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How ‘Annabelle: Creation’ Succeeds Where ‘The Mummy’ Failed

How ‘Annabelle: Creation’ Succeeds Where ‘The Mummy’ Failed

Leading up to the release of The Mummy, Universal Pictures could not possibly have spent more time talking about their intention to launch the Dark Universe, a series of interconnected monster movies that would be the horror genre’s answer to Marvel Studios. They utterly failed with their first outing, as The Mummy was a cringeworthy mess that also inexplicably presumes that we are already interested in seeing a sequel before the first scene even begins. But while Universal was making a public display of their Dark Universe planning, Warner Bros. was quietly preparing to launch their own Conjuring Universe, and this series’ fourth entry, Annabelle: Creation, just performed better in its opening weekend than The Mummy did while costing $110 million less. The success of Creation, a highly enjoyable summer horror film, only highlights the utter failure of The Mummy and teaches a valuable lesson about launching a new film franchise in the modern era.

From the start, James Wan and Warner Bros. made the wise decision of presenting The Conjuring as a singular story with no additional baggage. In promoting the 2013 film, which came out the summer after Marvel’s wild success with the groundbreaking cinematic meetup The Avengers, the studio gave no indication that this might be part of a broader universe. Wan tells a satisfying tale that completes itself within its run time, with the Perron family’s struggles being introduced and resolved within those 112 minutes. Wan suggests that there are more stories out there with the Warrens’ collection of haunted items, but this and the cold open with Annabelle serve primarily to establish Ed and Lorraine’s day-to-day lives, not to sell the audience on a dozen more Conjuring movies yet to come.

But that’s not because it was always the intention to just make one Conjuring. James Wan recently told The Hollywood Reporter that he had a whole world in mind from the beginning and that he even wanted to call the first movie The Warren Files instead of The Conjuring, with the former title setting itself up for sequels a bit better. Wisely, though, Wan kept all the franchise-building off screen until long after The Conjuring was released and hailed as one of the finest American horror films of the decade.

With a cinematic universe, especially one not based on a medium like comic books that already thrives on crossovers, it seems to work best when viewers are slowly eased into the idea, not being told about the larger world until they’re already invested in the smaller one. This is a principle that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the D.C. Extended Universe, and Legendary’s MonsterVerse all relied upon with Iron Man, Man of Steel and Godzilla, all films that would still make perfect sense had no sequels or spinoffs followed.

In 2014, Warner Bros. released Annabelle, a spinoff of The Conjuring that barely tied into the first movie at all outside of a tacked-on framing device. The Warrens themselves never appear, and there are few references to anything existing outside of the movie’s narrative. Instead, it follows a new couple, John and Mia, and like in The Conjuring, we leave with the sense that all was resolved and that we don’t necessarily need any more in order to feel fulfilled. Last year, The Conjuring 2 told another effective individual horror story, one that would resonate even with those who never saw the original.

It was only in promoting the fourth Conjuring movie, Annabelle: Creation, that Warner Bros. finally began to lean into the cinematic universe concept. The trailers for this sequel, and all of its posters, refer to it as the “next chapter in the Conjuring universe.” By this point, some consistency across Conjuring films had been established. Although the plots are unique, the first three Conjuring movies feel like they’re coming from the same place. They’re old school horror stories that are intentional throwbacks to movies of the 1970s. They also rely less on gore and more on suspense, and they emphasize characters and their relationships with one another. Therefore, calling this a “universe” didn’t feel like a sudden jump; after four years, Warner Bros’ had proven to us why the cinematic world should exist.

Compare this to the lead up to The Mummy. Three full years before the movie came out, Universal announced that it was rebooting its shared franchise of monster movies, which would start with The Mummy. As the June 2017 release date rolled closer and closer, the hype revolved largely around the cinematic universe plans, with the movie we were actually about to see seeming less important. Before The Mummy opened in theaters, Universal had announced plans for at least seven more installments in what it was now suddenly referring to as the Dark Universe. In interviews, director Alex Kurtzman talked mainly about what was to come for the franchise and seemed less interested in the movie he was actually releasing in June. So confident was Universal in this branding that they even kicked off The Mummy with the Dark Universe logo, a logo that was created literally two weeks earlier.

