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The classic monsters are what you might call the bread and butter of Universal Pictures. Back in the 1930s it was horror movies likes Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula and The Mummy that helped turn the company into the Big Six studio it is today. It's why Universal has been focusing a great deal of attention as of late towards their Monster Movie Universe, hoping the replicate the success that Marvel Studios has had with superheroes. But in recent years the monster brand has been struggling - and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley has copped to that fact.
The Universal executive recently took part in a roundtable discussion with other major executives, orchestrated by The Hollywood Reporter, and during the conversation Langley not only admitted the existing lack of interest in the major monsters, but also revealed how the studio plans to circumnavigate their biggest brand's issues as they continue their own version of world-building. Speaking directly to the idea that monsters are no match for superheroes at the box office, the Universal chief said,
"We don't have any capes [in our film library]. But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We've tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and re-imagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience."
To start, it's worth noting that Donna Langley is definitely not wrong about the disappointing box office performances for their most recent "monster" films. We're only about four years removed from the release of The Wolfman, which had a ton of problems behind the scenes and wound up flopping hard - making only $139 million worldwide on a $150 million budget. Fast forwarding to this past October, Dracula Untold (which is meant to be the first movie in the new Monster Cinematic Universe) opened at number two and to date has only made $55 million domestically. The film has found some success abroad, adding $153 million to its total, but those numbers still pale in comparison to the $500 million-plus Iron Man brought in back in 2008.
Apparently Universal's solution towards fixing this is taking the monsters out of the horror genre and making the movies more action-adventure-based, but that also doesn't exactly sound like the best idea. How can I say that? Because I still remember that Stephen Sommers's Van Helsing exists (not to mention 2014's own I, Frankenstein). Maybe instead of thinking that the genre is the problem, the better consideration would be to just focus more on making good movies. Quality breeds buzz, and buzz breeds success. If the genre was the problem, then Dracula Untold wouldn't be lagging behind Annabelle at the box office. As for the contemporary setting - why are you ripping away what could make this franchise stylistically interesting and unique compared to all of the other major blockbusters being released? There's a lot of backwards thinking going on here.
Following Dracula Untold, Universal Pictures will be releasing The Mummy on June 24, 2016 and plans are already in motion on a new Wolfman film. How things will progress from that point on remains to be seen.