Before your cinematic universes and extended galaxies and interconnected constellations, there were the Universal Classic Monster movies. A loose confederation of sequels and spinoffs, they were the biggest motion picture events in the early life of cinema. The 1920s kicked things off with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera before the franchise moved into its 1930s golden era. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Invisible Man all released between 1931 and 1933, and they remain masterpiece staples of the horror genre.
In the 1940s, Universal ramped up production, frequently outpacing quality control. Among the sequels was the introduction of The Wolf Man in 1941, as well as Universal’s turn to self-parody with the arrival of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The comedy duo would Meet Frankenstein in 1948, carrying well into the mid-’50s. Creature from the Black Lagoon was the final hurrah for the original line of Universal monster movies.
In 1999, The Mummy was revived in the summer blockbuster era, bringing in enough fans young and old to encourage two sequels. Van Helsing and The Wolfman also arrived in the decade or so after the Mummy relaunch, though the lackluster returns on those meant Universal was ready to try something new (read: what Marvel was doing).
2014’s Dracula Untold was to be the start of a so-called Dark Universe of connected monster movies. After that movie failed to draw much blood out of the box office, 2017’s The Mummy was going to be the “new” new start of the Dark Universe. Until that movie also bombed spectacularly.
And so we arrive at 2020’s The Invisible Man, which reportedly cost 30 times less than The Mummy to make, and with no aspirations to be tied to any larger universe. Now, we rank all Universal Classic Monster movies by Tomatometer!
(Photo by Magnolia Pictures, New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures Classics, Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection)
The 30 Essential Vampire Movies To Watch Right Now
Werewolves, mummies, and cobbled-together lab freaks have been around since the earliest decades of film, but no monster was perhaps more camera-ready than the vampire. Those counts and lords who love to mug and menace for the camera, mesmerize with their fancy capes, and whose pale skin glows in the luminous flicker of old film cameras. So no surprise that some of the best vampire movies back then are some of the best vampires now, like Dracula, Nosferatu, and Vampyr, even as they approach their centennial anniversaries. That’s the bar that’s been set for our guide to the essential and best vampire movies, and still we found plenty worthy to follow in their fang-steps.
Across legend, we know vampires for their allure and seductive properties. (Or at least, just their property — who wouldn’t be charmed by a 600-bedroom castle?) The sex appeal of the vampires has especially been played up in movies since the ’80s: As the sexy suburban neighbor (Fright Night), the upper-strata socialites (The Hunger), and a smoulderer’s row of hot guys (Interview with the Vampire) and leather jacket rebels (The Lost Boys).
Or if you just want some action, see From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Daybreakers, Underworld, and 30 Days of Night.
So, looking for something to watch on your next open-coffin-and-chill night? Then go to bat with our 30 Essential Vampire Movies!
Critics Consensus:Vampire Hunter D's gothic charms may be lost on those unfamiliar with the anime series that spawned it, but the crisp action and nightmarish style will satiate horror aficionados' bloodlust.
Synopsis: In a dark and distant future, when the undead have arisen from apocalyptic ashes, an original story unfolds. Ten thousand... [More]
Critics Consensus: Worth watching for Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton's performances alone, Only Lovers Left Alive finds writer-director Jim Jarmusch adding a typically offbeat entry to the vampire genre.
Synopsis: Artistic, sophisticated and centuries old, two vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston) ponder their ultimate place in modern society.... [More]
Critics Consensus: Overblown in the best sense of the word, Francis Ford Coppola's vision of Bram Stoker's Dracula rescues the character from decades of campy interpretations -- and features some terrific performances to boot.
Synopsis: Adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel. Gary Oldman plays Dracula whose lonely soul is determined to reunite with his... [More]
Critics Consensus: Trading gore for grandeur, Horror of Dracula marks an impressive turn for inveterate Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, and a typical Hammer mood that makes aristocracy quite sexy.
Synopsis: On a search for his missing friend Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is... [More]
Critics Consensus: Flawed but eminently watchable, Joel Schumacher's teen vampire thriller blends horror, humor, and plenty of visual style with standout performances from a cast full of young 1980s stars.
Synopsis: Teenage brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move with their mother (Dianne Wiest) to a small town in... [More]
Critics Consensus: Despite lacking some of the book's subtler shadings, and suffering from some clumsy casting, Interview with a Vampire benefits from Neil Jordan's atmospheric direction and a surfeit of gothic thrills.
Synopsis: Born as an 18th-century lord, Louis is now a bicentennial vampire, telling his story to an eager biographer. Suicidal after... [More]
Critics Consensus: One of the silent era's most influential masterpieces, Nosferatu's eerie, gothic feel -- and a chilling performance from Max Schreck as the vampire -- set the template for the horror films that followed.
