It wouldn’t be bold to say that Hollywood is downright obsessed with franchises. It’s the easiest way to make a lot of money with minimal effort, keeps a studio afloat for decades at a time, and typically involves adapting an already-formed story with a built-in audience. It’s why we got a reboot of Ghostbusters, why The Hunger Games needlessly split the final book into two movies, and it’s the reason behind Lucasfilm’s promise to make Star Wars a “forever franchise.” Over at Universal, the franchise craze has led to a plan that’s risky at best and, at worst, is just plain bad.
Already in charge of the Fast and Furious movies, Despicable Me/Minions, and Jurassic Park/World, the studio’s next planned franchise involves a slew of classic movie monsters adapted for modern audiences. It’ll be led by Alex Kurtzman (Fringe, Transformers) and Chris Morgan (Furious 7), and its film lineup will include (in order) the Mummy, Dracula, Van Helsing, Bride of Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. All of these characters will exist in a Marvel-esque shared universe, giving us a new movie every year starting in 2016.
Universal has actually attempted this before, but fell flat on its face when 2014’s Dracula Untold flopped both critically (22% on Rotten Tomatoes) and at the box office ($56 million domestic gross on a $70 million budget). Apparently, its initial failure has only emboldened the studio further, with ambitious plans for a franchise that in all honesty really shouldn’t exist. It’s bad enough that Universal is aping Marvel’s expanded universe with whatever scraps it has lying around. What’s even worse is that it’s tainting the legacy of cinema’s greatest horror movie monsters to capitalize on a passing fad.
Part of why Marvel and DC can pretty much exist indefinitely is that they have an expansive source material that dates back over the last 60 plus years. Their characters were originally designed to exist in a story that quite literally never ends, and it doesn’t feel unnatural to have them exist in perpetuity. If comic books could remain a part of pop culture for over half a century, it seems reasonable to assume that a big budget film franchise could do the same. Universal’s stable of movie monsters though? Those all came about in an era of cinema where the term “shared universe” didn’t exist.
If Dracula Untold taught us one thing, it’s that these characters aren’t enough of a draw in and of themselves. People aren’t counting down the days to 2016’s Mummy movie, because no one really cares all that much about that fandom. Disney made Star Wars and Marvel the most lucrative franchises in film history because they actually possess a built-in audience dating back decades. What Universal is doing is creating supply sans demand and hoping that the shared universe factor will be enough to score a huge box office take.
More realistically, Universal will find itself with a dud of a film series sooner rather than later. Blockbuster season this year is already a crowded field, with the following lineup: Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Assassin’s Creed. There’s simply no room for Universal’s plans in the midst of far more popular and well-established franchises. Knowing all this, don’t be surprised if 2016’s Mummy movie is as far as Universal gets. [Update, 10/25/16: ‘The Mummy’ is now scheduled to be released in June 2017, per IMDb.]
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