Movie

Benjamin: Tom Cruise’s pretty face isn’t enough to save ‘The Mummy’

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie columnist Erik Benjamin explains why Universal Pictures' "The Mummy" was a flop at the box office.

UPDATED: June 16, 2017 at 9:03 p.m.

While the idea of Tom Cruise, one of the world’s biggest movie stars, in “The Mummy” looks like a surefire hit on paper, it turns out quite a lot could go wrong — the film was a critical and financial bust on opening weekend.

“The Mummy” is not an average Tom Cruise action movie, though. This was the first piece of something much larger that Universal Pictures calls its “Dark Universe.”

Let’s go back five years to May 2012. Right as Mitt Romney was locking down the Republican nomination, movie theaters across the United States were bustling as “The Avengers” rocked the Cineplex. A film like this had never been seen before — characters of different movies coming together to form what was essentially a super film. This was the creation of the “cinematic universe” as we know it, and it looks like cinema has never been the same.

The unparalleled success of “The Avengers” sent every Hollywood studio into a bit of a tizzy, as they all wanted a universe of their own.

Of course, creating a cinematic universe is not easy. Studios don’t just have to create one good movie that culminates into one.

Warner Bros., seeing the success The Walt Disney Company was having with MARVEL, fast-tracked a DC Comics cinematic universe. It is reaching some highs with “Wonder Woman,” but notable lows with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” Sony Pictures Entertainment tried to make a “Spiderman” cinematic universe, but ultimately fell short of creating a worthy product.

While Paramount Pictures will potentially release another batch of Transformers movies, Universal Pictures looked at its history, and realized its deep catalogue of monster movies could be a smash hit universe to come together. Thus, the Dark Universe, as we know it, was born.

While it’s not off to a hot start, the idea warrants respect for a franchise. It’s different from what other studios have done, and is distinct to its studio. While the logos we see before films now are simply names of conglomerates, back in the golden age of cinema they used to really mean something, and Universal Pictures was the place to find monsters. The Dark Universe is a clever and fun way to bring their history into the 21st century, while making a pretty penny on the way.

While “The Mummy” is the official beginning of the Dark Universe, it is not Universal Pictures’ first attempt to launch this monster franchise.

In 2014, it released “Dracula Untold,” a bit of a test run for this cinematic universe. If you’ve found yourself opening another tab and looking up that movie, that tells you all you need to know about the success of that film. The film was not branded though, so if it was a hit they could build off of it, but if it was a bust, they could pretend it never happened and move on.

Here though, we are in entirely new ground, and there are valuable takeaways from the failure of “The Mummy” as the Dark Universe’s future hangs in the balance.

We learn you should never force a franchise down the consumers’ throats. While Universal Pictures probably thought the beginning of a new chapter of cinema was a draw for ticket-buyers, ultimately it had no effect on the success of the film. If anything, it made the events of the film more confusing than they needed to be.

This has also put added pressure on the success of the film, since all eyes watch this new franchise’s launch. Universal Pictures is about to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this Dark Universe, and a first film flop is not an encouraging sign to Hollywood or the general public. It should have released “The Mummy,” kept their Dark Universe plans under wraps and naturally built off of the film in a way that felt organic and equivalent to the audience demand.

While it is best to be subtle when creating these universes, once they are in the works, casting is key to success. You do not just want a big name, like Tom Cruise, but someone who fits the part. Robert Downey Jr. was a has-been in 2008, but he was perfect for Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth was a random Australian in 2010, but he became Thor. Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is the biggest movie star in the world, but is also just that: a name.

People will not shell out their money for just a face they like. People want to see the perfect combination of source material and talent, and ultimately, that is one area where “The Mummy” came up short.

The final lesson from the film’s initial setbacks is the one Hollywood learns again and again with franchises: quality matters.

In the excitement of casting Tom Cruise and kickstarting a cinematic universe, creating a good movie was no longer a priority. In an economy with numerous choices and an overflow of information, consumers are more sensitive to reviews than ever. Rotten Tomatoes scores act as a cartel in film performance. While Rotten Tomatoes is arguably bad for the film industry, studios must know a movie star and a well-known logo isn’t enough to get people in the theater.

Erik Benjamin is a senior television, radio and film major. His column appears biweekly. He can be reached at ebenjami@syr.edu or on Twitter @embenjamin14.

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