How are audiences expected to get excited about seeing more of something when they haven’t even seen the initial thing yet? Putting the cart before the horse in this case actually has an adverse effect. Ideally, crowds should turn out in droves to see a great individual film that tells a complete story, and as a result, they’re dying to see more, at which point the studio begins setting up more for them to see. But laying out a seven-plus movie plan all at once and presuming audiences will automatically get on board just feels desperate; it’s like discussing marriage plans on a first date.

With Annabelle: Creation, the pivot to the broader universe wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, as there’s also a noticeable shift in the movie itself. Creation, after all, features a scene that was clearly inserted to set up a future film and a post-credits stinger that serves the same purpose. But those two scenes total about 30 seconds of screen time, and you could easily take out both with no real impact on the story. There’s one beat where a character looks at a photo of a nun, and that nun appears at the end of the credits, something that is intended to set up 2018’s The Nun. Otherwise, there are no references to anything existing beyond the movie we’re in, not counting the tie-ins to the original Annabelle that are to be expected in a sequel. That’s exactly how it should be, and Creation is never bogged down by pointless world building.

Again compare this to The Mummy, a movie that spends a very significant chunk of its screen time having a character essentially pitch the audience on the Dark Universe. Dr. Henry Jekyll gives Nick Morton an extended explanation about an organization called Prodigium, which is responsible for finding and destroying evil everywhere. In a line that is clearly intended to be read on a meta level, Jekyll actually says, “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.” The Dark Universe table setting absolutely affects the storytelling, grinding the entire movie to a halt and utterly destroying the pace. Can’t we just enjoy a Friday night at the movies without spending half the time being told about much better Friday nights to come in a few years? In the process of trying to better position the next few movies, Alex Kurtzman has ruined this one, therefore killing any enthusiasm for what’s to come. And although you could take the nun scenes out of Annabelle: Creation without having to change a word, lifting Prodigium out of The Mummy would call for extensive rewrites.

Imagine how differently things might have gone had Alex Kurtzman and Universal Studios taken The Conjuring’s approach. Had they done so, Dr. Henry Jekyll would be excised from The Mummy entirely. The film would instead be a standalone adventure about Nick Morton, who must learn about and defeat Princess Ahmanet without a walking, talking exposition machine there to help him and tell him about Universal Studio’s ten-year plan. At most, there could be one oblique reference to Prodigium, but otherwise, viewers would be given a complete experience, which would hopefully leave them interested in similar monster movies. Granted, assuming no changes to the rest of the film were made, they’d still be disappointed in the cringeworthy dialogue, uninteresting action scenes and lack of memorable scares, but that’s a whole separate issue.

Let’s not forget that in Iron Man, Nick Fury did not show up until after the credits, and Godzilla, the retroactive first chapter in the Legendary MonsterVerse, stood completely on its own. This is how it should be, as even if the hope is for a movie to launch a new franchise, it’s best not to make that clear on screen immediately. Otherwise, you end up with something like The Mummy, which feels like the first episode of a CBS show you’d turn off halfway through. Part of the appeal of a cinematic universe is that it establishes a stamp of quality and a level of consistency between a series of films that won’t necessarily be related at first but that will feel connected due to their tone and style. Though Universal Studios was the master of the interconnected horror universe decades ago, with Annabelle: Creation, Warner Bros. has beaten them at their own game.



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COMMENTS

24 Comments
  • Kk

    The Annabelle film was ok loads better than the first one but to many jump scares where u no when there coming I didn’t jump once did enjoy the film tho. The mummy film could of been loads better if they took there time with it and got better lead characters

  • Jada Maes

    I’ve watched the Conjuring twice from beginning to end and… I just don’t get the hype. It’s incredibly slow, painfully quiet, and the scariest moment involves a bedsheet.

    • boxcar182

      Did you see it in theater? These movies are the perfect theater experience.

      • Jada Maes

        DVD (in a homemade tent with my partner if that makes a difference). Not knocking anybody’s taste, but the IMDb trivia talks about how test audiences apparently call the first one of the most horrifying/ terrifying/ scary/ frightening films in the history of the Earth and I just don’t see it. Of course, I didn’t buy The VVitch either. I liked it more when it was called Lords of Salem.

  • Grimphantom

    I honestly expected you compared The Mummy with the upcoming It movie. The problem it’s not to scrap Dr. Jekyll but the whole reboot of the Universal Monsters was doom from the start where the chairman Donna Langley had the fantastic idea of making these movies being more action and less horror, that’s the first boneheaded move.

