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Why ‘The Wolfman’ Was the Perfect Start to a Rebooted MonsterVerse

On June 9th, Tom Cruise-starring reboot The Mummy will officially launch Universal’s brand spankin’ new monster movie universe, heavily inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been dominating the box office for many years now. The idea is to reboot the studio’s iconic monster movies as star-studded, action-heavy blockbusters that will (hopefully) rake in a ton of dough, and plans are already in motion for new takes on Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Van Helsing, The Invisible Man, and the Wolf Man.

Of course, the latter film was already remade just seven years ago. And if you’re asking me, it was everything that Universal’s rebooted monster movies should have been.

The Wolfman 2010, well, it was an honest to goodness horror movie. Starring a well-cast Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, the remake managed to embody the essence of Universal horror; there’s a classic feel to the Joe Johnston-directed film, as it’s character/story-driven and loaded with the sort of rich gothic atmosphere that Universal’s genre-defining output was known for. It celebrated the studio’s legacy and paid loving tribute to the 1941 film – looking back, the period-set monster movie was everything that Universal seems to be shying away from here in 2017.

The other great thing about Wolfman 2010? It pulled zero punches in the violence department, earning its R-rating with an impressive array of on-screen brutality that spilled the red stuff all over the screen – at one point, the titular monster uses his razor-sharp claws to literally behead a man with one clean swipe. It’s a phenomenally gory film, and it’s also home to some terrific practical effects work from the master himself, Rick Baker. Some of Baker’s work was infamously replaced with CGI in the editing room, but Baker’s design for the Del Toro Wolfman is a real delight to see on screen. And sue me, but I don’t at all mind the CGI-aided transformation scene, which is very effective. It’s painful to watch, as any good werewolf transformation should be.

Tragic, brutal, and bleak, Wolfman 2010 stands out as maybe the only Universal reboot in the last couple decades that actually wasn’t afraid to be a horror movie – and that’s why I loved it back in 2010 and appreciate it even more here in 2017. Films like 1999’s The Mummy, Van Helsing, and the more recent Dracula Untold are full-on action movies, the latter paving the way for the monsters-as-superheroes sensibility that looks to be the path Universal is now heading down. Based on what we’ve seen of this year’s The Mummy, the universe-starter has a whole lot more in common with the Brendan Fraser franchise than it does anything from Universal’s distant past.

So what happened? Why did Universal ultimately decide to reboot their monster movies as pseudo-superhero flicks? Surely they were inspired by Marvel’s success, but it’s also pretty fair to point to Wolfman 2010 as being the reason why Universal backed away from the horror genre. The R-rated, old fashioned monster movie didn’t even make back its $150 million budget during its worldwide theatrical run, which sent a clear message to the suits in charge: audiences, they determined from those numbers, are no longer interested in the classic monster movies that helped put Universal on the map.

Sadly, one can’t even blame Universal for making that judgment call. Had Wolfman performed better at the box office back in 2010, it likely would’ve become the template that all subsequent Universal reboots followed. And that would’ve been awesome. Alas, audiences just didn’t show up to support that vision, and the response from Universal was swift and necessary: Wolfman was quickly wiped clean from their slate, and PG-13 action movies (set in the present day and likely loaded with superhero-level CGI) became the new vision for the rebooted MonsterVerse.

But we’ll always have Wolfman 2010 as an example of what could have been. It was a damn fine MONSTER MOVIE, and it’s worth a revisit in a landscape that has little room for such cinema.


47 Comments
  • Count Geekula

    Agreed. I really like this movie. It isn’t perfect but the plusses outweigh the minues. And, yes, it is wonderfully grim and gory and the whole production looks gorgeous. Shame it didn’t hit with general audiences.

  • sliceanddice

    thought the movie was a muddled mess.

    • Darkknight2149

      Only because it was rushed. Even so, it still captured the tone and style of the real Universal Monsters films, and would have been a better jumping off point for a shared universe than what we’re getting now.

      • sliceanddice

        And although i stand by my previous comment – i think you are totally right.

  • Jada Maes

    I fully enjoyed it. I also liked that it was a period piece; the current Universal plans would be more exciting if they were either set in the past, or modernized but still meant to be horrific.

  • Brando

    Couldn’t Universal retroactively add it to the current crop? Say “Yeah, sure, that’s part of our shared universe.” Since it was set in the late 1900s, I don’t see how it would conflict with anything in Dracula Untold (shudder) or the new Mummy.

    • ChampionOfLight

      Sure – they could. But they won’t. The film wasn’t that successful or well received. BD may love it, you may love it (that’s fine), but others’ didn’t. Case with pretty much everything. Personally, as a fan of the original Universal Wolf Man film more then any of the other classics – I was incredibly disappointed with the film. It wasn’t scary nor tragic like the original… every now and again I consider giving it another chance but I recall how much I disliked the last act (with the unnecessary plot twist) and just can’t bring myself to try to watch it again.

