Everybody loves Marvel, everybody wants what Marvel has, but nobody really knows how to do what Marvel has done. Of course, I'm speaking from the perspective of the big Hollywood studios, who've decided in recent years that "franchises" are great but "universes" are better. And who can blame them, tens of billion dollars is a lot of money; besides, all you need is a property to exploit, right?
Universal recently announced their plans for a "Dark Universe," leveraging classic monsters like Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy. Following the Marvel template, they have five films planned, which will eventually lead to an Avengers-style crossover event. Universal is spending big bucks on talent, spectacle, and marketing for their first puzzle piece: The Mummy, which opens in 60 markets on June 9, 2017
The big question: will audiences flock to see these gothic-themed characters who debuted (on film) in the early 20th century? According to THR, Universal is getting nervous about their plans, given recent poor box-office performances of other universe-building properties like King Arthur and Alien: Covenant.
Box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian offers a perspective:
"Every new universe has to start somewhere. If you look at [Universal's] Fate of the Furious, 80 percent of its box office came from international. Tom Cruise is an international superstar, and he remains so."
Couple problems with that assessment, for one thing The Fast and The Furious is still just a (wildly successful) franchise that has yet to prove it can spin-off its characters into successful films. Tom Cruise is 54, and his ability to anchor action films will inevitably begin to decline. Universal has cast several other aging actors in its Dark Universe, including Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, and Johnny Depp -- tremendous actors, no doubt, but probably not a huge draw for the kind of young-male audiences that flock to Marvel, DC, and the Fast & Furious films.
Then there's the inherent problem with big-budget horror films finding an audience; recent examples include: The Wolfman (2010) and Dracula Untold (2014), which both tanked pretty hard at the box office. Horror films are often great Hollywood investments: low-budget films with no-name talent that draw in youth audiences, like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity -- Universal is going in the opposite direction, obviously.
Can The Mummy establish a viable Dark Universe? I don't see it, to be honest. I think the Dark Universe looks great on paper, it's hard to fault the casting, and these are household name monsters with (arguably) broad, international appeal. And yet, The Mummy just seems like another big-budget spectacle amidst a sea of other blockbusters starring massively popular characters like Spider-Man, Thor, The Transformers, the Justice League, and another Fast & Furious movie (to name just a bit of the competition over the last few and next few months). I hope I'm wrong, because it would be awesome to see these monsters returned to their deserved big-screen glory.
Are you excited about a Dark Universe? Will you be first in line at The Mummy? Let us know in the comments down below!
The Mummy hits theaters on June 9, 2017.
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