Synopsis: In this highly influential silent horror film, the mysterious Count Orlok (Max Schreck) summons Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) to... [More]
Universal Studios may be chasing contemporary trends in launching its Dark Universe with the Tom Cruise-starring Mummy reboot, but Universal Monsters have been around for long before all this MCU, DCEU, DDS stuff…near 100 years, in fact! In this week’s gallery, we’re sorting every Universal Monster movie that has at least 20 reviews (qualifying it for a Critics Consensus, included with each image), ranked worst to best by Tomatometer!
This week’s Ketchup covered a week almost entirely comprised of reboots of old familiar concepts. Included in the mix are titles like The Jungle Book (this time in live action), Little Shop of Horrors (a third time), The Dukes of Hazzard (maybe), Tarzan (this time in 3D), and Van Helsing (yes, really). All that, and there’s an animated sequel for The Wizard of Oz, too.
This Week’s Top Story
TOM CRUISE TO REMAKE HUGH JACKMAN’S BIG FLOP FROM JUST 8 YEARS AGO: VAN HELSING
Sometimes, bizarre movie news stories emerge and then seem to disappear again so quickly that it seems to confirm they were indeed too crazy to ever be true. Such seemed to be the case in 2010 when there was talk about Tom Cruise possibly being involved in a remake of Van Helsing, the monster mash up flop released not that long ago in 2004. At the time, it looked like the project might have fallen apart because of Guillermo del Toro’s departure following problems with Universal over the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness (which Tom Cruise was also attached to at the time). This week, a press release from Universal Pictures about a new deal with producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci for new versions of The Mummy and Van Helsing almost seemed to bury the lead, which is that Tom Cruise is indeed attached to star as Van Helsing. This story may seem like deja vu for another reason, as last week’s top Weekly Ketchup story was also about Kurtzman and Orci, except last week it was about them signing on with Sony to be the writers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Kurtzman and Orci’s other credits include cowriting the first two Transformers movies and Cowboys & Aliens, and for receiving sole writing credit for the Star Trek reboot. As for Van Helsing himself, the character first appeared as a vampire hunter in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, but over the last 100 years, and especially in the 2004 film, his specialty has expanded to fighting off all types and brands of supernatural monsters, preferably while wearing preposterous hats and jackets.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT WANTS TO REOPEN LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who through Christopher Nolan’s films Inception and The Dark Knight Rises is recently tight with Warner Bros, is now developing with the studio a third movie version of Little Shop of Horrors. If JGL’s version goes forward, it will follow the original 1960 movie that starred a then-unknown Jack Nicholson, and the 1986 musical version starring Rick Moranis as nerdy florist Seymour. Little Shop of Horrors is of course the story of the wackiness that ensues when a giant man-eating plant named Audrey II grows and grows, becoming increasingly demanding for more human treats. The new version appears also to be planned as a musical, as one of the producers is Marc Platt, who produced the Broadway hit Wicked, and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) has been hired to work on the screenplay adaptation.
#2 FROM THE HUNGER GAMES TO HOUDINI
Fans of The Hunger Games were understandly surprised when director Gary Ross decided not to sign to return for the sequel Catching Fire (which will be directed by Francis Lawrence of I Am Legend and Water for Elephants). This week, we found out that the project that Gary Ross may take on instead is something that might fit in better with his other previous films Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Ross is in negotiations with Summit Entertainment to direct Houdini, a biopic about the life of the famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. This biopic is based upon the 2006 book The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. That book attracted attention for its depiction of Houdini as a spy for Great Britain, and for assisting the Secret Service and other police organizations. As such, Summit’s adaptation is said to depict Harry Houdini as part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes, and the movie is expected to be as much an action-thriller as it is a straight biopic. The latest screenplay adaptation was by Noah Oppenheim, a producer of the TV series The Today Show and Hardball with Chris Matthews.
#3 EMMA WATSON AND JASON SEGEL WILL BE THERE TOO AT THE END OF THE WORLD
The End of the World is the new title of the post-apocalyptic comedy from writing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg which got its start as a YouTube trailer spoof called Jay and Seth Vs the Apocalypse. The premise of the movie is that it depicts various Hollywood celebrities as themselves as they hole up in a house with some sort of apocalypse being unleashed outside their door. This week, the cast grew a bit larger as Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies), Jason Segel (The Muppets) and David Krumholtz (Numb3rs) all signed on to play themselves. Other actors also playing themselves in The End of the World include the original pair of Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, as well as James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson. At one time, Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe was rumored to also be involved, but it looks like that plan may have been changed to include Emma Watson instead.
