In 2001, everything changed. No longer was Memorial Day weekend considered the kickoff to the summer movie season. Early May had begun to show promise over the years prior, with Stephen Sommer’s The Mummy rising above expectations in 1999 with a $43 million debut, the ninth largest debut at the time. Considering the Mummy character is one of Universal’s legendary horror monsters (alongside Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.) and has been undead and terrorizing Hollywood for almost a century, it should shock no one that such a well branded iconic creature could command such a robust opening. The thing is, nobody knew how well an action/adventure take of a monster once considered a staple of the horror genre would fare with backdrops of bomb fire. The answer: Very well.
5 Ways to Prep: The Mummy
By George Rose
June 8, 2017
After opening to $43 million, The Mummy would go on to earn $155 million domestically and $415 million worldwide, all on an $80 million budget. Only two years later, the Mummy returned on May 4, 2001, and The Mummy Returns opened with $68 million. It was the largest opening weekend of all time, technically second only to The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s $72 million holiday debut over the 1997 Memorial Day weekend. Gone were the days of movies opening between $20-50 million and earning between three to six times that first weekend amount. With the new millennium and the power of the internet, we entered the age of large opening weekends followed by big drops. The bigger the initial rush, the harder the fall of following weekends. That didn’t matter to me because I was OBSESSED with the Mummy movies.
The Mummy was my very first time where I saw a film in an old restored stage theater. I was only 14-years-old and went with my cousin. We sat in the center of the first row of the upper balcony section. It was one of those perfectly serendipitous situations where I didn’t expect to see a movie that day, didn’t expect to see one of those classic monster movies that my dad would ramble on about, and I definitely didn’t expect to see this classic creature in such a classic theater setting. Needless to say, I was blown away.
Looking back, it was this fateful combination of classic creature/movie/theater/family that made me understand moviegoing was more than just about watching a film, but rather a chance to create lasting memories that could change your life forever. It was right around this time of The Mummy and the expansion of the internet that had me checking websites for movie stats EVERY SINGLE DAY… FOREVER. I was now entering the birth of my movie mania when I would become forever branded with a lifestyle surrounding film. The old me had died and I was resurrected, a mummy that could not live by feeding on souls or blood or ancient amulets; I would feed on and survive off movies.
The Mummy Returns would set another “first” for me. I made history by seeing my very first movie twice. Not in a weekend. Not in a day. Twice in four hours. I bought two tickets to back-to-back showings so that I could stay in my exact same seat that I waited patiently in line for so that I could be as centered to the screen as possible. I saw the 4 p.m. showing right after school with my friend and then again at 7 p.m. with my dad, who brought McDonald’s into the theater so I could have dinner. In 1999, my craze for movies was born; in 2001, it was mastered. I was a movie buff, whether I knew about film history or not. I knew in my heart I loved movies more than most people and nobody could tell me otherwise.
Now it’s 2008, I’m almost finished with college and the international movie market has begun to grow at an incredible rate. Franchise regular Brendan Fraser would return, while Rachel Weisz declined as she was far too famous and valuable after her 2006 Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress. She was replaced by Maria Bello’s silly accent, the mummy was downgraded to a resurrected Chinese terracotta warrior, and the annoying young boy from the sequel was replaced with an older, annoying man-child. It was a disaster.
Were it not for the international market growth, the Chinese storyline and the 2008 Beijing Olympics marketing push, the film would have lost money. As it was, it opened to $40 million and earned $102 million domestically (the lowest totals in the series) while it earned a total of $401 million worldwide (on par with the series). That wasn’t too bad considering the $145 million budget and seven year gap in films, but for all intents and purposes the franchise was dead with no hopes of coming back to life.
That was until 2012 rolled around and The Avengers took the world by storm with its $206 million record breaking debut weekend. Suddenly, Cinematic Universes were EVERYWHERE. The Avengers eventually led to The Justice League for DC’s Extended Universe, which led to the Transformers “writer’s room” universe, which led to Universal creating their very own monster movie mashup called The Dark Universe. So, basically, what Hollywood is offering me is one of my favorite film monsters (The Mummy) merging with one of my favorite film concepts (Cinematic Universes) that’s going to include mega A-list celebrities (Tom Cruise) and will combine a few of my favorite genres (horror, action and adventure). SIGN ME UP!!!