    • oh_riginal

      If any new Wolfman movies they make don’t contradict the 2010 movie, then logically you could believe it to be part of the same universe anyway, even if it isn’t official. Have to wait and see.

      • Brando

        It’d be cool if they modeled the new Wolfman after this one, or had some kind of callback to the events.
        On that note, I was surprised that the recent Victor Frankenstein movie was Fox and not Universal, because that could have also been included in the shared universe. The monster at the end was of a cool design.

  • Rohan

    I thought it was great! They did an awesome job, with a sick werewolf battle at the end that was both cool to watch and made sense story wise.

  • Darkknight2149

    I would have been fine with this. Their new action movie universe is going to crash and burn, as Universal clearly doesn’t care about what the franchises actually are.

  • Simon Allen

    Boring, hammy and with dreadful effects ….this movie stank .
    It’s only redeeming point was the well shot production design .

  • Charles Cumella

    I don’t really think the main problem here is the PG-13 rating (though it is limiting towhat they can do), it’s the fact that they’re taking all of the horror out of the movie and replacing it with an “action-packed blockbuster” that just shits all over the source. I think they could make a good horror movie with a PG-13 rating, but they just don’t want to.

    • Terry Powell

      Agreed. You can make a horror film that’s less than an R, just make them monsters that actually kill people.

  • Corey

    I saw it in theaters and liked it. Own it on DVD as well.

  • WOLF

    I saw it in the theater but haven’t watched it again. I did like it tho. I remember thinking the fight at the end was unnecessary. But I liked that they made it a serious violent movie. Maybe it wouldn’t hold up if I watched it again?
    But you cant spend $150 million on a violent werewolf movie. That means it needs to make $300 million to be profitable. The Mummy movies made a ton.. but those were basically pale Indiana Jones clones.

  • Hank_Scorpio

    I saw it in the theater and ended up buying the DVD for all the reasons you list. The Wolf Man was my favorite of all monsters growing up and the 2010 movie hit it out of the park. It’s a werewolf, not a superherowolf. It’s supposed to tear innocent people apart and terrify everyone.

    I have no doubt that Universal will bury their legacy under a pile of cinematic excrement like the Mummy reboot….

    • American Atheist

      Agreed.

  • ExoMummy

    Great article. For awhile I thought I was the only one who appreciated this film. Very well filmed and acted. Joe Johnston is a wonderful director with a keen eye for that classic, historical aesthetic. I believe he did the Rocketeer and the first Captain America movie. This film never gets the praise it deserves. While I am, honestly, excited for the new shared Universal Monsters cinematic universe, I feel the same way. This was a tried and true horror flick, and, as interesting as I admitedly find Tom Cruise’s Mummy, it has a lot more action than scares based on the trailers. We’ll just have to wait and judge it when it comes out though. I don’t like to jump the gun. Here’s to hoping that it has some cool surprises in store. Fingers crossed right?

    • jackstark211

      You are not alone.

    • ArmitageX

      Nope, definitely not alone.

  • Vader the White

    I enjoyed the film despite its flaws (illogical and incredibly fake CGI transformation* and a plot twist you could’ve seen coming from the moon). The look was perfect, it had a talented cast, and Rick Baker’s love for the original was obvious, producing my favorite werewolf to date. I really agree that the new films should be more like this.

    *I mean, why did his fingers bend like that? And why the hell would you do a CGI werewolf transformation when you have the man who did An American Werewolf in London? That’s still the greatest werewolf transformation in cinematic history! What in the name of Jack Pierce’s ghost is wrong with you?

  • The film’s production was high quality (absolutely gorgeous to look at) but the story and pacing were terrible. Also the lack of scares is what disappointed me. I wanted this to be the ultimate in terror but walked out w my head down low.

    Universal opted to shift this movie from a straight horror film to an action/horror/gothic. Hence it’s why Mark Romanek opted to not make it after spending months on production and causing Universal to hire Johnston at the 11th hour and almost doubling the production from $85M to $150M (which included several re-shoots).

  • Victor Silva

    Honestly, it’s pretty sad that Penny Dreadful managed to create a moden vision of the classic Universal Monsters (and understand what they were about, in the first place) apparently better than Universal itself.

    The Mummy looks like a missed opportunity, and I REALLY wish they would’ve hired someone such as Guillermo Del Toro to helm this new shared universe, or at least someone who wouldn’t try to turn them into superheroes. Sad.

  • American Atheist

    Nothing will ever compare to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola nailed it with that film. Creepy and morbid.

    The Wolfman 2010 is a cool film. Beautiful cinematography. Excellent gore. Far from perfect, but a hell of a lot better than the shit currently being released. With that being said, the new Mummy movie looks like shit.

