Although it feels like hundreds of years ago, back in 2017, Universal Studios took a look around at their competitors in Hollywood and wondered, “What do we have that can become the next cinematic universe?” After all, Disney has Star Wars and the entire Marvel lineup, and Warner Brothers has DC, though DC is continually suffering from their own course corrections. Even Legendary has King Kong and Godzilla; there are even plans for their debut title fight next year.
Universal opened their back catalog and found all the classic monster movies from between the 1920s and 50s; titles like The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, and Dracula, to name a few. So, they rang up Alex Kurtzman, writer of films like Transformers and Stark Trek: Into Darkness, and told him to make a hip, modern action thriller starring Tom Cruise, and then sell it as a reboot of The Mummy.
Of course, The Mummy (2017) was an enormous failure for Universal Studios, who banked on the star power of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe to draw in a massive international market. Even worse, the studio planned to use the film to create, what they called, the “Dark Universe”; a cinematic universe that would intertwine all of Universal’s classic monsters that very much followed in Marvel’s footsteps. And it wasn’t all talk, either; a cast photo of this universe, featuring the aforementioned Cruise and Crowe, also had Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem. Depp was set to play the Invisible Man, and Bardem, Frankenstein’s monster. But after barely breaking even domestically and internationally combined, coupled with terrible critic and audience scores, the Dark Universe crumbled before Universal’s eyes. And for the past few years, any time that image of the cast popped back up, people just laughed at the studio’s hubris.
But this year, the naysayers were proven wrong. At the end of February, The Invisible Man, a collaboration between Universal and Blumhouse Productions, was released. Blumhouse has been extremely successful in the past decade with horror franchises like The Conjuring and Insidious, and with their help, Universal decided to move towards lower-budget, serialized films based on their intellectual property. Made on a modest seven million dollars, The Invisible Man was a huge critical and commercial success, thanks to clever directing and outstanding performances. Now, it seems, Universal has the upper hand, with their announcement that Ryan Gosling will lead their next film, Wolfman.
Gosling reportedly pitched his own idea to the studio for the film, which fell in line with their vision, resulting in it being slated as the next Universal monster movie for release. Although the project is currently looking for a director, a script has been co-penned by Lauren Schuker Blum (married to studio head Jason Blum and writer on Orange is the New Black).
Wolfman is gearing up to follow the same path as The Invisible Man: take a very talented actor, spare every expense, and hire a green director with something to prove. Although nothing from the script has been revealed for Wolfman, it’s fair to say that both studios seem to understand that solid character drama and realism are the backbone of any horror film. Shockingly, we have Universal Studios to thank for bringing the eclectic world of horror fandom into the mainstream.