Dark Universe, we hardly knew ye! After the disappointing performance of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy this summer (the film earned a paltry $80 million at the domestic box office against a production budget of $125 million), there was speculation that Universal’s ambitious Dark Universe franchise would not proceed as planned. Then came the news that the studio had pulled the plug on pre-production of Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein. Now, things have gone from bad to worse! The Hollywood Reporter just broke the news that writers/producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan have officially left the project. Kurtzman directed The Mummy, and the duo were initially brought on board to oversee production of the entire cinematic universe, which once promised to feature the likes of Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, and Anjelina Jolie in future installments.
Kurtzman’s contract with Universal lapsed in September, and he is currently working under a contract with CBS which includes Star Trek: Discovery and several other new programs. Morgan is currently working for Universal on a Fast and Furious spinoff movie featuring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. In the meantime, Universal is considering a very different direction for its beloved monsters franchise instead of its intended inter-connected “Marvel-style” cinematic universe. Peter Cramer, the studio’s president of production, had this to say about the studio’s new focus for the series:
“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. 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.”
According to THR, Jason Blum (Get Out, Split) was mentioned as a potential visionary producer to possibly take on one or more of the studio’s beloved characters. One perplexing element of this statement is that Bill Condon’s take on Bride of Frankenstein seems like it would have been the very definition of a “filmmaker-driven vehicle,” considering Condon’s sophisticated knowledge of the life and works of James Whale (director of the original film) along with the incredible financial success of his take on Beauty and the Beast earlier this year. The studio heads seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouths by shutting down production on Bride and then claiming they’re looking for visionary directors to tackle these projects.
A fresh start may be just the right thing for this struggling franchise, and lower-budget filmmaker-driven entries in the series may end up being much more successful than The Mummy, which tried to appeal to everyone with its generic PG-13 approach to filmmaking. I stated in May that Universal Monsters fans deserve their very own La La Land, and we just might see something like that with this recent development. At this point, what does the studio have to lose?