    • oh_riginal

      Trade out “Wolfman” with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and the article would make more sense. I do like the Wolfman movie, quite a bit, actually, but Francis Ford Coppola nailed the tone already with his movie. Imagine having the rest of the Universal monster movies with a tone like that… it would be amazing.

      • American Atheist

        I agree. A Frankenstein movie with the atmosphere and
        cinematography of Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be phenomenal.

        Dracula feeding his brides that baby is forever burned into my memory. I need to watch that movie this weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it. Too long, actually.

  • chainsaw autotune

    loved this film visually. it bothered me that they made sir john a creepy character from the start. wouldve been so much more powerful if he was a character the audience could initially embrace. the end fight between dadwolf and sonwolf was … uh…not good.

  • dukeblues

    I actually liked this movie. You know why? It took place in the CORRECT TIME PERIOD! Unlike the new crop of crap they are going to make now. Movie makers today must think we are too stupid to appreciate a movie set in back in time. I dont get that thinking

  • Redsam6

    If you like the film thats fine, I like a lot of bad movies but to say this is a good well made film is wrong.

  • Screamz

    A very underrated film. Yes, it has its flaws – the transformation scene was not good in the least – but they certainly did try. Another pass or two with the script and this could have been a contemporary classic.It’s certainly much better than the crap that’s come after it. Not really looking forward to this new Monsterverse. Please, Universal, prove me wrong…

  • Trav

    This movie is generally perceived as bad. Even Universal came out and said it was one of the worst movies they have ever made. The werewolf makeup was done really well though. I think that was one of the best parts of the film. The werewolves looked really good in this movie.

  • Alexander Calvo

    Sits right up on my shelf next to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the Brendan Fraser Mummy (ONLY the first one). Too bad we never got a good creature reboot to round out the set. In my mind these 4 movies are the rebooted monster movies, and we don’t need anymore. The new mummy looks hilariously awful, possibly worse than the dragon emperor one.

  • ArmitageX

    Totally agree. Never understood the hate. Saw this in theaters and thought it was a blast. I watched it last Halloween and think it still holds up.

    • I enjoyed The Wolfman, I don’t understand the hate! It’s a good remake/reboot.

  • Chris Genth

    I’m not sure about the perfect start, it was OK and I like Anthony Hopkins was in it. My biggest beef was the effects, we’re they trying to recreate the effects look from the original? I just thought they bombed on the transformation, could’ve gone in the direction of American or the howling

  • I think the new The Mummy will be awful, this film seems to be a bad Mission Impossible with a mummy.

  • Mike

    I really enjoyed this film. I do not see how they will top the design for the Wolf Man in the next reboot. This was the perfect blend of Jack Pierce’s classic look with the modern touches that people expect nowadays.

  • Poopsmith McUnty

    Perfect? No.

  • Darth_Siskel

    I liked The Wolfman. I just haaaaated the romantic subplot. Wasn’t believable atall.

  • Joey

    perfect!!

  • annoymous

    Yeah me too if only the universal monster films or “Dark universe” could done the similar thing the wolfman did then the films could have been following its predecessors roots

  • John Morrissey

    I really enjoyed the 2010 Wolfman. Yeah, I know there’s folks that don’t but everyone has their likes and dislikes (I HATE Underworld for instance).
    I don’t hold out hope for “Dark Universe”. Tom Cruise sucks, and just how scary will most of the monsters be in a world where some dime store Rambo can cut ’em in half with a mini-gun or a Ma deuce?
    Then there’s the inevitable problem of modernization. Will it be the Universal Frankenstein Monster, or a new concept of a clone degenerating and going off the deep end? No doubt the new Wolfman will be a genetic experiment that’s escaped.
    And Dracula’ not even on the menu! Dracula gets pissed and vamps Tom Cruise, Dracula gets pissed and breaks Tom Cruise in half, Dracula gets pissed and impales Tom Cruise and every one at the Peridigium, any of these works for me, but since you can’t machine gun the Impaler, he won’t be allowed to play.

  • Jim Copenhaver

    Can’t anyone in Hollywood come up with an original idea for a movie?

  • Ochocabra Feratu

    i thought The Wolfman (2010) had some definite positives: it looked moody, excellent scenery, Del Toro was excellent as Talbot, and they honored the classic, original makeup with the perfect amount of ‘modern’. the wolfman himself looked fantastic, costuming, sets, all brilliant.

  • Fred Barnett

    CGI has taken the personalities out of modern films. Where are the new Horror stars ? Who will be this generation’s Karloff, Lugosi, ChristopherLee, Peter Lorre, or Vincent Price etc. We need personalities and original stories — not CGI, slashers and shakey video.

  • Jack Nause

    This movie was not good. And they replaced Rick Baker’s transformation sequence with all CGI. Script was disjointed. Johnston did capture mood, and deserved a better script without studio interference…

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