Well that whole “Dark Universe”—a planned interconnected series of monster movies from Universal Pictures in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—may be dead before it’s even gotten off the ground. Universal worked for years to revamp its monster properties in a big way, tapping Transformers and Star Trek writer/producer Alex Kurtzman and Fast & Furious scribe Chris Morgan to oversee the development of new films back in 2014, at which point they began serving as essentially the franchise’s showrunners. The duo opened a writers room, got scripts off the ground for films like Van Helsing, The Mummy, and The Invisible Man from writers like Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) and Eric Heisserer (Arrival), and Kurtzman led the charge by directing the first Dark Universe movie out of the gate—The Mummy.
Unfortunately, we now know how that turned out. Despite the starpower of Tom Cruise, The Mummy suffered harsh reviews and grossed only $80 million domestic (it did manage over $400 million worldwide thanks to strong international numbers, but it was an expensive movie). At the time, Kurtzman and Universal remained optimistic about the Dark Universe’s future—after all, the studio had already announced Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, and introduced Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll in The Mummy. Surely they wouldn’t just scrap all of that right? Eh….
Per THR, Kurtzman and Morgan have now departed the Dark Universe franchise, leaving the interconnected series of films without stewards. Moreover, a brand new office building revamped specifically to house Dark Universe offices (complete with monster-themed decorating) now sits mostly empty. While director Bill Condon’s (Beauty and the Beast) promising Bride of Frankenstein was on track to begin filming early next year with Bardem and possibly Angelina Jolie, Universal recently pulled the plug on pre-production and scrapped the release date, and while insiders insist Condon is still attached (and indeed the filmmaker sounded optimistic about the project in recent interviews), Universal has yet to announce a new release date.
So what happens now? THR says Universal is exploring its options, which include possibly offering the monster IP to “high-profile filmmakers or producers” to make one-off movies that aren’t part of an interconnected universe. One name bandied about is Jason Blum, with whom Universal has a strong relationship having released many Blumhouse productions. That dude would kill it.
If this road is taken, it’s possible Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein could still happen. And honestly, it sounds like the best course of action. In the months leading up to The Mummy’s release, fans grew concerned as Kurtzman and Morgan teased a Marvel Cinematic Universe-like approach to the Dark Universe—an action/adventure-heavy venture rather than one that leans into the horror roots of the monster IP. If filmmakers are untethered to such a universe, that gives them freedom to really lean into the horror and craft R-rated pictures that don’t have to appeal to the widest possible demographic, while other films could be more PG-13-friendly.
It seems unlikely (and foolish) for Universal to give up completely, but I do think Kurtzman and Morgan exiting is a good thing. Drop the interconnected universe idea, lure great filmmakers to make great new horror films, and go from there. If a new Wolfman movie spawns its own franchise, so be it, but don’t be so concerned with connecting Wolfman to Tom Cruise’s The Mummy to Johnny Depp’s The Invisible Man.
This is yet another example that proves just how miraculous it is that Marvel Studios has pulled off the MCU. The idea didn’t really exist in theatrical franchises back when Iron Man first opened, but now over 15 movies deep the MCU is the biggest and baddest movie franchise around. It may look easy, but the Dark Universe and even the DC Extended Universe prove it’s really, really not.