The Dark Universe has officially launched – now that Dracula Untold is being ignored – and it’s already off to a shaky start. While The Mummy is likely to break even in a financial sense, there’s no doubt that it’s been a disappointment, both to fans and the studio. The Tom Cruise headliner has received weak reviews and underwhelming domestic box-office, and even though Universal Studios has announced a whole slate of movies featuring their classic monsters in one shared world, there doesn’t seem to be much audience excitement surrounding them.
There’s still time to course correct, and if the forthcoming movies manage to get viewers on board, then perhaps the franchise will have some legs. The studio has also recruited A-list talent like Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem for The Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, respectively, so they’re definitely putting their money where their mouth is.
Universal has a rich back catalogue of monster movies to choose from, and they’ll no doubt try to recruit big names to fill in the roles. They’ve already hinted at some actors they’d like to collaborate with, and there are key roles that fans would love to see certain performers take on.
Time will tell if the Dark Universe will actually blossom, but in the meantime, let's daydream about how good it could be.
Charlize Theron is an actress who likes to mix things up, and she's equally at home in weighty dramas – think Dark Places or Monster -- as she is with genre fare like Prometheus or Mad Max: Fury Road. This has helped her avoid typecasting while giving her a chance to play a wide variety of characters. Her choices don’t always pan out, but even if the movie is disappointing, she’ll always bring her A-game.
Bride Of Frankenstein will be a true test for the Dark Universe, because if it fails, the whole slate is potentially doomed. They certainly picked the right director in Bill Condon, but the most important part will be the casting of the Bride herself.
While Angelina Jolie’s name has been thrown around, it seems unlikely; her interests seem to lie outside of movies these days (or behind the camera, if anything), so getting her to sign for a franchise is a big ask. Theron, on the other hand, would be perfect, since she has the acting skills and the respect of genre fans, and would be able to convey the tragedy of the role while delivering a memorable performance through the required make-up.
Andy Serkis has come to define what can be achieved with motion capture performances thanks to his groundbreaking work as Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings series. Since then, he’s built on that with scene-stealing work in 2005’s King Kong and as Caesar in the rebooted Planet Of The Apes series, in addition to working steadily outside the motion capture suit in movies like Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
Despite many attempts over the years, Universal have struggled to reboot The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Directors like Joe Dante, John Landis and John Carpenter have all tried their hand with it, but it’s always fallen apart. Gill-Man is still an icon though, so the Dark Universe will almost certainly dust him off.
When they do, he’ll likely be realised with CGI motion capture, and there’s no better actor to reinvent him than Serkis. When it comes to this style of acting, he’s at the top of the game, and if anyone can reinvent the character – and give him a hint of humanity – it’s him.
There were whispers a few years ago of Tom Cruise being in the running for a Van Helsing reboot, leading to rumors his character in The Mummy would eventually be revealed as the famous vampire hunter. This didn’t turn out to be the case, leaving the role wide open. Probably.
While it would be easy to reinvent the character as a younger, Tom Hardy-style action hero, going a more traditional route would be more interesting. The character is typically depicted as older, with actors like Peter Cushing and Anthony Hopkins coming to define certain aspects of Van Helsing. With that in mind, Gary Oldman would be an excellent addition. Not only would he take a well-travelled role and inject it with something fresh, he’d also be tipping a hat to his time playing Dracula himself in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie.
Son Of Dracula was the last in Universal’s Dracula trilogy and features Count Alucard getting into all sorts of mischief. Despite the title, the movie seems to imply the character actually is Dracula himself, but in the years since, the concept of Alucard being the son of Dracula has been used in various movies, books, and games, such as Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night.
Despite being one of the lesser known entries in the original Universal Monsters franchise, Son Of Dracula is notable for including the first onscreen instance of a vampire turning into a bat. If the Dark Universe flourishes into a major franchise, it’s easy to imagine Alucard will turn up eventually.
His casting will likely be dependent on who plays Dracula, but Nicolas Hoult could be a strong contender. He’s an actor on the verge of a star-making role, he’s shown he can act under heavy makeup from his time playing Beast in the X-Men prequels, and his performance in Kill Your Friends shows he can nail the charming side of a monstrous character.
Universal appears eager to hire the biggest names possible for the Dark Universe, and they’ve already mentioned Jennifer Lawrence as someone they’d be eager to work with. Since she’s currently one of the biggest stars in Tinseltown, it seems likely that her phone will ring eventually, and the part they offer had better be something cool.
