Dark Universe dead

It was supposed to be a brave new world of gods and monsters, but Universal’s Dark Universe might be shuffling back to the tomb from whence it came. After the critical and box office failure of The Mummy, Dark Universe masterminds Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan are departing the franchise, leaving the future of the Dark Universe uncertain. Is the Dark Universe dead?

Ever since Marvel Studios revealed that cinematic universes could make big bank, other studios have been trying to cash-in. Realizing they owned the original cinematic universe, the Universal Monsters, Universal Studios set about relaunching their famous horror franchises of yore into the shiny new Dark Universe. The plan was to make a series of interconnected monster movies that would update the likes of DraculaFrankenstein, The Mummy and more into a slick modern era of big action blockbusters.

It didn’t go so well. The film intended to kick-off the Dark Universe, The Mummy, was savaged by critics when it hit theaters in June of 2017. Worse than the critical drubbing was the fact that, despite starring Tom Cruise, one of the last true movie stars working today, the film could barely turn a profit at the box office, taking in $409 million worldwide. Universal had hoped to get their Dark Universe back on track with Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein remake, but just as pre-production was about to start up for the film, Universal pulled the plug in October, telling the film’s crew to go home.

Things have only gotten worse since then. THR reports that Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the architects of the Dark Universe, have left the franchise behind. Kurtzman is turning to TV, while Morgan will return to the Fast and the Furious franchise. This leaves the future of the Dark Universe in serious peril. THR says Universal is currently exploring options, including offering the potential franchise to “high-profile filmmakers or producers,” including Blumhouse’s Jason Blum, with a plan to forego the shared universe idea and instead focus on individual films.

No matter what happens, this is a colossal failure for Universal. The studio clearly never had a solid plan for just what they wanted their shared universe to be, and rushed headlong into the idea, foolishly announcing a cast line-up for films that weren’t even close to being ready for pre-production. Right before The Mummy hit theaters, Universal quickly rushed out a press release that included a photoshopped group photo of the potential Dark Universe cast, including Cruise, The Mummy‘s Sofia Boutella and Russell Crowe, and also Javier Bardem (expected to play the Frankenstein Monster) and Johnny Depp (expected to play the Invisible Man). There’s a chance now that that photo is going to become a monument to hubris; a relic of an era that never even began.

If The Dark Universe is to continue at all (and at this point I’m not sure it should), the best approach would be to return the franchise to its roots. It was always a mistake to approach these films as big blockbuster action vehicles instead of horror movies. Horror has had a boom year in 2017 – in fact, it’s been one of the biggest box office years for horror in the history of the genre, with horror films taking in over $733 million, per the New York Times. This is proof positive that people want horror movies, not watered-down action flicks. If the Dark Universe wants to survive, it would be wise to take heed and embrace horror once again.

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