5 Ways To Save Universal’s ‘Dark Universe’


‘The Mummy’ [Credit: Universal]

Originally Published On Moviepilot.com June 12th, 2017

The box office numbers are in for The Mummy and, domestically, it’s not looking too great. The Mummy made just over $32 million over the weekend but failed to dethrone Wonder Woman at the domestic box office, which saw only an incredible 45 percent drop in the box office and made $57 million in its second week. That’s an incredible number, especially compared to previous second-weekend drop-off percentages for DC Cinematic Universe Movies at the domestic box office (all 60 percent drops).

Luckily for Universal (who is looking for this movie to be the starting point for their new Dark Universe), the international box office made up for the disappointing start (with an estimated 141.8 million). For some quick comparison, the 1999 Stephan Sommers version made around $43 million in the weekend before Star Wars Episode I was about to be released. If the internet inflation calculator is to be believed, that is $63 million in today’s dollars. Universal is lucky that this movie performed well internationally with its hefty $125 million budget.

Director Alex Kurtzman has still expressed confidence in the overall universe, but this does cast some doubt over the whole Dark Universe idea. It’s an idea and a concept that I like, but after The Mummy, I have gotten more worried over the execution of this idea. I have expressed my disappointment with The Mummy, and my love of the original Universal monster movies no secret. So, while many are rolling their eyes at this idea, I want to see this work. Here are five ways Universal could turn this Dark Universe around.

1. Make These Movies Into Horror Films

'The Mummy' (1932) Starring Boris Karloff [Credit: Universal Pictures]
The Mummy’ (1932) Starring Boris Karloff [Credit: Universal Pictures]
This is somewhat flexible in the sense that these monster movies can lean towards another genre and not be strictly horror movies. One movie can lean a little towards a thriller or even a gothic romance, but at their core, they need to be horror movies. Let’s not forget that Universal is updating horror movies, the best of their day.

One of the biggest problems is The Mummy didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. There were brief fleeting moments of horror but most of the time it tried so hard to be a big action movie and couldn’t balance its comedy either. It felt like they were attempting to replicate the success of Marvel with its mix of big action and comedy. Why even try that? If you’re just trying to be like Marvel, you’re not going to stand out in the marketplace. You need to find a way that makes your films unique and build up your own set of audience. The universe is called the Dark Universe —make it dark! Push your PG-13 ratings and make it more horror-centric.

There is an audience for these movies, but The Mummy wasn’t going after that, it was going after Marvel’s audience. You’re not going to beat Marvel. There is always an audience for horror, that’s why there are so many horror movies being produced. Also, horror is producing big box office returns recently, with the Conjuring franchise Don’t Breathe, Lights Out, Split and Get Out. Go for horror.

2. Keep The Budget Contained

This costs A lot of money. 'The Mummy' [Credit: Universal Pictures]
This costs A lot of money. ‘The Mummy’ [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Horror makes the best profit when the budget is lower. I am not saying you have to spend less than $10 million on a production budget, but let’s call this Dark Universe for what it is: a bit of a risk. There isn’t currently a horror cinematic universe (althoughConjuring is looking like it’s starting to build a nice little universe of its own). Keep your budgets down. There is no reason that a Frankenstein or Dracula movie needs to cost over a $100 million. The Mummy got a bump because of how successful the previous Brendan Fraser Mummy movies were coupled with Tom Cruise’s international appeal. However, you can’t bank on that for every movie, especially if the reception is the same as The Mummy‘s. If the studio keeps the budget under $100 million or less, it can contain its risk-reward factor and be more financially confident.

3. Don’t Worry Too Much About Setup

'House of Frankenstein Poster' (1944) [Credit: Universal]
‘House of Frankenstein Poster’ (1944) [Credit: Universal]

This is one of the biggest problems with The Mummy: There was too much setup for future films that it intruded on the movie they were trying to make. The movie couldn’t breathe and be a Mummy movie without structuring around future installments (that I’m willing to bet aren’t even written yet). I understand you want to establish your universe, but you can’t put the cart before the horse.

The original movies crossed over, but it was only after people fell in love with the individual movies first. When James Whale directed Frankenstein in 1931, he made the best Frankenstein movie he could make. He did not worry about whether or not this will lead into other movies. When Marvel made Iron Man, it made a good Iron Man movie first before worrying about other setups for The Avengers. There was only the smallest of hints and a post-credit scene that signaled the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The best DC Cinematic Universe movies are Wonder Woman and Man of Steel. I don’t think there is any coincidence that these movies had the least amount of setup for other Justice League movies. You don’t need a lot of setup; it can be small moments of dialogue or just a post-credit scene. You link them up in a House of Frankenstein or a House of Dracula movie, not in a Mummy or a Frankenstein solo movie.

4. Give These Movies To Auteurs, Or Someone With A Vision

 Something that is occurring to me the more I thought about The Mummy is that it didn’t feel like a unified vision. There were three different writers and the movie felt like it was written by three different writers. Director Alex Kurtzman didn’t bring much stylistically and, as a result, the movie felt a lot like a studio job.
Say what you want about Marvel movies, but they all feel like they are part of the same vision, with certain individual movies feeling more stylistically distinct (Guardians of the Galaxy for example). The worst Marvel movies are the ones that feel like a studio-mandated movie like Iron Man 2Wonder Woman feels like a Patty Jenkins movie that fits within the universe Zack Snyder help create.

Universal either needs someone like producer Kevin Feige, who has a vision for the universe, helps shape it, and lets their filmmakers go off to do what they do best. It’s either that or each film needs a great director (and/or writer(s)) to guide the film to its success (or both). Universal is starting to go in that direction with letting Bill Condon remake The Bride Of Frankenstein. Condon is a fan of the original James Whale film and understands his work (he even made a biopic about him called Gods and Monsters). Now, let Condon do what Condon does best by letting him make a great Bride of Frankenstein movie and continue this line of thought for the rest of the movies.

5. Remember Your Roots, But Don’t Be Afraid To Push Forward

[Credit: Universal]
[Credit: Universal]

I’ve talked a lot in this article about why the original movies worked so well and how these movies need to remember their roots (I.E. stick with horror etc.). I say all of that, but you also can’t be afraid to push forward and try some new things too. In the context of a Universal Monsters movie, The Mummy certainly tries new things (so I can’t really knock it for that). I may not have liked what they tried, but they did. However, these movies need to be a healthy mix of throwback films and modern films.

I personally thought the 2010 Wolfman found a healthy balance of this. While that movie may not have done well critically, I think there are a few lessons to take from that movie. It was faithful to the original 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. movie but it wasn’t too faithful and it tried new things. In an article I wrote about that movie, I highlighted it as one of the film’s biggest strengths. These movies need to feel like Universe Horror movies, but they can’t be afraid to go off and forge their own paths either.

'The Mummy' [Credit: Universal]
‘The Mummy’ [Credit: Universal]

With The Mummy’s performance this year, I wonder if Universal will take a look at its approach to the movies. Hopefully, the studio won’t learn the wrong lessons. Perhaps Universal will come up with something better than this.

I am just a fan of these old movies. I want to see them come back for a new generation, and I want to see this universe succeed. These are just a few ideas that I think benefit this universe as a whole.

What are your thoughts on how Universal can keep the Dark Universe going?

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