Universal Pictures is in an interesting spot. The Mummy, the first film in their oddly titled Dark Universe (it’s odd because it’s an action-oriented series of films, thus far rather light on the whole, dark element of storytelling) arrived on June 9th and promptly tanked stateside.
The film opened to the tune of $31 million… against a $125 million budget and a rumored $100 million promotional campaign.
We weren’t kidding with that whole ‘tanking’ statement.
International markets have been far kinder to the picture, as it has picked up an additional $239 million in countries that apparently missed the myriad of awkward and uncomfortable Tom Cruise moments that unraveled over a number of years here stateside (he probably produced an epic blunder somewhere outside of the United States, but I don’t honestly care enough to seek it out). And it’s good that it’s doing well somewhere. And interestingly enough, it could be good that it’s doing so poorly here, in the US.
How in the world could a kamikaze dive be beneficial in any way, you ask? Universal might (it’s a really, really, really unlikely scenario) just change their approach and, for a change of pace, actually listen to the fans. The same fans that have been calling for Universal to treat their monsters with some respect, for years.
The Mummy gives us an idea that not even action fans (at least not American ones) want to watch horror movies heavily drenched in explosive action sequences and embarrassingly light on horrific moments.
I can poke fun at Tom Cruise for a year, straight, but at the end of the day, there are still plenty of action fans that enjoy the work Cruise does. The last Mission: Impossible movie made nearly $700 million across the globe, and nearly $200 million in the US. The foreign cinematic (Lee Child has some steam behind his novels) brand, Jack Reacher didn’t make a killing, but it did $218 million worldwide against a $60 million budget. Oblivion wasn’t a success in the US, but it still managed to sell nearly $300 million worldwide.
Tom Cruise, outside of the Mission: Impossible brand really isn’t the financial safety net some may have you believe, but he’s not at the forefront of frequent south-of-$20 million duds, either. In regard to international landscapes, he’s still something of a draw.
So, all of that is to say – in a long and kind of pointless way – that despite dismal US figures, The Mummy will probably end up making just enough money to ensure Universal moves forward with their planned second entry in the Dark Universe, the extremely oddly timed, Bride of Frankenstein.
Bride of Frankenstein gives us a chance to steer away from Tom Cruise, and we should. The Mummy isn’t failing because of Tom Cruise exclusively, and the future of the Dark Universe’s progress isn’t in question because of Cruise exclusively, either. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it reaches beyond the starting point of Universal’s new experiment… like the really strange decision to follow The Mummy up not with original immediate Universal Monster follow-up, 1933’s Invisible Man (which, interestingly enough, is already in the works with another A-class performer, Johnny Depp, in the cast’s driver’s seat), and not with one of the titles that may come across as “more marquee,” like The Mummy’s preceding success stories Frankenstein (1931), or Dracula (1931), or even the popular The Wolfman (1941), but Bride of Frankenstein, which came to life in the midst of those titles, in 1935.
Bride of Frankenstein (which, in another jaw-dropping decision, is going to be directed by Twilight and Beauty and the Beast director, Bill Condon), for those who haven’t seen it and can’t put the pieces together, serves up as an immediate sequel (and one of the greatest sequels, and most important horror films in existence) to James Whale’s first franchise flick, Frankenstein. You know, the movie that, sequentially speaking, seems like the obvious next play.
Hell, rewinding the clock to 1925 and getting the Dark Universe closer in line with the original arrangement of films by introducing The Phantom of the Opera (Universal’s first big “monster” pic) even makes more sense than tackling The Bride of Frankenstein… which is, again… a sequel!
That’s a weird maneuver from Universal, and one may say it implies that fans don’t even know enough to realize that before Frankenstein’s bride was cruising around Universal sets, Frankenstein’s monster was.
Well, a lot of us horror fanatics – the group of consumers Universal should be targeting, and the same group of consumers who showed up to theaters in droves large enough to make movies like The Conjuring pictures, the Insidious pictures, a handful of Paranormal Activity pictures and half of the Saw franchise, to name a few random, fairly recent titles off the top, some of the most profitable commercial releases in years – actually know our horror. We actually value integrity, and we value the original horror films that these Universal titles are based on.
For some strange reason, it looks like Universal is terrified to make one of their monster movies an actual monster movie. Their insistence in doing everything they can to siphon the horror elements from their original horror titles is bewildering. I think a lot of fans (myself included) find it a little offensive.
Who the hell are you targeting with these films?
Fans of Fast & Furious and Jason Bourne flicks?
If I want to watch an action movie, I’ll go watch an action movie. Better yet, if I want to watch a cinematic action “universe,” I’ll tune into the already established and ironed out works of Marvel, or even the shaky beginnings – but promising future – of DC’s universe. It’s easier to buy into someone like Superman leaping across a giant sinkhole in the earth than it is someone like Frankenstein, anyway.
Apparently, none of those things matter to Universal. They’ve either grown fully content with putting out neutered material, they’re grinning ear-to-ear at the idea of blatantly ripping off a few other major companies, already deep into seriously established overlapping realms, or they don’t have the hint of a clue as to how to read their fans.
For the sake of history, and the monsters that made a lot of us fall in love with the horror genre, I’m going to opt to believe in the third option. The other two possibilities are simply too disrespectful (news flash: it’s the consumer that’s lining your pockets) to contemplate for too long.