Universal is the latest studio trying to get in on the cinematic universe craze that Disney and Marvel kickstarted almost a decade ago, getting ready to kickstart its Dark Universe. The new cinematic world is based on classic movie monsters that Universal owns the rights to, and it’s evident there’s a lot riding on the success of this movie.
Universal has slowly been announcing additions to its universe, but as of yesterday, there are eight films in the universe — including one that hasn’t even debuted yet. Ahead of The Mummy’s release this weekend, director Alex Kurtzman spoke to Fandom about what Universal has planned.
“We know we’re going to do Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man.”
To put it into perspective, before Marvel launched its own cinematic universe, they had plans for a few movies. It started with Iron Man in 2008. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor made up the cinematic universe, with the entire team culminating for the first time in 2012 for The Avengers.
In 2011, Feige was asked by NBC about the cinematic universe and how he approached making it. At the time, Feige said he tried to focus on the movies as individual films in their own franchise, admitting that he was concerned about how the fate of the universe would play out if the first movie didn’t perform.
“I think if one doesn't do as well as the other, because they are essentially stand-alone movies, they'll still be okay,” Feige said. “But I certainly feel a little bit of what the New Line people must've felt back in the day, going, 'All right, we've got three "Lord of the Rings" movies – What if this first one doesn't work?'”
Feige added that one of his biggest worries was continuing the universe when it didn’t need to be continued.
“I would start to be turned off to the whole idea if it ever started to feel like a gimmick. Like Tony Stark saying 'Oh, Pepper, I've hurt my leg – let me go see this doctor. Oh hello, Dr. Strange.' I don't think that there will be a lot of cause of that kind of thing. But there are opportunities, like Hawkeye in Thor and Black Widow in Iron Man, if it serves the story anyway, to have a nod in there. I do see 'The Avengers' franchise as something in which other Avenger characters might make their first appearance in an Avengers movie. Then maybe if audiences respond to them they could spinout into their own movies.”
It wasn’t a light decision for Feige to kickstart an entire universe, but it was the overwhelming success of those films that made other studios look around and try to figure out how they could build their own universes. In 2014, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsuijihara announced that the studio had plans to release 10 DC movies between 2016 and 2020 following the financial success of Man of Steel. Trying to catch up to Marvel, which began its cinematic universe in 2008, the studio was gearing up to release at least two movies a year for the next four years, introducing all of its major characters with its fourth movie, Justice League.
Unlike Marvel, DC and Warner Bros.’ first movies, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, didn’t receive the critical acclaim the studio was hoping for. It wasn’t until Wonder Woman this past weekend that Warner Bros. finally got a DC movie that performed well at the box office — pulling in more than $100 million domestically — and was acclaimed by critics. Part of the reason that DC has had these issues and Marvel has succeeded, according to X-Men: Apocalypse writer and producer Simon Kinberg, is because of Feige.
“It's a complicated thing to be telling even one story, but to be telling multiple stories that are all part of a single tapestry and to keep that all straight — I think it helps to have a person who is balancing that all in their head and is a storyteller," Kinberg told the LA Times. "Kevin [Feige] is a storyteller in my mind, very much so.”
For Universal’s Dark Universe to work, the studio needs to have someone like Feige — or even DC’s Zack Snyder — who is overseeing the entire universe. Someone who can ensure that the films work as stand-alone features and don’t just rely on gimmicky grabs for the audience, like the ones that Feige spoke about earlier.
Universal is all in on these films. Even if The Mummy flops — and with projections of a $35 million opening weekend it just might — Universal is going to continue producing these films. That being said, the film has already seen a record day opening in Korea and there’s a chance that, like Pacific Rim, the film could perform well overseas, even if being considered a letdown in North America.
In order for the movies to work, however, Universal should look at its popular franchises and learn from those; specifically the Fast and the Furious.
The reason The Fast and the Furious franchise works so well is because each individual film can stand on its own. There are some that are worse than others, to be sure, but it feels cohesive. Each film was worked on individually and the franchise eventually bloomed into the multi-billion dollar world that it is. It’s only now that the Fast and Furious franchise has begun to feel like its own world, instead of a string of stand-alone movies.
Universal’s Dark Universe could work, but it all starts with The Mummy. It’s much easier to kickstart a universe if your first film has the success of Iron Man instead of worrying about the second and third entries picking up the slack.