Part of the appeal of taking part in this rebooted series would be the chance to play a classic monster, and it’s doubtful the role of a love interest would be something Lawrence would be attracted to. Dracula’s Daughter was the follow-up to 1931’s Dracula and follows his daughter - Countess Zeleska - as she tries to break his curse, but she usually ends up failing and drinking blood regardless.
There’s plenty of scope to reinvent the concept for the modern day, however; she could be hero, a villain, or somewhere in between, and she could turn into a key figure in the Dark Universe. Since the character isn’t a big name like the other heavy hitters, an actress of Lawrence’s status may be needed to attract audiences.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame has been adapted many times in the past, including Universal's attempt, which dated all the way back to 1923. The plot is as much a love story as a horror movie, and it will be interesting to see how the Dark Universe tries to reinvent the character for modern viewers.
Ryan Gosling could be a unique choice for Quasimodo for a couple of reasons. He’s no stranger to a love story, but the movie would allow him to bypass his matinee idol looks under layers of heavy make-up. He’s another actor who’s managed to avoid typecasting by constantly switching up genres and characters, and he'd no doubt relish the challenge of acting through monster make-up.
He’d also be able to perform the dramatic side of things while performing any stunts required; since the Dark Universe is putting the focus on action, the number of setpieces might be bumped up.
Renfield is an important supporting character in Dracula, being a mental patient with a fondness for eating insects and birds. It’s eventually discovered that he’s under the influence of Dracula himself, who tempts him with an offer of immortality if he does his bidding.
The character has shown up in numerous adaptations, and despite being a madman, he holds on to part of his soul when he tries to save Mina from the Count. When Dracula eventually arrives in the Dark Universe it’s likely that some version of Renfield will appear as well, assisting him in his evil schemes.
Benicio Del Toro would be able to make the role more than just a twitchy henchman and infuse Renfield with some real charisma. It would also be a chance for the actor to take a second crack at the Universal Monsters series, following the disappointment of his own Wolfman movie back in 2010.
Jonathan Harker is the unlucky solicitor who heads to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula, who wants to move to England. Once there, Harker is taken prisoner and almost fed to the Count’s hungry brides. After his escape, he’s nursed back to health and seeks to bring the monster down.
Perhaps the most memorable portrayal of Harker thus far is by Keanu Reeves, but for the wrong reasons. Poor Keanu tries his best to pull off an English accent but fails miserably, and his casting is considered a major flaw of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Harker is essentially the hero of the novel – he even beheads Dracula at the end of the story – so he could find himself in a sort of swashbuckling role in a planned movie.
Kit Harrington is nearing the end of his time on Game Of Thrones, and will likely be focused on a movie career once he’s done. Just like Jon Snow, Harker is a naïve innocent who turns into a determined badass as the story progresses, so he’d he a natural fit, while also attracting the massive GOT fanbase to the Dark Universe.
Mina is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée in Dracula, and she's targeted by the Count midway through and bitten. The group tracking Dracula try to kill him before Mina turns completely, and her telepathic link is used to track him down. The various movie and TV versions have changed the details of her role, including turning her into a love interest for Dracula.
She’s a central figure in the mythology and a shoe-in for a future Dracula movie (assuming one is in the cards, of course). While Universal appears keen to open their checkbook to any A-lister who will consider a part in the Dark Universe, it would be smart to offer juicy roles to some up and comers, too.
Jane Levy has made a real impression with her work in the Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe, where she played victims who eventually turn the tide on their tormentors. There’s also scope to reinvent the character somewhat; The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman movie turned Mina into a vampire herself, which is another road the Dark Universe could take.
Thought Igor is often seen as the mad, hunchbacked assistant of Dr. Frankenstein, his history is a little complicated. He doesn’t actually appear in the Mary Shelly novel, and while the doctor had a hunchback assistant in the 1931 movie, that character wasn't named Igor.
A character called Ygor appeared in the sequels though - sans hunchback - and through various adaptations, the composite character of Igor was born. Even with his messy backstory, Igor is an iconic character in the Gothic horror, and whenever a mad scientist performs an experiment that’s against nature, you can bet Igor is there cackling in the background.
Jeffrey Wright is an actor who’s quietly been stealing scenes for years, but it was Westworld where he finally became a big name, a series is which he even worked for a Dr. Frankenstein-style character. Wright would be perfect to reinvent Igor, giving the character a little gravitas instead of making him a stock supporting villain.