Except, wait a second, Hollywood has been in a downward spiral of late. Studios now throw the same crap out every weekend and consumers are tired of it. Maybe 10 or 20 years ago The Mummy + Tom Cruise + Universal’s horror icons + Cinematic Universe + $125 million budget = $500 million worldwide. Considering the state of cinema, nothing is a guarantee anymore without the Disney/Marvel/Pixar/StarWars brand burned into your ass cheek.
There are a lot of factors working in The Mummy’s favor but there are even more working against it. 2017 is much different than 2001. Not much can help you prepare for what to expect when it comes to the financial box office performance of 2017’s The Mummy, the first in Universal’s Dark Universe. I may not know where the numbers will fall (though early predictions continue to shrink by the day), but I do have an idea of how you can prep for your enjoyment level. So sit back, unwrap your mummy bandages and relax as we uncover five ways to prep for the new Mummy movie.
1) The Mummy (1999)
If you ask me, this is the gold standard of Mummy movies. Is it the best? I have no idea, as the very first Mummy movie dates back to 1932. It’s my gold standard because it was the first true Mummy movie of my lifetime. Also, it drips in gold. Golden sand, gold statues, golden sun, gold treasures, golden EVERYTHING. It takes all the golden goodies you’d expect to see in an Egyptian creature feature and blends them together with all the glorious golden atmosphere you’d expect from historic adventure films, like the Indiana Jones films.
Stephen Sommers directs the first and second Mummy movies with passion and a childlike sense of wonder. In even the most barren wastelands of the desert, he is able to fill the screen with gorgeous, glittering imagery while sprinkling tiny bits of fear and terror throughout to keep you on your toes. It’s the same old mummy story that you’re used to: stupid white American man disrespects another people’s culture by invading their land and desecrating their monuments, only to uncover and unleash the undead nightmare known as the mummy. It’s funny, scary, sexy, action packed and amazing. I fear the latest Mummy update will be lacking in all the things that made 1999’s version so enchanting, as the modern day setting is paired with an equally dreary gray atmosphere that looks just as lifeless and silly as the film's lead actor, which brings me to my next recommendation...
2) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2016)
While Tom Cruise has seen a bit of a comeback lately, with Mission: Impossible 4 and 5 proving to be critical and financial success stories, he hasn’t done so well outside of established franchises. Can pairing one of Universal’s classic creatures and one of Hollywood’s classic A-listers guarantee success? Early estimates say no, with only a $35 million debut expected. This would be lower than any of Brendan Fraser’s Mummy movies. However, with a $125 million budget, the new movie needs at least $400 million worldwide to save face.
Can Cruise pull that off? If M:I5 proved anything, it’s that Cruise can still draw $682 million worldwide. It also proves he still has charisma, can still headline an entertaining spy movie at almost 55-years-old and he looooooooves surviving a plane nose diving down to the ground. Such a feat was prominently featured on the M:I5 poster and has been a huge part of The Mummy’s advertising. M:I5 might not be the best of his impossible missions, but it’s a darn good one, definitely worth a watch and a great way to remind you of what Cruise is capable of. If early word on The Mummy’s critical and commercial chances is any indication, the movie is going to need all the help it can get. Cruise might just be the boost it needs.
3) Dracula Untold (2014)
2017’s The Mummy may be the first attempt to relaunch the Mummy franchise in almost 20 years, but it isn’t the first time since then that a Universal Monster Universe has been attempted. That horror (I mean honor) belongs to 2014’s Dracula Untold. Starring up-and-coming actor Luke Evans, it was the first test to see if they could retell all the legendary monsters with updated stories that linked into one mega monster movie. Dracula cost $70 million to make, starred a B-list actor and made $217 million worldwide, which was barely enough to break even. The Mummy cost twice as much, has twice the star power and needs to earn twice as much to break even. All the pieces are there for an equal profit percentage, but if that wasn’t enough money back then to create a Dark Universe, then one has to wonder if anything less than $400 million worldwide is enough for The Mummy to kick it off either.