#4 GUILLERMO DEL TORO TO PRODUCE TRUE HORROR STORY THE BLOODY BENDERS
Guillemo del Toro is teaming up with Angry Films (Real Steel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) to produce The Bloody Benders, a spec script based on a true horror story from the American wild west of the 1870s. The script comes from Adam Robitel, who is described as a protege of director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns, Apt Pupil). The Bloody Benders tells the true story of a family who operated a hotel on the outskirts of the Kansas prairie, where they robbed and murdered their guests using a system of elaborate trap doors and hammer-to-the-skull type murder mechanisms. Guillermo del Toro is not expected to direct The Bloody Benders. The producers were reportedly attracted by the way the script combines genres: “Western, horror, thriller, and love story.” This is the second project that GDT and Angry Films are developing together, as they are still trying to find a studio home for Del Toro’s adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft horror adventure At the Mountains of Madness, in which Tom Cruise was once attached to star, back when it was being produced at Universal Pictures.
#5 HARRY POTTER SCREENWRITER REOPENS THE JUNGLE BOOK
Warner Bros has started development on a new live action adaptation of the 1894 children’s literature anthology classic The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. For the task, the studio has hired screenwriter Steve Kloves, who is best known for his work on seven of the eight movies in the Harry Potter series. Steve Kloves will also direct, which will be a return long in the coming for him after last working on The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone in 1989 and 1993. The Jungle Book has, of course, been most famously adapted as the 1967 Walt Disney animated film. Curiously, this news from Warner Bros came just before another announcement from Disney itself, about a book that was itself written as an homage of sorts to The Jungle Book. Walt Disney Pictures has secured the rights to the 2008 Neil Gaiman children’s book The Graveyard Book, which won the Newberry Medal. The Graveyard Book has been in development before, but Disney’s involvement may be just what’s needed to finally get the adaptation produced. The Graveyard Book tells the story of a boy raised in a graveyard, with his only friends being all the supernatural ghosts and creatures there (much like how Mowgli grew up in the jungle, and was friends with the animals).
#6 BERNADETTE PETERS AND LEA MICHELE FROM GLEE HEADLINE THE 3D CGI SEQUEL DOROTHY OF OZ
Dorothy of Oz is the title of an independently produced 3D CGI animated sequel to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which of course, is most famous for being adapted as the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. This week, the voice cast was announced. Bernadette Peters, who recently guest-starred on the TV series Smash, will voice Glinda the Good Witch, with Megan Hilty, who played her daughter on Smash, voicing the China Princess. The voice of Dorothy Gale comes from another musical TV series, Glee, in the form of Lea Michele. Dorothy of Oz will depict what happens when Dorothy Gale returns to Oz to find that her friends (Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) have disappeared, and Oz is in a state of decay (you can find out more at the official site http://www.dorothyofoz.com/). The rest of the voice cast includes Dan Aykroyd (The Scarecrow), Kelsey Grammer (The Tin Man), Jim Belushi (The Formerly Cowardly Lion), Martin Short (The Jester), Oliver Platt (Wiser), Hugh Dancy (Marshal Mallow) and Patrick Stewart (Tugg). Dorothy of Oz is being directed by Dan St. Pierre (Everyone’s Hero, Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey).
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#3 ROBERT PATTINSON HUNTS SADDAM IN MISSION: BLACKLIST AND STEALS CARS IN ROVER
The Twilight Saga doesn’t end until Breaking Dawn Part II comes out this fall on November 16, 2012, but the YA-friendly franchise’s stars are continuing to line up new roles. This week was a big one for Robert Pattinson, who was announced as being in negotiations for two movies. First up is Mission: Blacklist, in which Robert Pattinson will portray real life military interrogator Eric Maddox, who was involved with the manhunt in Iraq for deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. The independent/European production will be directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire (Johnny Mad Dog), based on a script adapted by Erik Jendresen, cowriter of four episodes of the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce (Lockout, Memento) are also in negotiations to star in the Australian thriller Rover from director David Michod (Animal Kingdom). The premise came from an idea shared between Michod and actor Joel Edgerton, and goes like this, “Pearce will play a man who pursues a group of men who stole his car through the wild and rugged Australian Outback. Pattinson will play one of the thieves.”
#2 THE WHOLE REBOOTING-2000S-MOVIES THING MIGHT GIVE US ANOTHER RIDE IN THE GENERAL LEE
When Sony Pictures decided to reboot a franchise which at the time was only eight years old (2002’s Spider-Man), the studio may have started a new trend: recent reboots. Instead of having to wait decades, studios now are starting to feel comfortable, it appears, with restarting within a range of less than ten years (see this week’s top story). The next example of this may be the latest film from writer/director Jody Hill (Observe and Report). Jody Hill is currently writing an untitled project for Warner Bros, which is set in the American South of the 1970s, and is reportedly “inspired by the style of Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch).” And now here’s the really crazy part… depending upon the results, Hill’s script could be rebranded as a reboot of The Dukes of Hazzard. Originally an action comedy TV series on CBS from 1979 to 1985, The Dukes of Hazzard also became a movie in 2005 starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott and Jessica Simpson. If WB does decide to move forward with this Dukes of Hazzard reboot, it will clearly be a very different movie, based just on the allusion to Sam Peckinpah. This story is a borderline Rotten Idea that can probably be best evaluated based on how much one wants to see The Dukes of Hazzard given another chance. Another factor might also be whether or not you agree with the “Rotten” 51% RT Tomatometer score that Jody Hill‘s first film Observe and Report received.
