In the age of the shared cinematic universe, every studio is looking for their own mega-franchise to develop, but Universal’s Dark Universe property got off to a bad start earlier this month. Conceived as a reboot of Universal’s iconic monster characters, the series kicked off with The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. Despite the leading man’s history as one of the most convincing action heroes (always willing to go the extra mile for stunts), the movie struggled mightily when it reached theaters. Becoming the latest summer 2017 would-be tentpole to fall short of expectations, The Mummy has earned just $68.5 million domestically in three weeks. Even with a global total of $342.1 million, it’s estimated the project will cost Universal $95 million when it’s all said and done.
It was certainly not the start the studio was hoping for, as they have various Dark Universe films in development. Prior to The Mummy‘s release, they unveiled a cast photo that included famous faces such as Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp joining Cruise, and The Bride of Frankenstein is currently scheduled for a February 2019 premiere. However, the performance of The Mummy has some wondering if the franchise is doomed before it really even got off the ground, and if Universal is to forge ahead and keep it going, they’ll need to figure out why The Mummy came up short so they can try to course-correct for the future. Here are the main reasons why we feel The Mummy failed at the box office.
There’s no denying that some blockbuster titles are “critic proof,” meaning no matter how bad the reviews get, it will still turn a profit in the marketplace. That said, in recent years there has been some correlation between a movie’s critical reception and how it does at the box office. It’s probably no coincidence that the best-received productions of the year – such as Get Out, Logan, and Wonder Woman (among others) – have done very well in ticket sales. In contrast, potential blockbusters that failed to generate enthusiasm (King Arthur, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) stumbled out of the gate and weren’t able to pick up the pieces. Some of these went on to become egregious bombs, while others had to rely on the international box office for a majority of its grosses.
The Mummy clearly falls into the latter category. Many pundits wrote it off as a bland, messy start to a shared universe that forgot what made characters like the Mummy so memorable in the first place. The script was accused of being heavy on exposition and set-up for future installments, seemingly forgetting that its most pertinent issue was to make sure The Mummy itself was an engaging summer blockbuster. Because the film was widely panned (just 15% on Rotten Tomatoes), casual audiences were provided no real reason to rush out to the theater to see it. The original Mummy movies starring Brendan Fraser were solid hits when they were released, but the series didn’t necessarily leave the kind of cultural footprint needed to carry a reinterpretation such as this. Properties like Batman, James Bond, and Star Wars can release after years (or decades) between entries since there’s perpetual interest in them. The Mummy needed the reviews to be strong in order to give it a boost, and it came up well short in that department.
Additionally, Universal could not have picked a worse time to release The Mummy. Just one week before Cruise introduced audiences to the Dark Universe, Warner Bros. captured the zeitgeist with Wonder Woman. The DC Extended Universe’s latest installment was a triumphant critical smash, earning some of the best reviews of any comic book adaptation. Couple that with the overwhelming demand for a female-led superhero film in the modern era, there was much support for Wonder Woman and it demonstrated strong legs throughout its run (and continues to do well at the box office). Even WB was caught off-guard by its success, so one can only imagine how nervous Universal executives felt when they saw the numbers come in. Seeing that Wonder Woman earned more than $100 million in its first three days, The Mummy had an uphill climb as it tried to contend for the attention of the summer movie crowds.
The easy answer here is to simply make a better film next time – one that could pique the interest of critics and encourage audiences to see it. It’s easy to look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and think its crossovers and interconnectivity are to credit for its worldwide success, but Phase 1 projects like Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger needed to be of high-quality in order to establish momentum. At the time, the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were B-list superheroes and earned millions of fans by starring in entertaining movies. Seeing so many great characters join forces together in something like The Avengers is an exciting prospect, but viewers need to be on board with everything first.
Next Page: Tom Cruise Isn't a Box Office Draw Anymore
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