In the history of cinema, the 2010s will probably be written as the age of the shared universe. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has inspired every studio in Hollywood to attempt to create their own interconnected franchises. Warner Bros. has three with the DCEU made up of their various DC heroes, The MonsterVerse which brings together the Godzilla and King Kong franchises, and Conspiracy universe, which is arguably the second most successful cinematic universe after the MCU.
However, before all of this, Universal Studios pioneered the idea successfully in the 1930s and 40s with their Universal Monsters brand, which often saw the various monsters cross paths and fight each other. It was hugely popular, and even over 60 years after their original releases, these movies and characters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Invisible Man, Mummy) still speak to audiences. Their images have become iconic and known around the world. So it only made sense for Universal Pictures to try to use these different monsters to create a new shared universe, and their plan was dubbed The Dark Universe.
The dark universe begins – and ends
Getting a little unceremonious kick off with 2014 Unspeakable Draculathe project really started to take shape with the 2017 release with The Mummy with Tom Cruise. The Mummy The franchise has already been successfully rebooted once into a profitable franchise, and with Tom Cruise being one of the biggest action stars on the planet, Universal Studios has been pushing its plans for a new franchise full steam ahead. They created a special logo, unveiled a publicity photo showcasing the movie star talent they’ve acquired, and The Mummy for a first summer release date. Everything seemed ready to go, but once the audience saw The Mummy everything changed.
The Mummy received negative reviews from critics and audiences, and on its opening weekend it came in at number two at the box office behind Wonderwoman, which was in its second weekend. The Mummy only made $80 million domestically (it was slightly offset by a worldwide haul of $409 million), but it turned out that The Dark Universe was dead before it even started. Universal spent the summer of 2017 trying to save the franchise, but by the end of the year it seemed like everyone had moved on and all new adaptations and reimaginings of classic monsters would be standalone pictures. With how much Universal Pictures was betting on this new franchise, they released plenty of titles and details about their plans. Here is a list of all canceled movies in Universal’s Dark Universe.
In 2004, Universal attempted to revive its brand of classic monsters with the film Van Helsing and brought The Mummy and The return of the mummy director Stephen Sommers to hopefully recapture that magic for Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. Despite a massive marketing push and star power like Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, the film was a box office disappointment.
However, Universal seemed interested in revisiting the idea, as in 2012 it was reported that the studio was considering a reboot alongside The Mummy in the early stages of what would become The Dark Universe. Initially, Tom Cruise was to play the role of Van Helsing, but he eventually moved on to The Mummy. In 2017, it was reported that Universal Pictures was considering Channing Tatum for the role, but a few months later Universal dropped their original Dark Universe plans.
Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man
Universal Pictures had been developing a new version of The Invisible Man since at least 2006, but the project really picked up steam in February 2016 when Johnny Depp signed on to play the titular character. Ed Solomon (men in black) has been configured to write the script, and it has been confirmed that The invisible Man would take place in the next shared universe that Universal Studios was planning. Depp was seen in the Dark Universe publicity photo released in 2017 alongside The Mummy stars Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella and Russell Crowe, as well as Javier Bardem who had signed on to play Frankenstein’s monster.
However, the combination of The Mummy’s Box office disappointment and disturbing headlines surrounding Depp and his divorce from star Amber Heard led to the project being scrapped. It was eventually reworked into the smaller standalone version released in 2020 by producer Jason Blum, a modern feminist horror classic that grossed $143.1 million worldwide.
The Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback
While not immediately iconic members of the Universal Monsters, Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback are two of Universal Picture’s oldest cinematic monsters. Universal Pictures released two versions of The Phantom of the Opera, the first in 1925 with Lon Chaney and a remake in 1943 with Claude Rains. Universal Pictures is out The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 which also featured Lon Chaney as the titular monster.
Although no official plans have been made regarding these two projects, the architect of Dark Universe and The Mummy Director Alex Kurtzman named both characters as monsters the franchise wanted to explore.
Dwayne Johnson’s Wolf Man
The Wolf Man is part of Universal’s trinity of movie monsters, alongside Dracula and Frankenstein. Universal Pictures had been working on a remake for years that went through various directors and release dates which was finally released in 2010 titled The werewolf and starred Benicio Del Toro. The film was a box office and critical disappointment, but with a new shared universe that would unite the various monsters, The werewolf was definitely a priority. Although no release date was ever set for The werewolf and no director ever signed on, Dwyane Johnson was rumored to be the studio’s first choice Interesting Johnson had already played a new universal monster The Scorpion King in 2001 The return of the mummyand the spin-off movie The Scorpion King.
The new version of The werewolf never materialized and once the concept of The Dark Universe was scrapped, the project became a standalone film. Now it will star Ryan Gosling in the lead role.
Black Lagoon Creature
Of all the universal monsters, Black Lagoon Creature has been the one Universal Studios has had the most difficulty with over the years. Back in the ’90s, long before plans for the Dark Universe were made, John Carpenter, Peter Jackson, and Ivan Reitman were all approached to direct a remake. In 2002, Guillermo Del Toro signed on to direct the remake and wanted to tell it from the creature’s perspective. Del Toro was released, but he eventually turned this concept into a 2017 film The shape of water which won Best Picture at that year’s Oscars. In 2005 Breck Eisner signed on but the Writers Guild of America Strike delayed the project again.
Within the dark universe, Black Lagoon Creature was one of the planned movies as the hand of a Gil-Man type creature can be seen in The Mummy. Will Beall was hired to write the film, and rumors swirled that the studio was considering Scarlett Johansson for the lead role. Since the collapse of The Dark Universe, no plans have been made regarding the Black Lagoon Creature.
Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein is the film that came closest to the screens before the box office bombshell of The Mummy derails the whole movie. David Koepp, the writer behind jurassic park and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, signed on to write the film in 2015 with the script beginning in the 1870s, and later in the film, The Bride Would Awaken in the Present Day. Bill Condon fresh off the box office hit of 2017 The beauty and the Beastsigned to lead Bride of Frankenstein with a release date set for Valentine’s Day 2019. The film would star Angelina Jolie as Frankenstein’s Bride and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster.
In October 2017, shortly before filming began, production was delayed to work on the script in response to the critical and box office failure of The Mummy This summer. The production delay meant they could lose Jolie and the studio considered taking over from Gal Gadot. Despite meeting with production heads in 2018, plans for the Dark Universe were scrapped and Bride of Frankenstein became another high-profile project with a lot of headlines that never came to fruition.