#1 THE STARS OF TARZAN 3D SWING IN FROM THE TWILIGHT AND RESIDENT EVIL FRANCHISES
Constantin Film is a German production company and distributor best known for its genre films such as the Resident Evil franchise, the Fantastic Four movies (including Roger Corman’s 1994 version) and the recent 3D version of The Three Musketeers. One of Constantin Film’s most ambitious upcoming projects is a CGI motion capture adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, which comes hot on the heels of another recent ERB adaptation that featured a lot of motion capture CGI work, John Carter. This week, we learned who will be putting on all those little ping pong ball things as Tarzan and Jane for director Reinhard Klooss (Animals United). Kellan Lutz, who played Emmett Cullen in the Twilight movies, will play Tarzan, and Spencer Locke (yes, she’s a girl), who played K-Mart in two of the Resident Evil movies, will play Jane. And now, here’s where you find out why this movie is the week’s Most Rotten Idea. This version of Tarzan, which is being called Tarzan 3D, completely updates Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story for the 21st century, with a villain who is the new CEO of Greystoke Energies, the man who took over the company run by Tarzan’s deceased parents. Here’s some more, quoted from The Hollywood Reporter, “In the script, Jane is the daughter of an African guide and is committed to the conservation and preservation of the African jungle. She eventually works with Tarzan to defeat the mercenary army of Greystoke Energies.” It’s also worth noting that Tarzan 3D should not be confused with Warner Bros’ plans to also reboot the Tarzan franchise.
The Batman Begins Gift Set: It’s Christmas In July!
July 18 is right around the corner, which means you’ll soon see plenty of Batman merchandise coming your way (look for the animated Batman: Gotham Knight to hit shelves this week). But if you want a sneak peek at the upcoming sequel The Dark Knight, you can have it with the Batman Begins Limited Edition. Both the 2-Disc Standard and Single-disc Blu-ray releases feature the main attraction: a sneak peek at Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight! (Edit: The six-minute opening prologue originally screened in front of I Am Legend IMAX is only available on Blu-ray; a two-minute sneak peek accompanies the standard release.)
As a refresher, said prologue opens The Dark Knight with one of many sequences shot in IMAX: a full bank heist scene. We won’t spoil it here, but there are robbers with clown masks, plenty of double-crosses, and your first extended look at Heath Ledger‘s critically acclaimed performance as the Joker.
Each version also comes with its own set of goodies, so you have a choice to make. In the standard disc release, find five collectible postcards, printed key art, $7.50 towards seeing TDK in theaters, and a 128MB branded Batman flash drive. In the Blu-ray release, you’ll get lenticular 3-D art, a comic book adaptation of the TDK prologue, and a booklet detailing the making of the TDK prologue. Our advice: given the choice, opt for Blu-ray — if only to watch the TDK prologue in as close to its intended IMAX glory as possible.
Bat-alternatives: Make it a Mummy Week
But Batman’s not the only superhero making a push on DVD this week to build buzz for his summer adventure. Get a sneak peek at The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor before it hits theaters this August by picking up the newly restored The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns. (Those cheeky folks at Universal are also releasing a special edition of Boris Karloff‘s 1932 classic, The Mummy, with a handful of commentaries and featurettes by the likes of Rick Baker, a documentary on the legacy of the Mummy, and another doc about Universal monster movies narrated by Kenneth Branagh.)
In addition to their own respective bonus materials (a combination of previously released cast and crew commentaries, plus new storyboard-to-film comparisons and features) both The Mummy and The Mummy Returns include the three-minute Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Sneak Peek.
Horror fans with green thumbs might be doubly delighted by this tale of four American coeds terrorized by — yup — killer plants high atop an ancient Mayan temple. With all the tired ghost stories, J-horror remakes, and psychopaths-with-knives in recent memory, homicidal vines and makeshift amputations in a gory R-rated flick like this are almost a breath of fresh air! But while The Ruins scored surprisingly high considering its genre, anyone but true horror mavens are likely to be turned off.
If The Ruins even remotely appeals to you, then opt for the Unrated Edition for gorier scares and an alternate ending (Duh duh duhhhhn!). Featurettes on the handsomely constructed ruins set, the killer vines effects, and a feature-length commentary provide insights into the making of a modern day horror film, and a taste of the classic exploitation films that influenced the filmmakers.
