Report: Key producers depart Universal's Dark Universe with franchise's future in doubt

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Producers Chris Morgan and Alex Kurtzman, the minds who were supposed to spearhead Universal's monster-driven megafranchise Dark Universe, have reportedly left to pursue other projects, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Kurtzman, who also directed this year's The Mummy — the film intended to launch Dark Universe — is reportedly departing to focus on TV projects like Star Trek: Discovery. Morgan is returning to the Fast and the Furious franchise, where he has already written six films, including 2017 megahit The Fate of the Furious. Next up for him is reportedly a spinoff of that franchise focusing on Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.

Even before The Mummy was released in June, Universal was heavily touting the major stars it had lined up for Dark Universe, a shared-universe concept meant to revive the classic Universal Monsters, including The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolfman, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. A photo of the tentpole's intended stars — including Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's Monster — was heavily circulated.

A writers' room was convened, and Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon was announced as the studio's choice for a remake of Bride of Frankenstein. Dark Universe represented both a key piece of the Universal Pictures legacy and a chance for the studio to branch out into the same shared-universe territory already explored by Marvel Studios, DC Films, and Fox's X-Men franchise.

 

Now, all of that appears to be in even greater jeopardy than it was after The Mummy's critical and commercial failure over the summer. The film managed to top $400 million worldwide against a budget of $125 million, but that doesn't include marketing costs, and a mega-budgeted blockbuster starring Tom Cruise was supposed to perform better. In the wake of The Mummy's performance, Universal pulled the plug on Bride of Frankenstein's production last month, leaving that film's future uncertain. Despite these setbacks, Universal is adamant that future monster films will still move forward ... at their own pace.

"We've learned many lessons throughout the creative process on Dark Universe so far, and we are viewing these titles as filmmaker-driven vehicles, each with their own distinct vision," Universal president of production Peter Cramer said. "We are not rushing to meet a release date and will move forward with these films when we feel they are the best versions of themselves."

So, what happens now? Well, there's no way Universal will just let the monsters go. They're among the studio's greatest assets. The Dark Universe launch didn't work, but there's always a chance of an alternate path. One of those paths involves launching standalone films with other producers, possibly including Blumhouse head and horror mastermind Jason Blum. Another way forward could include simply finding a new set of producers to right the ship and steer Dark Universe in a more successful direction.

In any case, don't expect the studio to simply give up on these characters.