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‘Shadow and Bone’ Creator Eric Heisserer on Why Universal’s Original Dark Universe Plan Bombed

What was intended to be the MCU of monster movies fell apart. According to Heisserer, there were too many squabbling voices at the table.

Dark Universe

Dark Universe cast members Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Sofia Boutella


The writing was on the walls in 2017 when “The Mummy,” the patient zero of Universal’s planned Dark Universe mega-franchise, bombed at the box office. With projected losses of nearly $100 million for Universal Pictures, the film failed to launch what was supposed to be a sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe analog for the studio. While the Dark Universe is being refashioned on a smaller scale (starting with films like last year’s sleeper hit “The Invisible Man”), the original plan is no more. In a recent interview with The Playlist, Eric Heisserer, the creator of “Shadow and Bone” and the screenwriter of “Arrival,” talked about his experience dipping into the waters of the Dark Universe, and why it fell apart.

“It was a very strange experience,” he said. “There was certainly a big brain trust of writers around the table. You had a lot of voices and none of them could agree on much. Much like when I’d visit my relatives for Thanksgiving and everyone’s arguing with each other…You had some people saying, ‘Should our monsters all be villains in these movies or can they all be heroes?’ And someone else would say, ‘We can build the plane when we fly it.’ And it’s me and Jon Spaihts at the table going, ‘That’s a terrible analogy. We don’t want to be on that plane. What are we doing here?’”

Heisserer and Spaihts (who had a story credit on “The Mummy”) were set to collaborate on the Dark Universe entry “Van Helsing,” which was first announced back in early 2017. That project has been scrapped in favor of a film directed by Julius Avery with a script from “Black Widow” scribe Eric Pearson.

Heisserer also explained the reason why he and Spaihts chose “Van Helsing” as their Dark Universe entry in the first place. “This is sort of a terrible motivation, but we were also like, ‘You know? I don’t think some of these movies are going to work at all. So what if we create the character that kills the monsters in the movies that don’t work?’ [Laughs.]”

The Dark Universe catalogue is packed with iconic monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and, of course, the Invisible Man.

Eric Heisserer is an Oscar nominee for “Arrival,” and his fantasy series “Shadow and Bone” is now streaming on Netflix.

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