Director Kimberly Peirce made her feature debut with the Oscar-winning Boys Don’t Cry; nine years later, her long-awaited sophomore effort focuses on another hot-button issue: the military practice of returning soldiers to duty after their contract has ended. Theatrically, Stop-Loss made less than half of its $25 million budget, but critics agree that the film and its controversial topic deserve further discussion, one likely to be had in a second life on DVD.
In addition to a making-of featurette and a peek into the boot camp experience of star Ryan Phillippe and his fellow cast members, Peirce lends her thoughts to 11 deleted scenes and a feature commentary (with co-writer Mark Richard) that offers further insights into why she made Stop-Loss.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s another spoof movie, from the mind behind such previous spoofs as Scary Movie 4 and Scary Movie 3. This time, writer-director Craig Mazin serves up an unfunny cocktail of the expected lame pop culture jokes and genre gags that we all see coming as soon as each “Fill in the Blank” Movie is announced. Shockingly, even the participation of producer David Zucker (Airplane!) can’t make the sight of Leslie Nielsen dry-humping a corpse hilarious.
As if we needed more Superhero Movie, the DVD comes in an Extended Edition that also proclaims itself “Longer, Funnier, and More Outrageous.” We’re sure it’s longer; it may be even more outrageous. Just don’t count on it being funnier.
Before she melted geek hearts the world over with her pregnant teenage one-liners, Ellen Page filmed this experimental Canadian indie by film and television vet (and sometimes-Degrassi director) Bruce McDonald. Watch her wander the streets of Toronto wearing a shower curtain, losing her mind and manipulating yours in the twisty, non-linear psychological drama.
Watch the making-of featurette (a film-school lesson in itself, considering McDonald combines non-linear storytelling, flashbacks, and literal fragments on the screen) and interviews with MacDonald and Page, plus entries from the Tracey Re:fragmented contest, where contestants could download and remix footage from the film with their own, or re-edit the film itself.
Jet Li‘s “last” martial arts epic opened to modest success in 2006 and may already occupy a spot in your video collection, but there’s a new reason to seek it out this week on DVD: the Director’s Cut features 30 more minutes of footage, including scenes with Michelle Yeoh that were deleted from the original release cut. Li plays Huo Yuanjia, the real-life martial arts master who took on the world’s best fighters, helped revive the practice of wushu in turn-of-the-century China, and whose life gained mythological status long after his death.
Three versions of Ronny Yu‘s film come in the new release: the original U.S. theatrical cut (104 minutes), an internationally-released version (110 minutes), and the full director’s cut featuring scenes with Yeoh and Thai fighter Somluck Kansing (140 minutes).
If you were watching television in 2002, then you might remember the series Fastlane. If not, here’s the premise: two hotshot cops (Peter Facinelli and Bill Bellamy) are recruited to bring down bad guys in L.A. with the help of a smokin’ supervisor (Tiffani Thiessen) and a “candy store” of impounded cars, guns, and cash — Miami Vice meets The Fast and the Furious. With creator McG (Charlie’s Angels) to guide it, how could this show go wrong? (Cut to the end of Season One, when the show was cancelled. I guess huge car chases, elaborate sets, and over $2 million an episode was too rich for WB and Fox’s blood.)
In a chat with CHUD this week, actor Kevin J. O’Connor — who has appeared in previous Sommers projects such as The Mummy and Van Helsing — revealed that he’d be making a cameo appearance in G.I. Joe.
O’Connor wouldn’t get too specific, but he did tell CHUD that he’d be playing a scientist during a flashback sequence, comparing his involvement to Bruce Campbell‘s in Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man films.
Meanwhile, over at IGN Movies, there’s some speculation as to who O’Connor might be playing. We won’t spill the beans here, but we will tell you that the IGN crew starts off by saying “Shave that dome, throw on a There Will Be Blood-esque ‘stache, and a monocle… “
If you watched the Toy Story movies and thought “Nah, not dark enough,” then boy, does New Line have something exciting for you.
Variety reports that the studio has optioned The Plucker, the first illustrated novel from the artist known only as Brom. A synopsis, from the Variety article:
Published in 2005 by Harry Abrams, “The Plucker” revolves around a toy jack-in-the-box that awakens beneath its owner’s bed and realizes it has been relegated to a place where undesired playthings go to die. There, he discovers the Plucker, a malevolent spirit from a mysterious new toy that has evil designs on the young owner of the toys.
Even if you think you’re unfamiliar with Brom’s work, chances are that you’ve seen it without realizing it; he’s contributed conceptual artwork to a number of games and films, including Doom II, Diablo II, Van Helsing, Sleepy Hollow, and, um, Scooby-Doo. No director has been chosen for the movie, but the article does deliver the completely unexpected news that the producers “were introduced to the book by actor Channing Tatum, who’ll likely take some producing credit.”
