The Future of Universal's Monsters Is Coming Into Focus

Posted by Tom Lamb on September 16, 2019 at 1:35 AM

Paul Feig's 'Dark Army' joins Leigh Whannell’s 'Invisible Man' in signaling a new direction for the properties following the failure of the Dark Universe.

Paul Feig is building an army of monsters. Thursday we learned that the filmmaker best known for his comedies, Bridesmaids (2011), Spy (2015), and Ghostbusters (2016) will join Universal’s tradition of monster movies for a new project called Dark Army. Universal has famously struggled for nearly two decades to find a place for their movie monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Creature, the Mummy, within the contemporary franchise market. Though Universal monster movies were Hollywood-shaping events in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, the studio has never been able to find a similar level of success with characters who arguably become overexposed due to their existence within the public domain. With the cinematic universe ambitions of Dark Universe dead, and Leigh Whannell’s Blumhouse produced The Invisible Man coming next year, is it possible that Universal monsters’ darkest days are finally behind them?

In order to fully consider how Universal can do right by its monsters, it’s important to understand where they went wrong and how they can avoid the same missteps in the future. Though Universal found success with The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001), further attempts at finding an audience for its monster movies were either critical or financial disappointments, sometimes both. Van Helsing (2004) was a financial success for the time at $300 million worldwide, but after negative reviews it failed to launch a proposed franchise. Likewise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Empire (2008) did solid business, though it was the lowest grossing of the franchise at $401 million worldwide. Universal opted not to go forward with a fourth film that would have seen the O’Connells face off against Aztec mummies in South America with Antonio Banderas playing the villain, and instead set its sights on a cinematic universe. In hindsight, Universal likely would have fared better with its ambitious crossover if it'd had Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) team-up to face off against a supernatural threat with Stephen Sommers at the helm. But alas, Universal moved on to The Wolfman (2010) and Dracula Untold (2014), neither of which did the kind of business to build a franchise on. None of these aforementioned movies are bad. Flawed and somewhat dated, sure, but they are each entertaining entries, mostly lacking in scares but employing a certain expensive B-movie charm. Universal’s greatest fault during these years was attempting to compete with superhero movies. This came to a head with the ill-fated Dark Universe.

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6:17 AM on October 28, 2019 
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