Universal’s Monsterverse, left for dead after the middling box office returns of 2017’s The Mummy, is now back on track. Just don’t call it a Monsterverse this time.
On the heels of The Invisible Man‘s No. 1 opening on Feb. 28 and its $98.3 million haul so far, Universal is taking steps to revive its fabled stable of classic monsters for the big screen. But the new batch of films will be stand-alone, moderately budgeted efforts, rather than big swings within an interconnected movie universe.
The latest is a new Dracula feature that Karyn Kusama (Destroyer) will direct, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, which helped kick-start the new monster movie line by making The Invisible Man for only $7 million, is in the midst of setting up the vampire thriller and is producing. The project isn’t housed at Universal yet, and technically, it could be made at another studio because Dracula is in the public domain, but that is highly unlikely given that Blumhouse has a first-look deal with the studio and Universal isn’t about to let one of its iconic monsters escape the fold.
Like The Invisible Man, which offered a contemporary spin on the classic H.G. Wells novel, a new Dracula would take place in modern times, sources tell THR. Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay, who have collaborated with Kusama on a number of films including Destroyer and The Invitation, are writing the script. The Dracula development comes on the heels of another legacy monster project being set up, an untitled horror thriller to be produced by James Wan.
The new agenda takes a filmmaker-driven approach to the characters as opposed to a star-driven strategy, something Universal tried when it released the 2017 Tom Cruise vehicle The Mummy. That movie’s middling reception — $409 million worldwide off of a $125 million budget — derailed a plan for an interrelated movie universe à la Marvel with stars such as Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Javier Bardem.
Now, instead of hearing pitches and reading scripts that tie monsters together, Universal execs are telling filmmakers that storytelling is the star. “It’s a ‘best idea wins’ approach,” says one producer, “and they are having the filmmakers find the individual stories.”
The studio is working with filmmakers such as Paul Feig, Elizabeth Banks and John Krasinski, even developing multiple takes on one character, sources say. “They have multiple irons in the fire, but not all will become real,” says one agent familiar with the studio’s plans.
The movies don’t have a strict budget range, though moderate ranges seem popular at this stage. And no project seems to be ready to go before cameras, though an Invisible Man sequel from its director, Leigh Whannell, is inevitable (even if talks haven’t begun and Whannell is being eyed for other Monsterverse titles).
Getting the universe right had until recently proved elusive for Universal, even with a headliner such as Dracula. The studio most recently tackled the blood-sucking count with 2014’s Luke Evans starrer Dracula Untold, which earned $217 million worldwide.
“It shows that by being very agile, they were able to pivot and try a new direction,” says Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Had Invisible Man not worked, that would have been a cause for concern. But this sets them up very nicely.”
Kusama is no stranger to the horror genre, having helmed the Diablo Cody-penned cult classic Jennifer’s Body. On the TV front, she also been busy directing a number of episodes of such series as HBO’s freshman hit The Outsider, based on the Stephen King horror-crime novel, and Showtime’s Billions.
Kusama is repped by ICM and attorney Patti Felker. Hay and Manfredi are handled by attorney Alan Grodin.
A version of this story appeared in the March 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.