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June 07, 2017

Tom Cruise attempts to resurrect 'Mummy' franchise, kick-start Monster Universe

Also this weekend at the movies: 'It Comes At Night' and 'Megan Leavey'

"The Mummy"

In the mid-2000s, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a gleam in Producer Kevin Feige’s eye. Back then, the studio was aiming to jumpstart their efforts with an Iron Man movie and they had the perfect leading man in mind: Tom Cruise.

Cruise, however, turned the role down. A few years later, Jon Favreau joined the project, successfully fought for Robert Downey Jr., and the rest is history.

Now, Cruise is trying to launch a brand new inter-connected franchise with this weekend’s blockbuster release, "The Mummy."

The idea is to build a series of films around the movie monsters that Universal Studios made famous in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The studio recently christened this new initiative as the “Dark Universe.”  It’s likely not a coincidence that Universal would pick a Mummy film to lead off the DU, as it is the property with the most recent success.

The 1999 film starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz was a big hit, grossing $155 million in North America and $415 million worldwide. A 2001 sequel performed well enough ($202M/$433M) that a year later, a spin-off titled, "The Scorpion King" ($91M/$165M) hit theaters as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first leading role.

After seven years, Universal paired Fraser with Jet Li in an attempt to revitalize the series with "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."  $102 million domestic and $401 worldwide was fine, but not enough to keep the Fraser-led adaptations alive.

Universal hasn’t been shy in promoting their new tent pole, staging expensive premieres and creating an ad which incorporated this month’s NBA Finals. Overall, the studio has spent nearly $30 million in total on TV commercials.

Nonetheless, the film does face its share of challenges, with shared universe fatigue topping the list.

In addition to Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe (he’ll be playing Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, a kind of Nick Fury figure), Universal has signed up Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem for still more films. After "The Mummy," there’s a “Bride of Frankenstein” film set for February 2019. Also in 2019, they’re planning a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” movie as well as an “Invisible Man” film in 2020.

Then this week, "Mummy" director and "Dark Universe" mastermind Alex Kurtzman revealed plans for movies based around “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Wolf Man,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” He even feels that these films could inspire spin-offs of their own.

This presents quite the problem, as instead of trying to convince people to see one movie, you’re basically putting them in a position where they have to watch all eight.

Furthermore, this style works with comic books because it’s intrinsic to that medium. Comic books have been interconnected for decades. There’s also the question of just how much demand exists for a horror-themed cinematic universe. The efforts to sell "The Mummy" as an action blockbuster, starring a man infamous for his stunts, indicate Universal is nervous about whether there is wide enough appeal.

Box-office tracking was initially showing an opening in the $40 million range, but it has started to dip below that threshold. The strong word-of-mouth and impressive weekday numbers for "Wonder Woman" aren’t helping either.

Universal, though, is appropriately concerned – not so much with what "The Mummy" makes in the U.S. and Canada – but all around the world. Cruise could make a significant difference with the overseas audience, especially since his earning power wasn’t as hurt internationally by that whole Oprah-couch-jumping episode.

For example, the movie broke South Korea’s opening day box-office record with $6.6 million earlier this week.

Still, North America remains the most important market (studios don’t get as large a cut on foreign grosses) and critical reception is increasingly determining a film’s financial prospects here. As a result, the lackluster reviews for "The Mummy" should be worrying.

This one seems to have disappointment written all over it.

Prediction: $35 Million

"It Comes At Night"

This horror film comes from A24, an independent studio that specializes in low-budget horror and Oscar fare. In fact, they produced last year’s (eventual) Academy Award Best Picture winner "Moonlight."

"It Comes At Night" is a horror film starring Joel Edgerton.

Movies like these are usually counter-programming, except that "The Mummy" is arguably the most horror-themed blockbuster of the year, so the decision to release it this week is strange.

Yet, the film currently enjoys an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so it should appeal to hardcore fans of the genre.

Prediction: $10 Million

"Megan Leavey"

Based on a true story, "Megan Leavey" is about a Marine and her combat dog. The movie stars Kate Mara and holds a 90% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Prediction: $3 Million

Nick Field is the former Managing Editor of PoliticsPA and is a regular PennLive Opinion contributor. A Bucks County native, he graduated from American University in Washington, D.C.