While it might feel like we see a new Spider-Man or Batman adaptation almost every year, the case of Bram Stoker’s iconic gothic vampire, Dracula, is quite different. Over the years, there have been countless portrayals of this legendary character on the silver screen. Some of these are true classics in the horror genre. F.W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu, for instance, stands as an essential work within the German Expressionist movement. Then there’s Universal’s 1931 film Dracula, which introduced the Count in an iconic performance by Bela Lugosi. In 1958, The Horror of Dracula brought Christopher Lee’s legendary take on the character to life. Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake Nosferatu the Vampyre offered its own horrifying twist on the original, while Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 epic Bram Stoker’s Dracula delved into themes of sexual frustration and heartbreak.
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However, Dracula is a property that has always intrigued Hollywood, with the potential for creating a franchise. Back in 2014, Universal made an attempt with Dracula Untold, hoping to kickstart a new series. Fast forward almost a decade, and news of a sequel featuring Luke Evans reprising his role as Vlad the Impaler has been notably scarce.
What Is ‘Dracula Untold’ About?
Dracula Untold emerged at a time when Hollywood appeared somewhat unsure about how to handle its iconic monster characters. The Mummy franchise had taken a somewhat chaotic turn, and classic horror figures like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were given rather awkward treatments in films like I, Frankenstein and Victor Frankenstein. Although these characters are in the public domain and can be used by any filmmaker, Universal Studios had a rich history of owning and intertwining these iconic monsters. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Universal pioneered the concept of a cinematic universe with classic horror films like Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and, of course, the 1931 classic, Dracula. These characters crossed over, made cameos in each other’s films, and even had humorous encounters with Abbott & Costello.
Inspired by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal decided to revisit Dracula and potentially lay the groundwork for a new interconnected series. To their credit, first-time director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless brought an intriguing concept to Dracula Untold. Instead of rehashing the traditional ‘haunted mansion’ narrative, the film delved into the mythology of the character, treating it as a tragic historical epic reminiscent of a Ridley Scott film. The story unfolds in the 15th century, introducing Luke Evans as Vlad Drăculea, the Prince of Wallachia and Transylvania. Vlad, a former ward of the Sultan and a soldier in the Ottoman Empire, possesses formidable skills, but he’s haunted by his own violent potential. He strives to protect his kingdom, his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon), his children, and the future of Europe. However, when an Ottoman battalion threatens their kingdom, Vlad has no choice but to seek the aid of the Master Vampire (revealed to be an ancient Roman soldier named Caligula driven by greed), who bestows him with vampiric powers.
With his newfound immortality and the ability to transform into a swarm of bats, Vlad defends his kingdom. Yet, his journey down the dark path becomes inevitable when a dying Mirena begs him to drink her blood.
‘Dracula Untold’ and the Dark Universe
As the credits rolled on Dracula Untold, audiences were left with a tantalizing hint of what could be a sequel set in the modern day. Vlad, who has saved Europe from the Ottoman Empire, appears to have perished in the climactic battle. However, the film’s final moments suggest that due to his vampiric nature, Vlad has survived and now roams the streets of modern London. The sequel tease takes a thrilling turn when it’s revealed that the Master Vampire, too, has endured and seems to be tracking Vlad. While Dracula Untold raked in approximately $217.1 million at the box office, it came with a production cost of $70 million and faced harsh criticism from reviewers. The closing scene was added in reshoots to potentially lay the groundwork for a new cinematic universe, yet Universal later shifted its focus to their reboot of The Mummy as the true start of the “Dark Universe.”
Alex Kurtzman, writer and director of The Mummy, made it clear that Dracula Untold was not part of the “Dark Universe” canon, and The Mummy was heavily marketed as the official launch of this shared universe. The “Dark Universe” eventually met a dramatic demise, serving as a cautionary tale about overplanning in the film industry. Following The Mummy’s dismal box office performance and scathing reviews, Universal scrapped all plans for an interconnected universe. This decision included shelving projects like Bill Condon’s remake of The Bride of Frankenstein starring Javier Bardem and Angelina Jolie, a reimagining of The Invisible Man with Johnny Depp, and the future of Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll. Instead, Universal adopted the Blumhouse model, resulting in Leigh Whannell’s critically acclaimed version of The Invisible Man in 2020. Universal also opted for a more creative approach to rebooting the Dracula series, collaborating with Nicolas Cage in the comedy vehicle Renfield.
Despite the setbacks, Dracula remains a highly sought-after character in the film industry. Alongside Renfield, this year brings The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a fresh take on Dracula set at sea. Production may have stalled on Karyn Kusama’s Dracula film, Mina Harker, and Chloé Zhao’s new Dracula adaptation remains in an unknown stage of development. Nevertheless, the enduring appeal of Dracula suggests that another visionary director will be drawn to this iconic character. Unfortunately, Dracula Untold’s ambition to kickstart a new franchise may have been thwarted by its box office performance and critical reception—a bittersweet outcome for a film that managed to entertain far more than expected.