What happened to Universal’s Monster movies?
Cinematic universes are huge right now. It can be certain that, in every boardroom at every major studio, executives are sitting around trying to think of which properties they can turn into franchises. It’s how it goes. You’ve got the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ve got the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ve got the DC Extended Universe, and so on. Everyone wants a franchise. And why wouldn’t they? The Fast and Furious universe, the Despicable Me franchise, the aforementioned superhero studios are all enjoying nice, fat billion-dollar profits. As a studio head, you’d be foolish not to want in on that.
That’s why it’s so painful to see the Universal Dark Universe fail so miserably. The poor producers at Universal have tried, and tried, and tried, to make this work. But they just can’t seem to grasp it. Now, obviously, 2017’s The Mummy is the most prominent on everyone’s mind when they think of this cinematic universe. After all, it even opens with a Dark Universe logo and tries very hard to set up future movies with Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde iteration and the references to Bride of Frankenstein and An American Werewolf in London. Still, the movie flopped with critics and audiences. It made less than $100 million in the US on a budget of $125 million (granted, it did make over $330 million in non-US markets) and was universally panned.
Unbelievably, this was the third time Universal tried to launch this franchise in seven years. In 2014, Dracula Untold was supposed to launch the Dark Universe. It did even worse than The Mummy at the box office despite receiving slightly more positive reviews. In 2010, The Wolfman did the worst of the three at the box office with similar reviews to Dracula Untold. Three times they’ve tried and three times they’ve failed to make this work. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?
Take a look at the Universal Monsters: The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. The Mummy. Frankenstein and his Bride. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dracula. The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Classic monsters from the 1930s and 1940s and all characters that have never really had a successful movie since the early 20th century. Like the characters, are these movies cursed? Like their villages, will audiences never accept these characters for who they are? Like the monsters, are these movies lifeless?
Don’t give up hope just yet. Like a surprise twist in the third act, the Dark Universe might not be dead yet. Robert Vargas, an LA-based artist, posted on Instagram that he had a “great meeting this morning with the amazing #DarkUniverse team” on May 10, 2018. He teased that “Monster things [are] in the works ;),” which suggests this isn’t over yet. Rest assured, we will be waiting on the edge of my seat for more news on the Dark Universe. Behind Vargas is a poster for Dracula — could this be what kicks off the Dark Universe for the fourth time? Only time will tell, it seems.