Universal’s monster-themed Dark Universe might be dead after its architects quit

Just five months after Universal Pictures officially announced its plans for an interconnected cinematic universe based on the studio’s classic monster properties, the Dark Universe could be headed to an early grave.

Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the writer and producer duo tasked with shepherding the studio’s monster movie-verse, have exited their roles as the architects of the Dark Universe. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the pair’s departure comes at a time when the extensive offices set up on the studio lot for developing the cinematic universe remain empty. No release dates are currently assigned to any of the high-profile projects the studio announced in May 2017.

The next film in the cinematic universe was initially expected to be Bride of Frankenstein, with Beauty and the Beast filmmaker Bill Condon attached as the film’s writer and director and Angelina Jolie being courted to play the titular lead role. Jolie eventually lost interest after development slowed on the project, and Universal shelved the film — abandoning its planned February 14, 2019, release date — in early October.

Other films planned as part of the cinematic universe were expected to feature Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. Additional films based on The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dracula, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon were also mentioned. Russell Crowe’s dual-personality character who debuted in The Mummy, Dr. Henry Jekyll, was intended to serve as a lynchpin between all the films as he led the efforts of the mysterious organization Prodigium in finding, studying, and dealing with supernatural threats around the world.

The official announcement of the studio’s Dark Universe was accompanied by a photo of Crowe, Bardem, Depp, and The Mummy stars Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella together, heralding the ambitious cundertaking.

Those plans seemed to change, however, after The Mummy proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment for the studio. The film earned just $80.1 million domestically, but the damage was mitigated somewhat by its worldwide gross of $409.1 million. Still, the film earned Cruise some of the worst reviews of his career, and the movie’s $125 million price tag didn’t help matters.

“We’ve learned many lessons throughout the creative process on Dark Universe so far, and we are viewing these titles as filmmaker-driven vehicles, each with their own distinct vision,” said Peter Cramer, Universal’s president of production, in a statement to THR. “We are not rushing to meet a release date and will move forward with these films when we feel they are the best versions of themselves.”

The studio now faces a choice between looking for a new filmmaker (or filmmakers) to take on the cinematic universe, or starting over with an eye toward turning them into smaller, lower-budget films.

Kurtzman, who co-wrote and directed The Mummy, has reportedly headed back to television to continue in his role as a producer on Star Trek: Discovery. Morgan will shift his attention from monsters to the world of Universal’s Fast and the Furious films after penning the screenplays for every entry in the wildly successful action franchise since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

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