Before the DC Extended Universe, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Godzilla first fought King Kong… Universal came up with a cinematic “shared universe” first. They took all of their disparate, blockbuster monsters movies and combined them together in broad comedies that starred Abbott and Costello. That may not be how we’d ever think to do it today, but it blazed a trail nevertheless.
Now, Universal Pictures is back with their so-called “Dark Universe,” a shared cinematic continuity that will feature all of their most iconic monsters together in the same movies. The new franchise kicks off with The Mummy this weekend, and is expected to continue with new feature films based on The Wolf Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and now… The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The two so-called “monsters” were officially added to Universal’s Dark Universe lineup by The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman, who told Fandom this week that “We know we’re going to do Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man.”
Universal Pictures released their version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame back in 1923, starring “The Man of a Thousand Faces” himself, Lon Chaney Sr., in the title role. Despite his monstrous appearance, Quasimodo is typically depicted as an innocent soul, a tragic victim of social oppression. But exceptions have been made, particularly in Universal’s most recent monster mash-up, Van Helsing, which revealed that the Hunchback was secretly none other than the villainous Mr. Hyde.
Lon Chaney Sr. also portrayed The Phantom of the Opera in one of the most beloved silent pictures ever produced. The role of an obsessed, disfigured musician who stalks an opera house would go on to be played by Claude Rains in a sumptuous, extremely entertaining Universal Pictures remake in 1943.
Both characters have been repeatedly adapted throughout the years, in multiple contexts and mediums. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most popular musicals in history, and Brian De Palma’s contemporary retelling The Phantom of the Paradise (above) is a celebrated cult classic. The Hunchback of Notre Dame would also later be remade into a classic drama starring Charles Laughton, and a Disney animated musical in 1996.
Of course, all the planning in the world won’t do Universal Pictures any good if their first Dark Universe movie doesn’t do blockbuster numbers this weekend. They tried to kick this franchise off with Dracula Untold back in 2014, but the film was a disappointment at the box office and to horror fans around the world. We’ll have a better idea of what the future really holds next week.
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Top Photos: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.