If you’re like me, you were caught a bit by surprise by the announcement that Universal Pictures would be launching an expanded universe based on its portfolio of classic monster movies stretching back to the 1920s: the so-called Dark Universe.
However, if you’re like most people on planet Earth, you missed this announcement entirely. The trailer launch for this bold new vision hasn’t even gotten 1 million views on YouTube.
Universal has produced dozens of these films — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, etc. — but only now are they combining them into a unified, long-form narrative, desperately trying to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, literally the most profitable film franchise of all time.
Recently, Universal released a dark, gritty, politically correct reboot of "The Mummy," starring Tom Cruise, intended to serve as the Iron Man of the Dark Universe. While reviews have been predictably awful and the domestic box office has been dour, Universal is committed to making this work. Media reports predict as many as 10 Dark Universe films now in some form of production, including the sure-to-sizzle “Untitled Hunchback of Notre-Dame film.”
Honestly the scariest monster here is the naked corporate cynicism in its marketing. The lead paragraph in the press release is mostly about its logo!
See, but as doomed to failure as this “Dark Universe” idea is — a name that itself smacks of as much focus-grouped desperation as 2013’s face-palmingly bad “Star Trek Into Darkness” — there’s no reason that Universal can’t have its own successful expanded cinematic universe. It’s sitting on a library of properties that stretch back almost 100 years, so let’s see what else we can find to help them out.
The most obvious candidate is "Jurassic Park."
Given the success of 2015’s "Jurassic World," as well as the enduring legacy of "Jurassic Park" (a movie I liked as a child and love as an adult), we have a trusted brand that could easily be folded into any other contemporary action series, like say
The Fast and the Furious movies, a series with very humble origins that is only improving with age.
This is a franchise that got good with its fifth installment. The formula seems to be fast cars, increasingly outrageous set pieces, and Vin Diesel and The Rock being awesome. If we could combine car chases with dinosaur chases, I think we might have something, particularly if we threw in
Yes, Universal owns the rights to the Bourne franchise. Granted, that cow seems to have stopped giving milk (or rather that spy seems to have stopped killing people with phone books), but perhaps our gritty spy thriller just needs some extra spice.
Now if you really want to drag some appeal into this Dark Universe, we could take advantage of its central actor: Russell Crowe is Dr. Jekyll (for some reason), serving as his universe’s Nick Fury. He will pop in and out of films enough to promote them but not enough to break their budgets. What we need is a film (or two!) where Dr. Jekyll must come face to face with his ancient Roman doppelganger: Maximus Decimus Meridius from Universal’s "Gladiator" — which won five Oscars, including best picture and best actor for Crowe. Adding in a Roman general definitely gives you a certain something.
But how could we bring a 2,000-year-old gladiator into the modern day? We’d need a time traveler, which is great because Universal also owns
Imagine it. Instead of showing up in a steampunk train with just his wife and kids (pfft), Doc Brown goes through time collecting as many of Universal’s heroes as he can to unite them against the greatest of all possible threats: a Jaws tornado.
OK, maybe not.
But all of this is just Universal’s movie stuff. When you look at Universal’s television properties, the options become even richer. They did "The Office," which of course I love, Battlestar Galactica, a franchise which has done nothing in almost a decade, and the classic "B.J. and the Bear" (1978-1981). So we could have the ultimate team up that would finally bring together bears, beets and Battlestar Galactica.
Now THAT would get me into theaters.
Jared is an award-winning writer who comments on the intersections of politics and culture. Reach him on Twitter @whitleypedia - or don't, since Twitter is stupid.