In 1999, Universal Studios released The Mummy, a fresh take on the classic monster movie. The Stephen Sommers-directed film was a huge hit and turned Brendan Fraser into a bonafide movie star. The success of the first movie led to two sequels – The Mummy Returns in 2001, and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in 2008. And though a fourth film was slated for production, it was ultimately never released.
So whatever happened to this mysterious Mummy movie? Will it ever see the light of day, or will it remain forever hidden like an ancient relic? Let’s find out WTF Happened to the Unmade Mummy: Rise of the Aztec Movie.
Before The Mummy’s release, Universal Studios had spent close to a decade trying to get a remake off the ground. In the late 1980s, producers James Jacks and Sean Daniel sought to modernize the 1932 classic and hoped to turn it into a potential franchise. With a $10 million budget secured for the first film, they started reaching out to a number of well-known horror directors.
First was George Romero, whose pitch followed a group of scientists that inadvertently resurrected an ancient Mummy hellbent on wiping out all human life. But due to creative differences, Romero dropped out. According to writer Abbie Bernsteim, Romero left the project because Universal wanted the Mummy to be “an unstoppable force akin to The Terminator.”
Clive Barker was later hired, but the studio found his take on the material too “weird” and sexual. Joe Dante was brought on and pitched a film centered around a brooding, heartbroken mummy played by Daniel Day Lewis, but his star-power demanded a higher budget than Universal was willing to pay.
This revolving door of writers and directors continued until 1997, when Stephen Sommers contacted Jacks and Daniel with his pitch for the movie; a romantic adventure with horror elements like Indiana Jones. The mummy, rather than being the film’s central character, was to be the villain. And it wasn’t going to be some dated, bandaged-wrapped zombie-esque monster like the original film: Sommers wanted the mummy to be “faster, meaner, and scarier.” Despite a proposed budget of $80 million dollars, Universal loved the pitch so much they greenlit the movie.
James Jacks reached out to the likes of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise to play the lead role before ultimately choosing Branden Fraser. While Fraser was undeniably the best actor for the role, could you imagine how cool it would’ve been to see Tom Cruise play the part? Oh wait a second….
Anyway, The Mummy was released just one week before the hugely anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Despite the massive competition from a galaxy far, far away, The Mummy struck a chord with audiences around the world, bringing in $416 million dollars at the box office. Viewers fell in love with Fraser’s charming Rick O’Connell, reminding audiences of the fun, globe-trotting action-adventure films that dominated the 80s and early 90s. The massive success of the first film convinced the studio to fast-track a sequel, with director Stephen Sommers and most of the original principal cast returning.
When The Mummy Returns was released in 2001, it was an even bigger success than the first film. Though the over-reliance on early-2000s CGI has dated the film a bit, it was eagerly received at the time, and Universal would’ve been crazy not to go ahead with a third movie.
But despite the demand for a third film, Sommers was hesitant to sign on. He didn’t want to make a third Mummy movie if they couldn’t make it “bigger and better” than the first two. When he ultimately decided not to make the film, Universal turned to Rob Cohen to direct.
Brendan Fraser and John Hannah would be the only two original cast members to return. Rachel Weisz – citing script problems and the recent birth of her son – dropped out and was replaced by Maria Bello.
When The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor hit theaters in 2008 – more than seven years after Returns – it was met with a resounding meh. Although Maria Bello is a wonderful actress and played her part well, it couldn’t hold a torch to the chemistry that Weisz and Fraser shared in the first two films. And despite the fact that Stephen Sommers remained on board as an executive producer, his chops behind the camera were noticeably missing. Dragon Emperor lacked the charm and vibrant action scenes that really made the first two movies POP.
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor would become the worst-reviewed film in the series. And despite a reported budget of $145 million – which is nearly double the first, and $40 million more than Returns – it was also the least financially successful. While the studio didn’t lose money, the profit margins were noticeably smaller than the first two movies.
Regardless of the Dragon Emperor’s poor reception, Universal greenlit a fourth movie. Maria Bello was signed on for another film and Luke Ford, who played Rick and Evelyn’s son Alex in Dragon Emperor, was signed on for three more, implying the studio was setting him up to lead a new trilogy.
Universal Studios tentatively set The Mummy: Rise of the Aztec as the next movie in the franchise. Alongside Fraser, Bello and Ford, rumors around Hollywood suggested Antonio Banderas and Jeremy Irons were in talks to join as the film’s mysterious antagonists.
Unfortunately, Universal eventually canceled the fourth movie (for reasons we’ll get to in a second). But soon after the painful announcement, a short plot summary leaked online, giving fans some tantalizing insight into what could’ve been.
