If you follow film industry news, you may know that Universal’s attempt to reboot their classic movie monsters and develop a shared universe similar to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may need some changes. Although it is absolutely possible to turn these properties into winning movies, the people involved in the project appear to be reassessing their plans before taking the next step.
That’s smart. Developing a shared cinematic universe requires careful planning and planting seeds that eventually bear fruit over time. Although all of these characters technically belong to the horror genre, the tone of each original film, from Frankenstein to The Mummy, tends to vary. It’s important to make sure the eventual movies in this cinematic universe form a cohesive whole, instead of feeling like completely incompatible pictures that happen to share characters. They need to decide on what overall tone they want to strive for, before they move forward.
The team behind the project could benefit from revisiting 2010’s The Wolfman. This reboot of the classic monster movie offers some key lessons to anyone planning to bring these classic characters back to life.
First, the 2010 movie proves it’s extremely important to choose the proper cast. The Universal monsters are cultural icons now. Even if you’ve never seen a single one of their films, the odds are good that you’re familiar with the images or the basic story of Frankenstein’s Monster, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, the Mummy, and, of course, the Wolfman.
Choosing new performers to play these iconic roles is a difficult task. Filmmakers shouldn’t merely try to find actors who can perfectly mimic the original performances. Instead, they should find actors who have the talent to strike the right balance between respecting the original while also bringing something new to the character.
Benicio del Toro was an ideal choice for the rebooted Wolfman character. That’s not simply because he is extraordinarily talented. Playing a character who transforms into a monster makes quite a lot of sense for him—he frequently plays men who can be charming and funnily offbeat in one scene, only to become violent and lethal in the next.
The filmmakers behind 2010’s The Wolfman surrounded him with equally capable performers, including Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. Casting actors with this kind of talent sends a clear message to viewers: this may be a reboot of a campy horror film, but you should still take note.
The fact of the matter is, as tremendously accomplished as the old Universal classics are, as horror films, they don’t exactly hold up for today’s audiences. Although dedicated film enthusiasts can still admire the craftsmanship that made these movies terrify audiences when they were first released, modern viewers typically don’t consider them very scary.
It would therefore be easy to reboot a movie like the original The Wolf Man (1941) in a way that paid homage to first film in a campy, self-aware manner. Instead, the filmmakers behind 2010’s The Wolfman strived to make a movie that genuinely scared and thrilled viewers the way the original did upon its initial release.
That meant casting actors who are skilled enough to lend the film a degree of gravitas. It also meant not shying away from the implications of the premise.
Again, the original Universal classics are undeniably strong movies, but they lack a certain degree of terror that modern horror audiences expect. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories without, for example, graphic violence, it is critical to make certain changes to attract a new generation of viewers when rebooting them.
In other words, filmmakers shouldn’t necessarily try to sanitize the material in order to make the movie more “appropriate” for a wide age range. This strategy usually doesn’t serve the material; instead, it’s meant to attract the widest possible audience.
This is an understandable approach; studios take on a certain degree of risk when developing a project. Taking steps to make the film more financially viable and ensure that it is accessible to a large audience makes sense—just as long as those steps don’t limit the film’s potential for creativity.
The Universal monster movies were prestige horror films in their time. To reboot them successfully, studios need to ensure the new versions compete with the most successful horror films of our time. Sometimes, that means going to the dark, unsettling, and violent places the original movies could not.
2010’s The Wolfman is rated R, and it deserves to be. The team behind that project didn’t “declaw” the material to make it fit into PG-13 standards. Instead, they embraced the true nature of the story.
These are the types of lessons that can help anyone trying to reboot other classic Universal monster movies and create films that are worthy of their predecessors. These characters were very frightening to viewers in their time, and they still can be.