invisible man
Universal Pictures

'The Invisible Man' Hits the Reset Button on Universal's Classic Monster Movies

You may recall, a few years ago, tales of a movie called The Mummy. No, not The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, the other Mummy, from 2017. The one starring Tom Cruise? And Sofia Boutella? And an undead Jake Johnson, for some reason? You remember, right? You don't? Well, that's fine, because it was terrible: an embarrassingly bad cash-grab from a company needlessly trying to make a Marvel Cinematic Universe out of whatever they had available, focusing on all the wrong parts of what made their classic horror properties great in the first place.
With The Mummy, Universal Pictures launched and, at the same time, annihilated what they had planned to call the Dark Universe, a series of films centered around the studio's classic monster properties, from Dracula to Frankenstein to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that would all be intricately tied together -- like what Marvel is doing with its comic book superheroes and what Warner Bros. is attempting with Kong: Skull Island and its Godzilla movies. The Mummy absolutely tanked, was a critical failure, and the studios' other upcoming properties, including its Bride of Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies, were put on hold. Given all of that, you may be wondering if Leigh Whannell's new horror film The Invisible Man, which is a Universal movie based on a monster character from a classic book, is in any way related to the Dark Universe mess. 

Is The Invisible Man a sequel to The Mummy?

No, thank god! Which is great news for everyone involved. There was actually an Invisible Man Dark Universe movie in the planning stage before The Mummy came out -- it would have starred Johnny Depp as H.G. Wells' villain in a modern setting, and would have probably in some way involved Tom Cruise's Mummy character Nick Morton and Russell Crowe's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, the leader of the monster-hunting organization that was supposed to act as the throughline for all of these movies. But, given Depp's various legal troubles and the doomed state of the cinematic universe in general, we'll never see that version. Instead, this Invisible Man is completely disconnected from anything else, entirely it's own thing, which is, of course, one reason why it's so great. I can't imagine having to sit there and watch Russell Crowe and Elisabeth Moss say the word "Prodigium" to each other. 

What… is Prodigium?

Just don't ask, it's not worth knowing. Save yourself. 

click to play video
Universal Pictures

What happened to the Dark Universe? 

Ah, Dark Universe, we hardly knew you. The Dark Universe actually started not with The Mummy, but with 2014's Dracula Untold, which starred Luke Evans as Vlad Dracula, and tried very hard to marry a very creative version of "history" with Bram Stoker's vampire character, to pretty much no success. It was meant to be an origin story for the character, rather than sticking to the familiar Dracula tale, and includes a scene of Dracula and Charles Dance's evil vampire Caligula in the present day at the very end, as if setting the characters up for more. If The Mummy had done well, Evans' Dracula would likely have appeared in a following film. 

Universal was banking on a lot, casting sequels and teasing more monsters to come even before The Mummy had come out -- they even released a "cast photo" of Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, and Javier Bardem, who had just been announced to play Frankenstein's monster in the Bride of Frankenstein movie. (This is the only time Bardem and Depp have appeared physically in anything related to the Dark Universe.) But, seeing the response to The Mummy and unable to lock down anyone for their following movies, Universal quietly canned its shared monster movie series. 

So, is The Invisible Man based on a Universal property at all? 

Actually, yes. The Invisible Man is still based on the main character of the H.G. Wells 1897 horror novel, which Universal owns and has owned since the story was first adapted to film in 1933. Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays Adrian Griffin, the man who gains the power of invisibility through his scientific experiments and whose surname is taken from the main character of the book. The movie has been touted as a "reboot" of the 1933 movie and the story has been updated, obviously, focusing more on Moss's character Cecilia Kass, who becomes Griffin's victim, but it contains a few soft homages to the iconic original as well, including the image of a dark figure in a hat and jacket and a quick shot of a hospital patient whose face is covered in bandages. 

Does that mean we won't get a Frankenstein movie, or a Black Lagoon movie? 

Because The Invisible Man is not tied to any sort of cinematic universe, it's allowed to be its own thing, which is what Universal Pictures seems to be planning for its stable of horror villain properties. The movie is also co-produced by Blumhouse Productions -- the horror-centric company behind Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Get Out, and Leigh Whannell's previous movie, the gory action thriller Upgrade -- which works almost exclusively with extremely low-budget projects. The Invisible Man was made in 40 days for a measly $8 million: that's small potatoes compared to The Mummy's budget, which has been reported to be as high as $195 million. The Invisible Man is barely a gamble at all, and only stands to make money -- it'll probably double its budget in its first weekend.

We're unlikely to ever see the pre-Mummy Dark Universe versions of these monster movies, but Universal isn't letting that hot, hot IP run away so soon. It's already planning a Paul Feig monster ensemble comedy Dark Army, an Elizabeth Banks-starring Invisible Woman, and a movie about Renfield, Dracula's constantly exploited spider-eating servant. We'll see all of these monsters again, but instead of a bloated, mega-budget action movie saga, they'll instead appear in riskier, more experimental, smaller-scale movies. The thrilling, fun, and violent mode of The Invisible Man proves that sometimes some monsters are worth resurrecting. 

Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.