It was a bold move, announcing a full, connected, star-studded franchise before releasing a single movie. But that's what Universal did earlier this winter with the monster-centric Dark Universe. Then The Mummy came out. Now, it seems things may already be coming apart at the seams.
Alex Kurtzman and Russell Crowe on the set of The Mummy. Image: Universal
One of the franchise's architects, Mummy director Alex Kurtzman, was recently asked by IGN if he would be continuing with the franchise, and he said the following:
You know the truth is, I don't know. I really don't know. I haven't really decided. Is the honest answer.
That's a pretty surprising statement from one of the two people credited with shepherding the whole universe. He's also one of the two people (along with Chris Morgan) who said the following when the Dark Universe was announced back in May:
When Universal approached us with the idea of reimagining these classic characters, we recognised the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures. The studio and our fellow creative collaborators have championed and challenged us as we've begun to spin the web of Dark Universe. It's our hope these movies will engross longtime fans and spark the imaginations of brand-new ones.
That doesn't feel like the statement of a producer planning to be one and done. Of course, that was said before The Mummy was released. The film grossed barely $US80 million ($100 million) in the US and received only 16 per cent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. (We were not one of them.) Internationally, The Mummy has fared better, grossing about $US318 million ($399 million) and counting, but those still aren't numbers that scream "franchise starter".
Nevertheless, director Bill Condon is full speed ahead on the next Dark Universe film, Bride of Frankenstein, which is scheduled for a 2019 release. Plus, Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem have been cast alongside Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe for other movies. (Dwayne Johnson and Angelina Jolie have also been rumoured to possibly join the franchise).
Kurtzman's quote seemingly puts some of that in question, though. We contacted his representatives for clarification and they didn't comment. We also contacted Universal, who had not responded for comment at time of writing.
The good thing for everyone involved is that Kurtzman doesn't really have to make a decision soon. There won't be a second Dark Universe movie until Valentine's Day 2019. We don't know how involved he is, if at all, in that movie, but Condon is coming off the year's biggest film so far, Beauty and the Beast. There's no doubt he's got his own vision — one that means the studio, producers and others involved really don't have to make any other decisions until his film gets further into production or is released. That's well over a year away, so Kurtzman could, hypothetically, remove himself from the franchise for a while, see how it goes, and then come back if Bride is a hit.
Either way, it's clear the disappointment of The Mummy has made a lot of people reconsider what the Dark Universe will be — including one of its architects.