Universal's Dark Universe Doesn't Need America

Annabelle Wallis and Tom Cruise in The Mummy

Is Universal's Dark Universe dead on arrival? There is certainly no lack of doomsaying about the prospects of Universal Pictures continuing their plan of building a shared movie universe with their array of classic movie monsters in the mold of Marvel Studios. The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella as the titular monster, is the opening chapter of Universal's Dark Universe, and after its opening weekend performance, the consensus is that the future of the Dark Universe looks bleak. When the final numbers for the weekend of June 9-11, 2017 were tallied, The Mummy grossed $31-million - hardly a blockbuster or a solid foundation to build a new movie universe around.

A narrative quickly formed that The Mummy was a failure, and thus the Dark Universe as a whole was finished before it started. There's ample rationale to support this conclusion: Tom Cruise's star at the domestic box office is on the wane; The Mummy was buried by the legitimate cultural phenomenon of Wonder Woman; and most damning, The Mummy was simply not a very good movie.

There's also the reasonable judgment that Universal Pictures, which unveiled the Dark Universe concept just a couple of weeks before The Mummy opened with a logo, a trailer for the concept, and a photo of the movie stars they assembled, announced their grand ambitions without actually having a movie the public had already embraced to build off of. Even the Dark Universe logo that kicks off The Mummy seems like an act of hubris: Universal was putting the sarcophagus before the horse with Dark Universe.


So The Mummy and Dark Universe are finished, end of story? Not so fast. Beyond the borders of North America, there's a different story to be told. The Mummy opened overseas to $140-million, giving it a total worldwide gross opening weekend of $172-million. It opened at number 1 in 52 markets, including China. This earns back the film's $125-million budget, before marketing costs. It also ranks as Tom Cruise's biggest global box office opening ever; Cruise's appeal remains strong in international markets, thanks in part to the popularity of his Mission: Impossible franchise. While Wonder Woman continues to be celebrated as the number one movie in North America, it doesn't hold that distinction elsewhere. The Mummy is the biggest movie in the world at the moment.

It's no secret that the international box office has only grown in importance in recent decades. Hollywood tentpoles that underperform in the US can recoup their costs and then some in other countries that are far more receptive to big-budget movies. A recent example is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which led the lowest-grossing Memorial Weekend in years and is perceived as another example of the waning star of Johnny Depp (who is also scheduled to headline the future Dark Universe entry The Invisible Man). While Pirates 5 has only grossed $135-million in the US since Memorial Weekend, its worldwide take to date is $600-million. Pirates 5 has easily earned back its $230-million budget, and while Dead Men Tell No Tales ranks as the lowest grossing Pirates film, there's still an appetite for Captain Jack Sparrow's antics overseas and Disney likely will proceed to set sail with a sixth Pirates.

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