UNITED STATES—Universal’s attempt to reboot their Classic Monsters range didn’t exactly go as hoped, given that the grand plans for a shared cinematic universe were scrapped. 2014’s Dracula Untold went through reshoots so that it could become the first movie in the ‘Dark Universe’, but unsatisfactory critical responses to that and 2017’s The Mummy prompted Universal revert to the production of standalone films.
Universal may have hoped that the ‘Dark Universe’ could one day rival the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ and Legendary’s ‘MonsterVerse’, with plans to see iconic characters from the Classic Monsters lore crossing over into multiple movies. While the ‘Dark Universe’ has been shelved, Universal still have plenty of plans to resurrect the iconic characters that starred in the Classic Monsters movies from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The success of The Invisible Man
2020’s The Invisible Man was always developed with the intention of the film being a standalone picture, which is perhaps why the movie has succeeded where Dracula Untold and The Mummy failed. Leigh Whannell’s script and direction brought H.G. Wells’ legendary character to life, with Elisabeth Moss’ gripping performance widely praised in this chilling science fiction horror.
Wells’ creation debuted in 1897, so The Invisible Man has successfully captivated audiences in three different centuries. The 1933 Universal flick The Invisible Man, with Claude Rains in the titular role, faithfully followed Wells’ story, setting the character on a path to becoming one of Universal’s most marketable monsters.
People have been able to see (well, sort of) The Invisible Man in a range of places. Kevin Bacon took on disappearing duties in the 2000 sci-fi horror Hollow Man, which drew loose inspiration from Wells’ work. A more faithful homage to the character is found in the symbols on the five reels of NetEnt’s The Invisible Man slot, with NetEnt’s work frequently featuring at many new online casinos and bringing the classic monster to new audiences.
The monster provided the unlikely focus of a song by legendary rock band Queen, with ‘The Invisible Man’ either a commentary of being overlooked by society or a recount from the perspective of a literal invisible man. Either way, the Wells overtones are impossible to ignore. Another audio take on the character came in the guise of Big Finish Productions’ 2017 radio drama, with John Hurt in the invisible role. These “appearances” in a range of media have helped to establish the legacy of the character, which no doubt contributed to the audience’s desire to flock to the cinema for Whannell’s 2020 interpretation.
A look to the future
Universal have plenty more iconic monsters in their roster, many of which command the same universal appeal as The Invisible Man. Here’s a quick guide to some of Universal’s monster movies in the pipeline.
The Invisible Woman
Elizabeth Banks is attached as director, producer, and lead actor to a reboot of The Invisible Woman. Universal’s first outing for the character came in a 1940 film of the same name, in what was the third installment in the Invisible movie series. Interestingly, The Invisible Woman adopted more of a comedic leaning than The Invisible Man. It will be interesting to see if Banks takes the character in the same direction, or if she adopts the horror approach that paid dividends for Whannell.
The Wolf Man
Just as Banks is at the center of The Invisible Woman, the driving force behind this reboot is Ryan Gosling. Gosling pitched an original story and will play the titular role, although negotiations for Gosling to direct were ended so that he could focus on acting. The A-lister will follow in the footsteps of Lon Chaney Jr., who starred in five movies in the 1940s, and Benicio Del Toro, who became the monster in the 2010 flop The Wolfman.
Other Universal projects in the works include Paul Feig’s Dark Army, which will bring together a cast of both new and old monsters, and Dexter Fletcher’s Renfield, which will place Count Dracula’s henchman in the spotlight. However, the most intriguing film in development is Monster Mash, which is rumored to be a musical based on Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s novelty song of the same name. Little else is known, but it’s safe to say that monster fans will be keen to see what Universal are concocting.
The ‘Dark Universe’ sounded good on paper, but it might have proved too restricting for these Universal Classic Monsters to flourish in their own right. The Invisible Man proved that, when given space to breathe, there’s still plenty of room for fresh interpretations of these iconic characters. In the best possible way, it will be fascinating to see what horrors lie ahead for Universal.