According to this unverified breakdown, Rise of the Aztecs was set in the 1950s. Jonathon Carnahan has ventured into Peru in search of a lost Aztec city and goes missing. Rick, Evelyn, and a begrudging Alex set off to rescue him and upon their arrival, our family of archeologists are captured by a rogue squadron of treasure-hunting Spaniards searching for the same Aztec city, commanded by Jeremy Irons’s villain character. The group is later ambushed by Aztec natives, who turn out to be followers of Antonio Banderas’s King Imperio. The natives abduct Evelyn and hand her over to Imperio, who plans to use her in a ritual sacrifice to resurrect their God and his legion of undead followers.
After this devastating ambush, the O’Connells must form an uneasy alliance with the Spaniards in order to save Evelyn and Jonathon and do what they do best: prevent the resurrection of another world-ending mummy.
This leaked summary had fans salivating; though the last film’s expedition to China was a nice change of pace from the Egyptian landscapes of the first two movies, it wasn’t that different. But the hot, swampy rainforests of South America would’ve been an exciting contrast to the dry, barren desert landscapes that has populated most of this franchise, and would’ve exposed our heroes to a whole new world of unique environmental dangers.
The Aztec Empire was also a brutal but beautiful culture, replete with their own wondrous costumes, jewelry, and weapons. Their capital city, Tenochtitlan, was rumored to have been made out of gold. And the Aztec mythology is absolutely brimming with larger-than-life gods and monsters. There would’ve been enough material to make three movies, let alone one.
But unfortunately, there is some bad news: as exciting as this all sounds, this summary for Rise of the Aztec was later found to be fake. Which explains why the film was set in Peru, and not Mexico, where the Aztec Empire was actually based.
The sad reality is the only confirmed bit of info we have about this mysterious fourth film is its title. Outside of an unverified teaser poster that’s been floating around online, any information pertaining to this fourth Mummy movie has been harder to find than a pharaoh’s tomb.
And it may be all we’ll ever get because in 2012, Universal decided to cancel the fourth movie altogether in favor of rebooting the series, with the hopes that it would launch the “Dark Universe,” an MCU-style franchise of connected films centered around Universal’s classic monster catalog.
Tom Cruise – who, if you remember, initially turned down the original role – was tapped to play the lead and Alex Kurtzman was brought on to direct. David Koepp scripted the film, with revisions made by Tom Cruise’s most trusted collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, when the script started hitting some story snags.
Some would say the film was doomed from the start. The first trailer released for the movie featured unfinished audio mixing, which resulted in the most memed moment of 2017. But even before the trailer, reports of in-fighting and on-set tension between Cruise and Kurtzman over the direction of the movie began seeping out of Hollywood. Nobody was on the same page, and in the world of movie-making, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The Mummy was released in 2017 and – much like Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – was met with poor reviews and middling fan reaction. It was by all accounts a flop. A sequel was never announced, and Universal was forced to reassess the future of their entire “Dark Universe” slate of movies.
As of now, there are no plans to release another Mummy movie anytime soon. (Tom Cruise certainly wants no part of it). But thanks to Brendan Fraser’s recent career resurgence thanks to The Whale,, there remains a glimmer of hope. When asked if he’d ever star in a sequel, Fraser said he’d be open to if the right story came along. He argued that the reason the reboot failed was because it leaned too much on horror and not enough on adventure. The first film, especially, was so successful because it oozes charm, and transported audiences to a world far beyond their own. It wasn’t dark and brooding; it was just a lot of fun.
Although Fraser has mentioned his interest in another Mummy movie, he has also admitted that making the original movies was absolutely brutal, and may impact his decision to join a fourth installment if offered. He suffered a lot of injuries on set and almost died in one stunt gone wrong. These injuries led to a number of surgeries including two laminectomies, a partial knee replacement, bolted spinal pads, and even vocal cord reparation. All in all, Fraser was in and out of the hospital for a good seven years, and his medical problems were a big reason for his absence from films over the last decade.
Still, his love and enthusiasm for the movies is obvious. Earlier this year, Fraser introduced a showing of the original Mummy in London, dressed as Rick O’Connell himself. But there’s also the question of Rachel Weisz and John Hannah; sure Brendan Fraser is charming, but it’s the three of them that made the first two movies truly special. If a good script ever comes across his desk, Fraser may very well take that journey again. But will Weisz and Hannah come along with him?
Of course anything is possible, especially in a world where an 80-year old Harrison Ford is still playing Indiana Jones. Perhaps CGI and an army of stunt doubles can lift the load from Fraser’s shoulders. But only time will tell if we’ll ever see a fourth Mummy movie. And if we do, will it at all resemble Rise of the Aztec, or will they take the story in a totally new direction?
Hopefully fans will get their answer soon, as time is running out for a true-blue, honest-to-goodness sequel to the original Mummy movies. But as Evelyn Carnahan would say in times like these, “patience is a virtue.”
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-mummy-4-wtf-happened-to-this-unmade-movie/