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Has the Dark Universe Been Buried?

Universal Pictures’ cinematic empire of monster movies is in jeopardy, which you probably already knew if you watched ‘The Mummy’

Tom Cruise Getty Images

You may have wasted two hours of your time this summer watching The Mummy, the Tom Cruise–led reboot that is neither vintage horror, like the original 1932 film, nor campy fun like Brendan Fraser’s excellent entries (don’t @ me). The 2017 take on The Mummy is probably best remembered for a trailer accidentally released by IMAX with some audio problems that turned Cruise into an even better version of the Wilhelm scream. The film was also, inexplicably, the start of Universal Pictures’ “Dark Universe,” a cinematic empire of the studio’s monster movies in the mold of Marvel, in which the Nick Fury equivalent was somehow Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

It turns out The Mummy—with abysmal reviews and a tepid box office output for its high expectations—might’ve already sent the Dark Universe back into a coffin. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Dark Universe is in jeopardy after the franchise’s architects, Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, stepped away to focus on other projects. This comes after Universal pulled the next planned installment, Bride of Frankenstein, from the studio’s release schedule, losing potential lead Angelina Jolie in the process.

“We've learned many lessons throughout the creative process on Dark Universe so far, and we are viewing these titles as filmmaker-driven vehicles, each with their own distinct vision,” Universal president of production Peter Cramer told the Reporter. “We are not rushing to meet a release date and will move forward with these films when we feel they are the best versions of themselves.”

So the Dark Universe is most likely dead, before viewers were treated to a “new world of gods and monsters” that included the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp, who should still follow the monster’s lead), Frankenstein’s Monster (Javier Bardem), Dr. Jekyll, thrill-seeker Nick Morton (Cruise), and the Mummy (Sofia Boutella). At least we’ll always have this literally dark still of middle-aged men and Boutella.

Granted, it’s not the most crippling financial blow to Universal, which is doing well for itself between the revamped Jurassic World franchise and the seemingly never-ending Fast & Furious movies (assuming Tyrese doesn’t lead an open revolt). However, it’s the most high-profile failure of a studio attempting to emulate Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, which essentially invented the concept and has transformed it into an unflappable empire.

Imitating Marvel’s formula seems like a great gambit, but Universal’s learned the hard way that you need more than recognized IP and big-name stars to turn a cinematic universe into a foolproof commercial property—just ask DC Entertainment. And now the Dark Universe may fade into obscurity, in spite of Cruise’s anguished screams.