Universal Veers From Superhero Trend for a Monster Plan

Universal Banking on Monster, Horror Properties
Pablo Vigo for Variety

While most studios in Hollywood are betting on superheroes to save the box office, Universal Pictures is doubling down on creature features.

This month, the studio acquired rights to Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles” book series. In July, it announced plans to create a Marvel-like cinematic universe around the studio’s classic monsters the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

At the same time, the studio inked an eyebrow-raising 10-year, first-look deal with microbudget horror producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Films is behind the profitable “Paranormal Activity,” “Sinister,” “Insidious” and “The Purge” franchises. Last summer, the studio lured Legendary Entertainment into the fold, and now the production firm is co-financing U’s “Jurassic World” and “Dracula Untold,” and has its own upcoming thrillers, including “As Above, So Below” and King Kong tentpole “Skull Island,” which Universal will release.

SEE ALSO: Superhero Overload? 8 Major Comicbook Movies Planned for 2017

As Disney, Fox, Sony and Warner Bros. plant flags on comicbook movies that will unspool in theaters through 2020, Universal honcho Jeff Shell and movie chief Donna Langley find themselves with few options other than to cull their studio’s library and secure outside properties that are established brands, and thus easily marketable. Its only comicbook-based superhero property is Marvel’s “Namor: The Sub-Mariner,” to which it has retained rights since 2006.

“The trend (in Hollywood) is franchise movies, and building movies around a character people want to come back and see over and over again,” says Erica Huggins, president of Imagine Entertainment, who was instrumental in acquiring the Anne Rice books.

SEE ALSO: How ‘Godzilla’ Roared Again with Gareth Edwards, Legendary’s Thomas Tull

The studio will position its classic monsters as the next action stars, the way it did with “The Mummy” franchise and attempted with “Van Helsing.” “Universal’s legacy is built on our iconic monster mythology,” says co-president of production Jeffrey Kirschenbaum. “We are committed to revitalizing these films to make them part of a powerhouse action-thriller franchise, and develop worlds for these characters to thrive in.”

“What Donna and Jeff are envisioning about the Universal monster legacy is the most strategic, and ambitious undertaking since Carl Laemmle created these historic characters for the screen,” says Sean Daniel, who produced Universal’s more recent “Mummy” movies and will return for the reboot, as well as the upcoming remake of “Ben-Hur.”

With Rice’s novels, the studio sees a way to create its own vampire series for audiences, largely young women, who were bitten, er smitten, by “Twilight.” On the horror front,

Blumhouse’s films attract teens, younger males and Hispanic audiences.

But with the exception of “The Purge: Anarchy” and “Oculus,” horror has gotten a bad rap recently, with pictures like “Deliver Us From Evil,” “The Quiet Ones,” “Vampire Academy” and even “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” having received a chilly reception at the box office this year. Nothing has come close to last year’s surprise hit “The Conjuring.”

SEE ALSO: King Kong Movie ‘Skull Island’ Set for 2016

By turning to “Transformers” and “Fast & Furious” screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to create a world in which its classic monsters are all connected in action and suspense storylines, Universal believes it can breathe new life into the characters and mint considerable coin from theme park attractions and licensing, while adding value to its library.

Those new films, starting with “The Mummy,” out June 24, 2016; and a remake of “The Sentinel” won’t be cheap, but Blum’s banner will provide a range of films that each cost less than $5 million — and offer up an opportunity for big profits.

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  1. Richard says:

    As long as the movies are not campy I am looking foward to this, I have always loved classic monster movies like Dracula and King Kong. For someone like me it is a nice option to have when it seems like the market its filled with guys and spandex saving the day and teen novel adaptions. Still I wonder if they can make them well, movies today seem to be geared toward young adults and the geek crowd with not much in the way of true adult trills.

  2. Jedi77 says:

    This has Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen written all over it.
    These characters are simply not worthy of films in todays world. The Mummy was funny and it worked because the focus was on everyone else but the Mummy. That dorsn’t work in a shared universe. Which sounds idiotic, btw.

    • Ken says:

      The “shared universe” of Universal monsters in the studio’s flicks of the 1940s (feat. Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula) were wonderful contrived fun and highly atmospheric…but they were essentially low-budget cash cows. I agree w/ Jedi77 – what Universal 2014 is now proposing are pricey VAN HELSING-type re-imaginings/crapfests…stupidity on a colossal scale. (Namor Versus Gill Man, anyone?) Universal made their name, their fortune with great unassuming little horror/monster films that became classics. I can only hope the studio remembers this as they embark on a new generation of monster movies..

  3. Jack says:

    Well they better make Frankenstein look like the original Frankenstein not some “modern” version that didn’t work for the audience when DeNiro and Aaron Eckhart played him.

    • Tim says:

      Apparently you aren’t aware that DeNiro’s “modern” Frankenstein monster is actually the only faithful adaptation of the novel source material filmed to date.

      Your position that Universal created the “original” version is completely flip-flopped. Universal, in truth, created a dumbed-down and inaccurate alternative that you’ve become biased into believing was the real deal.

  4. therealeverton says:

    Well the idea that somehow there’s more of a superhero trend than a horror one, when there are far more horror films is an odd one. Then there is the fact that, as you say, Universal only have Namor (and are perhaps looking to get cash by sharing that with the MCU at Marvel anyway. Another odd title / article.

  5. LOL says:

    No wonder I can’t stand going to the movies nowadays. Nothing but crap. Hope H’wood goes bust. That’ll teach ’em.

  6. cadavra says:

    Laemmle, not Laemle.

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