In the wake of smashing success, both critically and at the box office, of Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe (hot off the heels of The Avengers in 2012); other movie studios began scrambling to create their own shared universes in order to replicate the success the MCU had. Warner Bros. launched two shared universes in the DC Comics Cinematic Universe and their own MonsterVerse (featuring Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island). Sony Pictures is in the process of launching their own shared universe surrounding characters from Valiant Comics. But outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these other shared universes have been hit-and-miss for studios. And one universe that failed to get off the ground was Universal’s Dark Universe.
With reboots and new films based on their classic monster movies and characters, Universal planned to make an entire franchise of monster movies for audiences around the globe. But after the entry film, The Mummy (2017), failed spectacularly at the box office; Universal Studios has yet to release any more films (outside of 2020’s The Invisible Man) for their franchise. But why has Universal’s Dark Universe not gotten off the ground?
The Failure of The Mummy
Starring big names such as Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, and Russell Crowe (as Dr. Henry Jeckyll – setting up another film in the Dark Universe), The Mummy (2017) seemed like a perfect choice to launch a new, monster-focused cinematic universe. And though it raked in over $400 million USD worldwide at the box office, the film was panned severely by critics. Boasting a hearty 16% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and 34% on Metacritic, the film was nominated for eight Golden Raspberry Awards, with Tom Cruise actually winning for Worst Actor. After the resounding failure of The Mummynearly all the plans Universal had for more Dark Universe movies were put on hold: Bride of Frankensteinset for a 2019 release, is now indefinite, along with The Wolfman (which Universal wanted Dwayne Johnson to star in), and Van Helsing. With cautious hesitancy from that point forth, Universal seems to have decided to focus on individual films at a time, rather than a shared universe. Invisible Man (2020) was a hit, and a Ryan Gosling-led Wolfman film seems next up to bat. Entry films usually make or break the universes these studios set out to create, and The Mummy blew up Universal’s foundation.
No Concrete Plan in Place
The beginning of Universal Studios’ Dark Universe also got off to a jumbled start. though The Mummy was the official opening entry into the franchise, back in 2014, studio executives tried to make the nearly-finished Dracula Untold (starring Luke Evans) the opening ensemble. Though since it was nearing the release date, they couldn’t make their plans fit. Then, with the anticipated hype before release for The Mummy, Universal went on to announce quite a few films that were set to start preproduction, such as Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and Creature From the Black Lagoon, just to name a few. But with the crushing defeat of The Mummy at the box office (which also did worse than Dracula Untold), studio executives went on to shelve most of these films (along with the rest of their plans), with only now The Invisible Man having been released, and The Wolfman slated to be next. Though their bigger plans have fallen apart, Universal Studios seems to be putting the pieces back together after the success of The Invisible Man.
Focus on Establishing the Universe Over Making Good Movies
With Marvel’s Iron Man, the opening entry into the MCU, the plot itself were all focused on Tony Stark and the story that was at hand in the film. In Captain America, in the Hulk, in the Avengers, etc.; just one man trying to stop a villain. And the hints for an expanded universe were only mentioned in the film’s post-credits scenes. Rather than go that route for their first film, Universal Studios (and a number of other studios made this mistake as well) chose to try and establish their universe in the middle of The Mummy, rather than focus on the story itself, which was another huge criticism of the film faced. Audiences were treated to Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll, head of a mysterious organization, hunting down other monsters teased on a giant computer screen. The Mummy suffers terribly for this, with that time potentially being used instead to flesh out the plot and story, or making the characters more relatable. Whether Universal Studios has plans to resurrect their Dark Universe from the grave remains to be seen. But the reasons why it failed in the first place are apparent to all, and hopefully those mistakes will be learned from.