmakers remain open about their desire to have her come on board, according to individual with knowledge of the project.
Condon’s “Bride” will not be the full-throttle action romp that “Mummy” was — neither in scope nor in budget, the insider added. The script is currently being worked on by David Koepp, and was described to TheWrap as more of a character study.
It can be argued that Condon is the finest guardian for the world: he won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1999 for “Gods and Monsters,” a film he wrote and directed about James Whale, the original director of “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man.”
Cruise’s “The Mummy” teased several related characters like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula. Kurtzman said the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame were getting in on the action as well.
“All these movies look great on paper,” Dergarabedian concluded. “But you still have to execute a great movie.”