Get ready for ancient beings, goliath beasts and that one guy who has all the answers, because monster movies are back. Armed with modern CGI, big name stars and nostalgia that spans generations, some of the most famous cinematic creatures are taking a romp through today’s box office.
A Monstrous Tradition
For over a century, audiences have been drawn to monsters on film, beginning with The Golem in 1915. It was in 1931 that Universal Pictures began a tradition of frightening, yet relatable, monsters with Dracula and Frankenstein. The Mummy shambled onto screens the following year, continuing what would be a long line of famous film monsters.
Over and over these stories are retold, and while some versions are well-received and others not so much, iconic monster stories stand the test of time like legends shared around an ancient campfire.
With The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, Universal Pictures kicked off its Dark Universe franchise—a series of films that reintroduces and connects many of its most iconic monsters. Egypt’s cursed fiend has appeared in a number of films that have been both terrifying and comical over the years—but never as a woman until now (played by Sophia Boutella).
Director Alex Kurtzman—who produced the popular 1999 Mummy reboot with Brendan Frazier—championed the idea of bringing the classic monster to a present day setting.
“What we are trying to create here is a texture and tone rooted in the Universal horror classic, while having one foot in the modern age,” Kurtzman said in a statement. “This serves as a nod to these classics, while also bringing these monsters to life in a whole new era for a global audience.”
— John Wall (@JohnWall) May 2, 2017
Marketing for the film invited audiences—and NBA stars—into the world of The Mummy through TV spots, VR and 360-degree experiences and a giant sarcophagus in Hollywood.
Despite mixed reviews, The Mummy has earned over $407 million worldwide to date. Now available for digital download, the film could very well surpass its 1999 predecessor in terms of revenue (at $411 million).
Russell Crowe appears in The Mummy as Dr. Jekyll, and other stars have been announced for future films in the series—Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) as The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) as Frankenstein’s Monster. Universal’s Dark Universe continues with The Bride of Frankenstein in 2019.
Return Of The Kings
Warner Bros. has partnered with Legendary Pictures to create a connected franchise of its own—the Monsterverse. Unlike Universal’s Dark Universe that focuses largely on the supernatural, Warner Bros. is putting its faith in Kaiju—a film genre that centers on giant monsters, usually in battle with one another as well as the military. Kaiju literally translates to “strange beast” in Japanese.
Godzilla, released in 2014, was the first entry in the Monsterverse—grossing over $200 million worldwide to date. Kong: Skull Island, proved to be a giant hit earlier this year and has grossed over $565 million worldwide.
“Working with our partners at Legendary, we enjoyed tremendous creative and commercial success with Godzilla,” said Kevin Tsujihara, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., in a press release. “It’s great to be able to revisit these characters and help create a franchise with so many creative possibilities for filmmakers. Fans love these big, globally iconic films and it doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
King Kong is an icon of American cinema, first introduced in 1933. Godzilla, a Japanese character so beloved that he was made an honorary citizen, has been battling fantastical monsters since 1954. Together, they represent a partnership and friendly rivalry between Eastern and Western audiences.
A sequel to Godzilla titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now in production. Featuring the cryptozoological society Monarch from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla will duke it out with classic Kaiju including Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.
All three films are ultimately leading up to Kong vs. Godzilla in 2020.
Kaiju are big, so Warner Bros. and Legendary chose marketing campaigns that emphasized just how big Godzilla and Kong are, respectively. Campaigns simulated what it would be like to have the monsters stomp through town with destruction (Godzilla) and gigantic footprints (Kong).
— FOX 11 Los Angeles (@FOXLA) March 4, 2017
Giant Monsters, Meet Giant Robots
Legendary Pictures seems to have cornered the live-action market for monsters, working alongside Universal Pictures for Pacific Rim and teaming up with Warner Bros. for its Monsterverse series.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was set in the near future with Earth at war with Kaiju that emerged from an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Marketing for the film simulated what it would be like to live in a world constantly at war with Kaiju. An interactive website included tests of the “Kaiju Emergency Broadcast System,” news footage from attack sites and information about mankind’s defenders—pilots operating giant robots (aka mechs) called Jaegars.
Perhaps fueled by a growing consumption of anime in the West, audiences really seem to enjoy giant robots battling giant monsters. Pacific Rim grossed $411 million at the worldwide box office and will get a sequel next year, starring Scott Eastwood (Fate of the Furious) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Although details about Pacific Rim: Uprising are scarce, the film’s first trailer calls for fans to sign up for the Jaeger program, much like a military recruitment video.
— Pacific Rim (@PacificRim) July 20, 2017
Whether they’re big and scary or back from the dead, monsters intrigue audiences worldwide and will continue to do so for years to come.