The Shrinking Man is a classic sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, who also wrote I Am Legend and Hell House. The story finds a businessman who is gradually shrunk down in size, leading to him being chased around his house by a hungry cat and a black widow spider.
The premise is played straight for the movie, thought there was talk of Eddie Murphy remaking it as a family comedy back in 2010 (the mind boggles). Given that The Mummy was more of an action blockbuster than a horror movie, and Bride Of Frankenstein will probably be more of a love story, Universal are proving that they’re willing to switch up the genre of their famous monsters.
With that in mind, The Incredible Shrinking Man might only work with a modern audience if it’s played for humor, much like Ant-Man was. Universal could also do worse than hiring Ant-Man co-star Michael Pena to play the lead, since it’s about time the actor gets a blockbuster to himself instead of stealing scenes in a supporting role. That, and he'd corner the market in movies where the hero shrinks to microscopic size.
Dr. Frankenstein has been portrayed just about every way possible; from a wild-eyed scientist with a God complex to an innocent idealist that looks like a young Professor Xavier. The Dark Universe will need to put a fresh spin on the role, and there are few actresses working who could offer a unique take on the character quite like Tilda Swinton could.
Swinton seems to reinvent herself for every part she takes on, from The Ancient One in Doctor Strange to the villainous Mason in Snowpiercer. She brings instant credibility to every movie she appears in, and no matter what path they decide to take with Frankenstein, she’d be able to adapt to their needs.
She can play it sympathetically or as an icy villain, and it would be exciting to see her working alongside Javier Bardem as the monster. With both the monster and his bride confirmed to appear in this shared universe, it’s likely that Doc Frankenstein would become a recurring role too, meaning Swinton could appear across multiple entries.
The Phantom Of The Opera is another character who’s gone through numerous adaptations throughout the years, from Lon Chaney's hideously disfigured turn in Universal’s 1925 version to Gerard Butler’s dashingly handsome one in 2005. Hell, there was even a slasher movie version where he was played by Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund.
The Phantom is typically portrayed as a romantic, tragic character, one who can switch between being charm and fury quite easily. There’s little doubt that Oscar Isaac would absolutely nail the role; he proved his musical ability with Inside Llewellyn Davis, and he's worked while buried under a mountain of make-up (it'd be a mask here, but you get the idea) in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Isaac has become increasingly in-demand actor over the last few years because of his ability to slip into the skin of just about any character, and the chance to take on an iconic “monster” with a tragic romance at the heart of it all is a challenge he’s more than capable of meeting.
It’s not a question of if Dracula will show up in the Dark Universe, but when. The character is one of the most adapted in film history, and has been memorably portrayed by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman. He's their big gun, and it would be foolish to leave him standing on the sidelines.
Universal is going to have to outdo themselves when they cast the role, considering they’ve already assembled an impressive lineup of A-list talent. And while Michael Fassbender might seem like the obvious, safe choice for the role, that's only because he'd do wonders with it.
His body of work has shown that he can do anything from drama to action to romance as well as anyone in Hollywood, and he’s already played a vampire – of sorts – in movies like Shame and Blood Creek. Oh, and there's the fact that he's firmly established as one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation. His name has already been thrown around by producers as someone they’re interested in, and it’s hard to think of a role better suited to Fassbender's talent than the Count himself.
Dwayne Johnson's film career got off to a bit of a rocky start (sorry), where he went from middling action flicks like Doom to terrible kid’s movies like The Tooth Fairy. Since he stole the show in Fast Five, he’s only gone from strength to strength, and he's currently one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
He’s also a performer who likes to entertain a wide audience, so he tends to stick with blockbusters. The actor has an incredibly busy slate ahead, but since Universal also produces the Fast & Furious movies, it’s likely that they’ve already run the idea of appearing in the Dark Universe past him.
There’s a rumor they’re interested in him for The Wolfman, which is an idea fans are embracing. Johnson doesn’t always choose the best material, but even if the movie itself is bad, he’s always worth watching. If they manage to find a gap in his schedule between now and 2057, his take on The Wolfman would make for a great addition to the series. Seriously, who wouldn’t be terrified at the sign of a hairy version of The Rock chasing after them?
Who do you want to see star in the Dark Universe? Is Universal completely out of their mind, or are they on to something here? Sound off in the comments.