Planned as a live-action film, G.I. Joe will be produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, who also produced Hasbro’s Transformers. Although IMDB lists G.I. Joe due in 2010, IGN reports that production may begin soon to avoid an impending Hollywood strike.
This word arrives by way of a British gossip column, so you know what to do with it, but here’s the dirt: Kate Beckinsale is apparently being considered for the lead role in Dino De Laurentiis‘ "Barbarella" remake. And you won’t hear any complaints from me.
Tom Cruise climbed into his usual number one spot at the box office with his heavily-hyped spy sequel Mission: Impossible III, however ticket sales fell below most industry expectations as the debut was not spectacular.
The weekend’s other new releases, the horror flick An American Haunting and the kid drama Hoot, both generated lukewarm openings. But thanks to a weak early May in 2005, the overall marketplace still beat out last year for the seventh consecutive frame.
Paramount claimed the top spot with MI3 which invaded a staggering 4,054 theaters collecting an estimated $48M in ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period. The third installment in the decade-old franchise averaged a potent $11,846 per venue. But Tom Cruise’s box office muscles were expected to lift the tally much higher given all the factors that were working in the $150M film’s favor. The newest Mission pic obviously had plenty of starpower but with its early May bow, it had virtually no competition in the multiplexes to deal with. Plus the studio’s marketing hype was deafening, the pic opened in the second highest number of theaters in history for a live-action film (behind Spider-Man 2‘s 4,152), and even the reviews were mostly favorable. That was a welcome bonus as critics are rarely kind to big-budget action sequels.
Openings for other high-profile action films debuting on the first weekend of May include $68.1M for 2001’s The Mummy Returns, $85.6M for 2003’s X2: X-Men United, and $51.7M for 2004’s Van Helsing. MI3 didn’t even reach the level of Van Helsing. In fact, its opening gross was even weaker than that of Mission: Impossible 2 which launched over Memorial Day weekend six years ago with $57.8M over three days, $70.8M over four days, and $91.8M over its six-day Wednesday-to-Monday span. Even with higher ticket prices, a Friday bow, and hundreds of more theaters, MI3 still failed to reach the heights of MI2. Adjusting for inflation, MI3’s opening was the weakest among the Ethan Hunt flicks. The first Mission bowed to $74.9M over its six-day holiday frame in May 1996 including $45.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday span.
Instead, the new J.J. Abrams-directed IMF saga opened in the same neighborhood as other recent star-driven spy films like last summer’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3M), 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy ($52.5M), and 2002’s James Bond film Die Another Day ($47.1M). Although opening near the $50M mark over three days is an impressive feat, Cruise’s new film was backed by one of the most expensive marketing campaigns in recent memory. The highly-paid star/producer attended premieres all around the world, popped up on major talk shows and magazine covers, and press coverage, not surprisingly, was non-stop.
Industry watchers must now wonder – was there too much marketing? Were audiences sick and tired of hearing and seeing Tom Cruise everywhere? Did they really want to spend money seeing even more of him? Media-saavy moviegoers voted with their dollars and those who seemed to have had enough chose to stay away. The MI3 hype machine brought back memories of Sony’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle from three years ago. That action sequel also arrived in theaters on a disturbingly loud wave of promotion revolving around its flamboyant stars and Demi Moore‘s relationship with Ashton Kutcher which was constantly covered on the airwaves. Despite the pricey marketing investment, Throttle debuted weaker than expected with $37.6M and crumbled 63% in its sophomore frame.
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
Paramount was pleased with the international results for Mission: Impossible III as the actioner took in an estimated $70M over the weekend opening in almost all major markets around the world except for Japan. The spy sequel blanketed the globe with roughly 9,500 theaters in 55 markets putting its worldwide opening weekend tally at $118M. The ratio between sales outside and within North America remained the same as with previous Mission pics. The 1996 original grossed 61% of its $465M global tally overseas while MI2 took in 60% of its $538M internationally. This weekend, 60% of MI3’s dollars came from abroad.
With no major competition for the family audience, the Robin Williams comedy RV enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten easing just 32% to an estimated $11.1M. The Sony release dropped one notch following its top spot bow and has grossed a solid $31M to date. In just ten days, RV has already become the second biggest live-action grosser for Williams in the past seven years after the $67.4M of 2002’s Insomnia. Look for the $50M road trip flick to end its journey in the neighborhood of $60M.
Opening in third place was the supernatural thriller An American Haunting which scared up an estimated $6.4M in ticket sales in its first three days. The PG-13 film averaged a decent $3,825 from 1,668 theaters. Reviews were mostly negative for the Donald Sutherland–Sissy Spacek starrer about a possessed young woman in the 1800s. Distributor Freestyle Releasing’s weekend estimate included an unusually low Saturday-to-Sunday decline of less than 5%. Final grosses released on Monday could see the figure come down.