Where The Mummy trilogy was tied up in a golden bow, Dracula Untold (and the new Mummy update) are dripping in dreary tones. Gone is the sense of joy and excitement, which has been replaced with “gritty” grayscale storytelling. It wasn’t successful for Dracula and I don’t see it working here for The Mummy. Untold was yet another origin story of the Dracula character, but at least it made for a moderately entertaining star vehicle for Luke Evans, who hasn’t quite broken out from B-list bad guy (Fast 6 & Beauty and the Beast) into A-list territory. Cruise can still certainly be considered A-list, especially in the international marketplace, but I fear an undead acting career won’t be enough to resurrect the idea of a Universal Monster Universe.
4) Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995)
The mummy isn’t the only Universal icon to be making it into The Mummy movie. The famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will be there as the leader of a group that searches for these monsters, similar to the Nick Fury character in the Avengers movies. He will rally the troops to work together, or something, to battle evil… or good?... or something. I don’t know. We just know he’s also in this movie and is being played by Russell Crowe. And we know the character won’t be anything like the version in Ms. Hyde.
In that version, the gentle and kind Dr. Jekyll makes a serum that turns him into pure evil. I mean, he turns into a woman. It’s meant to be a comedy, sort of a Dr. Jekyll meets Freaky Friday kind of thing. It asks the big questions of the universe, like “What would it be like to switch genders?” and “Can a man ever perform sexually again after he knows what it’s like to have other men making nasty with his temporary vagina?” Probably not the stuff a ten-year-old like me in 1995 should be thinking about, but this is what they had on TV. Parental controls didn’t exist back then. For such a provocative premise, I remember it being quite funny and very interesting. Considering gay was barely acceptable in the mid-90s, it was very progressive to have such a gender-bending, transexual experience wrapped up in a magical comedy.
You may be wondering why anyone would take such a classic tale and turn it on its head like that. First of all, why not? Everything else these days gets retold and reconfigured and completely botched. Second, there are bigger concerns at work here, like why would Universal plan to cast a bunch of true Hollywood monsters in their new Dark Universe? Tom Cruise (crazy Scientologist leader) is in The Mummy, Russell Crowe (ruined Meg Ryan’s marriage to Dennis Quaid) is Dr. Jekyll, Johnny Depp (beat his ex-wife Amber Heard) will eventually be the Invisible Man, and they have hopes Angelina Jolie (ruined Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston, then ruined her own marriage to Pitt) will play the Bride of Frankenstein. Though once considered A-listers, this rag-tag band of Hollywood white trash aren’t as bankable as they used to be. It is no less insane to think they can lead the Dark Universe than it is to believe you can enjoy watching Dr. Jekyll toil with his inner demons and with Ms. Hyde’s lady bits. If you want to prep for the Dark Universe, this is one film that is sure to readjust the bar set for the insanity ahead.
5) Van Helsing (2004)
In 1999 and 2001, Stephen Sommers directed the wildly entertaining first two Mummy movies. In 2000 and 2003, Bryan Singer directed the amazing first two X-Men movies. Both franchises would lose their director for the third outing and both would go on to be pretty bad movies. However, something happened before both franchises third entries. In 2004, there was an idea: take the director of the recent Mummy smash hit movies, give him X-Men’s most famous character (Hugh Jackman) and make a monster mashup movie. More monsters, bigger stars, an even bigger $160 million budget… how could this not be successful?! It opened to a strong $52 million, but that’s where the good news stops. It faded fast and died with just $120 million domestically, a disappointment over a decade ago and now a total 2017’s The Mummy prays for.
Monsters don’t make a movie. Celebrities don’t make a movie. Big budgets don’t make a movie. Good storytelling is a great start to making a fantastic movie, with star power and fun creatures helping enhance that interesting story. Van Helsing took the great Hugh Jackman, threw in a convoluted back story for his Van Helsing character, and put him against the bat-shit crazy Dracula, who used werewolves as henchmen and Frankenstein’s monster as a power source to energize his baby vampire fertility clinic. It turned off the sunny glow of The Mummy movies and turned up the depressing moonlight in favor of darker, nonsensical action.
However, the upside to Van Helsing is that there is a pretty good chance it is the only monster mashup movie we get for a while. If The Mummy doesn’t earn at least $400 million worldwide, we may not get to see the rest of Universal’s Dark Universe. With worldwide earnings taken into account, I see that number being possible. Only time will tell if The Mummy answers Universals prayers. They have the Fast and Furious franchise as well as Jurassic Park keeping money in the pipeline for the next decade so they won’t go bankrupt anytime soon. But this may be their last chance to keep life in the longest living classic franchise to date.