On paper, Universal’s plan for the Dark Universe, a franchise built out of various monster-film properties, seemed like a potentially solid idea. The studio planned to revisit some of cinema’s classic horror films, setting them in an interconnected universe like Marvel’s superhero franchise, and potentially reaping the benefits of box-office smash after box-office smash. However, after The Mummy debuted to disappointing reviews and lower-than-expected ticket sales, the two writers in charge of the franchise have departed, and Universal is reportedly re-evaluating the Dark Universe’s future.
Universal had extensive plans for the franchise. The Bride of Frankenstein was meant to follow The Mummy in 2019. They would be joined by new versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man, and Phantom of the Opera. Those plans seem to have stalled. In October, Universal put Bride of Frankenstein on hold, and today, The Hollywood Reporter says Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the architects of the franchise, have moved on to other projects. Kurtzman is focusing on his work with CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, while Morgan is still working with Universal on its Fast and Furious films.
THR notes that Universal is exploring a couple of options, which include finding a new person to spearhead the project, or offering “the IP to high-profile filmmakers or producers (Jason Blum has been mentioned) with ideas for one-off movies not connected to a larger universe.” For the moment, though, the entire project seems to be stalled out, although not off the table completely. It’s a far cry from its hyped launch in May, which included a star-studded Photoshopped group photo of Javier Bardem, Sophia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, and Johnny Depp as the faces of the franchise.
What Universal seems to have realized (for the second time) is that developing a massive, overarching franchise is not an easy prospect. And it doesn’t help when a series’ component films are rushed into production, and debut with weak stories that can’t bear the weight of the series they’re designed to kick off. Thus far, only Disney has made a successful model out of the multi-platform film franchise, with its Star Wars and Marvel Universe series. DC Comics has recently begun to scale back its own Expanded Universe following the success of Wonder Woman as a largely standalone film, while other planned franchises have sputtered out.
Universal says The Bride of Frankenstein is still in the works, even though it no longer has a release date. But without a chief architect to oversee the direction of the series, like Kathleen Kennedy for Star Wars, or Kevin Feige with Marvel, it’s unlikely that we’re going to see this iteration of the universe shamble into theaters anytime soon.