    Then they hire people that they are NOT affiliated with Horror in anyway, they had the guys that worked on Fast and Furious and when they got Alex Kurtzman, his works aren’t the stuff you say “i smell a hit!” when first off he’s a writer and 2nd he worked on really bad movies, it’s incredible this guy is getting a job…….

    Getting A-list actors who folks are already tired of watching them, will play the main monsters and it’s just painful to watch, like having Tom Cruise when his recent movies were exactly the same and having other actors that doesn’t fit well with the characters that they will play like the recent rumors of having The Rock play the Wolfman or Channing Tatum play Van Helsing, those are the worst cast choices since Lex Luthor from Batman vs. Superman…

    And finally and as you pointed out, they bite off more than can chew while announcing their own version of Cinematic universe…..wait if the first movie does well, then you come up with a share universe….

    If they had Jekyll or not it doesn’t matter, they screwed up with those 4 points i mentioned. They are neglecting the folks that truly enjoy these movies and it’s us, the horror fans.

    • Horrormikfl

      Amen

    • Phendranah

      Here, here!
      Well said Grim.
      Action horror is fine and all, but not an entire “universe” based on it, please.

    • J Jett

      Grim, very well said! i agree 100%.

  • Ok come on then, Bloody Disgusting hype pushing authors aside, is it any good? Or is it just more of the usual?

    • Sky Ferreira

      I’m incredibly cynical and still managed to thoroughly enjoy it. If you’re expecting groundbreaking, genre-redefining horror, maybe sit this one out.

    • Creepshow

      Stay towards the light my child. Follow your instincts, and don’t go astray.

  • Sky Ferreira

    TL;DR?

    How ‘Annabelle: Creation’ Succeeds Where ‘The Mummy’ Failed – Annabelle: Creation was actually good and The Mummy sucked sandy ass.

  • Bloodspatta

    Am I the only one who was disappointed by Annabelle Creation?? I thought it was one of the most boring horror movies ever.

    • Saturn

      Wow. Just wow.
      Stiil, different strokes different folks n’ all that.

  • In all honesty I didn’t think The Mummy was that bad of a film. Was nothing genre-redefining but it was a nice little enjoyable popcorn flick. The zombies in the film looked really cool but of course that is not what makes a good film. I do completely agree on what you are saying though. Don’t come into it proclaiming its a shared universe because you will lose the core concept of the film.

  • K.O.

    So, I like the first Conjuring movie but I also feel like people who scam money from vulnerable families by claiming they can exorcise demons and talk to the dead are the fucking WORST. I assume Lorraine Warren is still getting royalties off these movies? Yuck.
    Doesn’t take much to top The Mummy though.

  • Ocelot006 .

    How big of a bust was the Mummy really? It made more than Edge Of Tomorrow and cost less. Is it really a bomb or just a disappointment? I need the hard numbers here dammit!!

    Hell it made more than the new Apes movie. I mean that’s still opening up around the world somewhat but I believe all the major territories are pretty much done for.

  • Bud Friesel

    …..You forgot to mention that A) Tom Cruise is no longer the draw he once was and B) The Mummy opened against Wonder Woman and got eaten alive. Wouldn’t have made this Ed. very interesting, but still……

  • Michael Blackney

    I guess I’ll be that guy who liked both movies lol. Annabelle a lot, actually. I already saw it twice…

  • Blood Boil

    Comparing these 2 movies is like high-fiving and you each have a turd in your hand

  • J Jett

    “…But laying out a seven-plus movie plan all at once and presuming
    audiences will automatically get on board just feels desperate; it’s
    like discussing marriage plans on a first date”……

    that reminds me of Cameron’s four(?) upcoming AVATAR sequels.

  • J Jett

    i actually really like THE CONJURING 2. very much so.

    • Laura Kinney (X-23)

      Conjuring 2 was AWESOME!!

  • Laura Kinney (X-23)

    How ‘Annabelle: Creation’ Succeeds Where ‘The Mummy’ Failed?? 5 words: IT DIDN’T HAVE TOM CRUISE!! (And I’m glad!! I hate that guy!!)

    I will definitely be seeing Annabelle 2 and skipping The Mummy.

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