"An American Haunting," "Stick It," and "United 93"
The gymnastics comedy Stick It tumbled 49% in its second weekend to an estimated $5.5M giving Buena Vista $18M in ten days. Look for the teen pic to reach $27-29M which is commendable for its genre. After a solid takeoff last weekend, the 9/11 hijack thriller United 93 declined a substantial 55% in its sophomore frame and grossed an estimated $5.2M. After ten days, Universal’s $15M pic has collected $20.1M and should find its way to roughly $30M domestically.
Fox’s Ice Age: The Meltdown dropped 45% to an estimated $4M in its sixth frame to boost its cume to $183.3M. Crumbling 58% in its third spook was Sony’s fright flick Silent Hill which grossed an estimated $3.9M lifting the cume to $40.8M.
"Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Silent Hill," and "Scary Movie 4"
The spoof sequel Scary Movie 4 fell 52% to an estimated $3.8M and brought its total to $83.7M. The Starbucks-promoted kid drama Akeelah and the Bee enjoyed a respectable second weekend hold dropping 43% to an estimated $3.4M. After ten days, the Lionsgate release has still only grossed $10.7M and seems likely to finish close to $20M.
Opening to dismal results with an estimated $3.4M from 3,018 theaters was the kid drama Hoot from New Line. The PG-rated story of a group of boys who set out to save endangered owls averaged a pitiful $1,127 per location. Fans of the best-selling book apparently avoided the film adaptation and critics for the most part were unimpressed.
"Akeelah and the Bee," "Hoot," and "The Promise"
A handful of films opened in limited release to mixed results. Warner Independent debuted the Chinese epic The Promise in 213 theaters but grossed only $271,000 according to estimates for a poor $1,272 average. The Golden Globe-nominated adventure was China’s official submission to this year’s Oscars and is reportedly that country’s most expensive film ever made. U.S. critics were not very pleased.
Sony Classics bowed its indie comedy Art School Confidential which grossed an estimated $142,000 from a dozen sites in New York and Los Angeles averaging a strong $11,833 per site. The Terry Zwigoff-directed film expands to nearly 800 theaters in most major markets on Friday. ThinkFilm debuted its Edward Norton starrer Down in the Valley to an estimated $26,000 from three New York houses for a solid $8,770 average. The film widens to three more cities on Friday before gradually expanding throughout May.
"Art School Confidential"
Among holdovers, Fox Searchlight expanded its widow drama Water from five to 36 theaters and grossed an estimated $188,000 for a $5,222 average. The ten-day total stands at $270,000 and this Friday the Deepa Mehta film will widen to about 60 sites. The distributor’s indie sensation Thank You for Smoking collected an estimated $1.1M, off 40%, for a $20M cume.
Three April releases were pushed out of the top ten this weekend. The Michael Douglas political thriller The Sentinel took a big hit from MI3 and crashed 62% to an estimated $3M putting its 17-day cume at $30.9M. Fox should find its way to about $36M. Disney’s underperforming toon The Wild slumped 46% to an estimated $2.6M. With only $32M in the bank, the animated film looks to conclude with $36-38M. Sony, on the other hand, has generated solid numbers for its sports comedy The Benchwarmers which grossed an estimated $2M this weekend. Down 54%, the Rob Schneider–David Spade film has taken in $55.6M thus far and is set to end with just under $60M.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $94.7M which was up a healthy 24% from last year when Kingdom of Heaven opened at number one with $19.6M; but off 4% from 2004 when Van Helsing debuted in the top spot with $51.7M.
Filmmaker presentations and schmoozing aside, the studio-sponsored "Dreamgirls" event was much more than an early publicity push with free food and drinks; it prompted a moment of speculation about Broadway adaptations, popular casting, and the production itself. "Dreamgirls" is in its seventh week of production, and Monday’s live performance of "Steppin’ To the Bad Side" proved at least that Condon can put on a dazzling show with flashy stage lights. The intricate stage movements of stars Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Eddie Murphy‘s stand-in, and about a dozen other professional dancers also show that weeks of training can make musical (and movie) magic. Then again, this was only one of many song-and-dance numbers in "Dreamgirls," and thus hardly any indication of how the end product will be received.
In terms of the cast, you almost have to ask, can "Dreamgirls" measure up to the award-winning "Chicago?" Condon’s largely credited with turning the highly successful stage musical into a watchable, laudable film script — but then again, "Chicago" had the benefit of two Oscar-caliber actresses (Catherine Zeta-Jones and a surprising Renee Zellweger), a leading man (Richard Gere), and a legendary source musical by Bob Fosse. "Dreamgirls" has Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who can believably hoof it and has a burgeoning singing career; Eddie Murphy (in what his fans hope to be a comeback role) as the dynamic James Brown-type pop singer James "Thunder" Early; and a supporting cast that includes Danny Glover and Tony winner Hinton Battle.
