Cinematic shared universes are all the current rage. Marvel made it the “in” thing with its superhero universe with separate character films and then the occasional ensemble blockbuster. DC followed suit with MAN OF STEEL serving as a launch point with its new universe. J.K. Rowling launched a Harry Potter expanded world this year with FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. Even Lucasfilm is joining the fray as ROGUE ONE begins to open up the STAR WARS universe with the first of its non-saga films. So why not bring back one of the original cinematic shared universes? Universal has a plan for that and their monsters.
If there is one thing that the studio is famous for, it’s their monsters. From the 1920s on, they created some of the most iconic cinema monsters in history with movies; with such fantastic characters like The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein. It allowed people like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Claude Rains to be household names. While each has been resurrected and rebooted a few times on their own, a shared universe hasn’t existed for many decades.
In 2014 Universal announced that the upcoming reboots of their monsters would share the same universe, starting with reshoots of DRACULA UNTOLD that would allow it to be part of the universe. The first teaser for the full-length film of this universe, THE MUMMY, was released recently, preparing the world for the upcoming invasion of monsters.
While individual films will introduce the characters, there has been very little information about how the monsters will interact with each other in the future. Now that the new monster universe is taking form, let’s take a look at what we know about the monsters returning to the big screen.
DRACULA UNTOLD: There were reported reshoots done for Vlad the Impaler’s origin story to allow for cameos in the future, but with the critical and commercial failure of the film in domestic markets, it was decided to leave Dracula from the official shared universal canon, with Alex Kurtzman telling Collider: “Dracula Untold. Canon or not?” “No.” “Good.”
THE MUMMY: While the first two movies of Stephen Sommer franchise featuring Brendan Fraser’s treasure hunting Rick O’Connell facing off against a resurrected Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep were successes, Universal has traded its 1920s adventure for the modern ages. Tom Cruise is part of a team that is responsible for digging up and transporting said mummy and comes face to face with the long-deceased Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella,) who is hell-bent on taking over the world. This version of THE MUMMY will be less tongue-in-cheek as the Sommers films were, relying on gravity-defying action and thrilling intensity. Check out the recently released teaser trailer to find out for yourself. THE MUMMY is set to come out summer of 2017.
THE INVISIBLE MAN: In early 2016 it was announced that THE INVISIBLE MAN was on target to be remade as well. This time, Johnny Depp is said to be inhabiting the titular role. Based on the H.G. Wells novel and being penned by Ed Solomon, there has been no announced director to this point. It will be interesting to see which Johnny Depp we get, the over the top Depp who has portrayed his more colorful characters, or the serious, grounded Depp that could really bring out the tragedy of Dr. Griffin. THE INVISIBLE MAN is set for a 2018 release.
VAN HELSING: While leaving audiences split on the Hugh Jackman-led adventure, VAN HELSING was Universal and Stephen Sommers first foray into trying to bring together the universal monsters. Originally conceived as a franchise, the idea of sequels was left to ashes. Nowt Universal once again wants to bring the nemesis of Dracula to life, and as screenwriter Jon Spaihts explained to Collider, it takes place in the present day:
“It’s a new creation, so it doesn’t owe much of a debt to prior films, but it is still a very romantic departure from the character as incepted in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, where it was a Dutch doctor who figures out a very surprising answer to an odd medical question. This is a monster hunter with encyclopedic knowledge, but it’s set in the present day and it’s just filled with good stuff I’m not allowed to talk about. But I’m very excited about this new incarnation of Van Helsing, and I hope that as the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe begins to take flight, we’ll see him cropping up in other stories, as well.”
This is one of the few Universal monster movies that doesn’t have a star attached to it. There is also, at this point, no director or release date announced as well.
THE WOLFMAN: Another reboot that didn’t resonate well, 2010’s THE WOLFMAN with Benicio Del Toro left audiences wanting. Not deterred, Universal is trying again for a shot in 2018. While rumors have swirled that the ever-busy Dwayne Johnson was being eyed for the man-turned-monster, there have been no official announcements for a star or director. In October, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Dave Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES 1 and 2, GODZILLA) will be rewriting the script for the film.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: There are few images more iconic than the Gill-man (Ben Chapman) carrying Kay (Julie Adams) through the Black Lagoon, and has adorned classic horror fans walls ever since. It was announced by Cinema Blend last year that AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 writer Jeff Pinkner was hired to rewrite an already complete script of the film. It was reported around that time as well that Scarlett Johansson was offered the leading role, but to this day there has been no confirmation of star or director. The project itself has actually had a long and grinding history of starts and stops since the 80’s, with everyone from John Carpenter to Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson once involved. While Universal refuses to give up on the property, it will be interesting to see if there will be a renewed push if the shared universe is successful.
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: Perhaps the picture of Gill-man can only be outdone by the infamous scream of The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) screaming at the site of Frankenstein’s Monster. Something that iconic can’t be passed up in a new shared universe, with the remake being one of the first announced to be up for development. It was rumored that the studio wanted Angelina Jolie to star and direct the film, with ideas being passed around that Universal let he make the financial bombing BY THE SEA to ensure she’d be involved in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It was also announced that Javier Bardem was eyed to play the Monster.
Also of note is that during THE MUMMY’s new trailer, we catch a glimpse of Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll in the first confirmed crossover of characters, though there are no announced plans for a standalone film with the character.
It seems as if this shared universe will take place in modern times, in our world, so it will be interesting to see how the people of our time react to real monsters and the terror they will bring on them. It appears that Universal is wasting no time in assembling a cast of top-rated actors to inhabit their monsters and characters, so one would assume this time they’re not messing around. The first hint at how serious they’re taking this new shared universe will be with THE MUMMY next year, so until then we can only speculate.
How do you feel about a shared Universal monster world? Is there anyone you’d rather see in the roles announced so far? What are you hoping for in this new take on classic horror? We’ll certainly be looking out for any news on all of these films!