The real test will be within the main trio, The Dreamettes. Sure, Beyonce’s cut her cinematic teeth on projects like the recent "The Pink Panther" and "Austin Powers in Goldmember" — but neither role was dramatic or, arguably, demanding. Yet as Deena, the pretty member of the group, Beyonce seems to have it locked down; after all, this is the woman who fronted Destiny’s Child, the Supremes of the last decade.
Also proven is Anika Noni Rose, who plays Dreamette Lorrell. Rose is an award-winning stage actress who’s got a Tony under her belt, which automatically qualifies her singing and acting abilities.
That leaves newcomer Jennifer Hudson, whose character Effie is the main, pivotal character of "Dreamgirls." As everyone knows, Hudson’s big voice got her to the finals of "American Idol" two years ago; casting rumors had her pitted against "Idol" winner Fantasia Barrino for the role of Effie White. Yet Hudson’s got no prior acting experience — although she does carry herself with maturity in the media — and that may be the biggest challenge "Dreamgirls" has to face. Can the unknown, unproven Hudson carry film musical as ambitious as this? We know she can sing, but the character of Effie has to do much more — serving as the emotional center of the story, Effie is the original lead singer of the Dreamettes, who is slowly pushed into the background (and eventually out of the group) by the group’s manager (Foxx) and replaced by the prettier Deena (Knowles) as the group gains celebrity by selling out.
Another question is the music. With songs written in the 1980s, but set in the 1960s, many of the songs have a Motown-tinged vibe but still retain that ’80s sound, as evidenced in the now-standard, early Whitney Houston-sounding "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going." Original composer Henry Krieger is on hand, with new songs, no less, but Condon’s employed the producing team of The Underdogs to contemporize the soundtrack. Can Krieger’s soundtrack hold up after revisions, additions, and a work-over by the producers of Kelly Clarkson and Justin Timberlake?
Also, Condon’s made the smart decision to add dialogue to his film version, since the original stage musical is sung through entirely. Will this be enough of an adaptation to convince film audiences, where previous attempts at making a musical less "stagy" (like adding dialogue to "Rent") failed? Condon’s "Chicago" succeeded as a film musical in part because most musical numbers were Roxie Hart’s fantasies, thus explaining the phenomenon of spontaneous song and dance to a non-musical audience. It doesn’t appear to be so in "Dreamgirls," where as a "backstage" musical the story has the benefit of explaining away some musical scenes; still, some numbers (like the clip of "Steppin’ To the Bad Side" previewed at the "Dreamgirls" presentation) will take place in the "real world" of the film.
The studios have initiated a marketing campaign already that includes paying the licensing fees for community and high school theater groups to put on productions of "Dreamgirls" in the coming year with the hope that it will introduce the "Dreamgirls" story and music to new, younger audiences. Those same audiences and young, MTV-watching demographics are the targets of star power provided by casting Beyonce Knowles and Jamie Foxx, and those teenagers’ parents may be enticed by the appearances of older gen-stars Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover.
Likewise, Broadway fans have been clamoring for a film version of "Dreamgirls" for years, and they’ll no doubt arrive in droves to see this latest, high-profile musical; after all, die-hard show fans went to see the critical dud "Rent." Casting Anika Noni Rose and stage legend Hinton Battle can’t hurt, either, and adds some very important stage credibility to a cast of mostly film thesps.
The filmmakers also have the distinct advantage of attracting the "American Idol" audience — which, in its fifth season, shows no sign of ever going off the air — with fan favorite Jennifer Hudson. The power ballad number "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Leaving," with its showy flair and melodrama, is a signature song that the "Idol" audience will surely be suckers for. To hear it yourself, view the "Dreamgirls" teaser trailer, here, which is no more than title graphics and the power tune, yet has hooked excited fans already.
According to Variety, "Sommers, who directed "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing," was aligned with the project when Paramount first made a deal for it earlier this year (Daily Variety, April 11).
Paramount released the original 1951 "When Worlds Collide," directed by Rudolph Mate, and cleaned up some rights issues surrounding the pic when Sommers became interested in remaking the actioner.
However, his version languished a bit when Par’s new regime came in and he dropped out in favor of a deal to direct and produce Fox’s "A Night at the Museum." At the same time, Spielberg came aboard "When Worlds Collide" as producer. That move came during studio excitement for "War of the Worlds," which Spielberg directed and which has grossed $588 million worldwide.
Sometime around September, Sommers dropped out of "Museum" due to creative differences, which led him back to "When Worlds Collide." The Fox project now is in the hands of "Cheaper By The Dozen" helmer Shawn Levy."
"The family comedy centers on a goodhearted but bumbling security guard at the Museum of Natural History who accidentally trips an ancient curse that causes the animals and insects on display to come to life, wreaking havoc in the area."
The screenplay is loosely based on the children’s novel by Milan Trenc.