When The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor was released, there were plans for at least one more Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser – but it didn’t go to plan.

Sitting through the pretty joyless, Dark Universe-branded reboot of The Mummy back in 2017, pretty much most of us were sat there thinking that this was not a very good film. Appreciating the story of The Mummy has been told numerous times on the big screen, the attempt to gamble on a fresh reboot headlined by Tom Cruise may have looked good on paper. But for someone growing up on the blockbuster movies of the 80s and 90s, I felt I wasn’t alone in wondering: why didn’t they just get Brendan Fraser back?

Where had the fun gone? Why was Cruise – a very able actor, of course – struggling to headline a movie with anywhere near the level of charm that Fraser had managed?

Bluntly: just why.

The 1999 take on The Mummy (above) is a bit of a baggy beast, but it’s also bursting with entertainment, and huge amounts of fun. A chunk of the credit for that surely lies at the door of its leading man, and his rapport with the also-terrific Rachel Weisz. Fraser broke through as a movie star in the late 90s, headlining hits George Of The Jungle and Blast From The Past (both excellent). He’d also appeared in the acclaimed Gods And Monsters too, and his star was on the rise at speed. The Mummy sent it into the stratosphere.

Coming across as effortlessly funny, and winning over audiences quickly, it was inevitable that he’d be signed up for the sequel to The Mummy. And whilst The Mummy Returns was – in this humble writer’s opinion – a much lesser film (kid sidekicks ahoy), it was an even bigger success at the box office.

Fraser’s career in the 2000s wasn’t quite the same, and he’s talked candidly about what happened in a much-shared GQ interview. It’s a piece that stopped me writing ‘where are they now’ articles back in my previous job, making me very keenly aware that you never fully know somebody’s else’s story.

Still, in the aftermath of The Mummy Returns’ enormous success, there wasn’t an immediate overt drive for The Mummy 3. Whilst it was assumed it was going to happen, director Stephen Sommers pursued Van Helsing instead. Scripts were put together, and Universal was trying to nudge a new Mummy adventure forward. But it wasn’t until the start of 2007 – six years after The Mummy Returns – that it was officially confirmed a new movie was coming. Furthermore, Sommers wasn’t going to direct it, with the job instead ultimately going to Rob Cohen.

Fraser was signed up later that year, although Rachel Weisz – not best happy with the script – passed on a return. It left John Hannah as the other returnee, with Maria Bello stepping in for Weisz. The working title was The Mummy 3: Curse Of The Dragon, but in the end the movie was set to be called The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor.

It was full steam ahead, and a release date of summer 2008 was marked on the calendar by Universal Pictures. What’s more, the studio didn’t want to have to hang around for The Mummy 4, and got to work making sure it wouldn’t have to. Key members of the cast, including newcomers to the franchise Bello and Luke Ford, were signed up for multiple films, with Ford for one revealing that he had a three picture deal.

The signs at first were positive too. Whilst reviews were hardly stellar – but then they hardly were for The Mummy ReturnsTomb Of The Dragon Emperor brought in just over $400m worldwide. That was slightly down on its predecessor, but still decent money.

Furthermore, the film had put into place a follow-up, that would have seen Antonio Banderas recruited to play the villain. The movie would have seen the O’Connells – led by Fraser – heading this time to South America for more mummy-battling. A working title was The Mummy: Rise Of The Aztec, and John Hannah was expected to return again as well.

Rob Cohen was tapped up to sit again in the director’s chair, and a screenplay was commissioned. 2010 was the earliest we could have seen it, but it soon became clear that wasn’t to be. Still, work continued on the movie, with Rob Cohen then suggesting at one stage a 2011 release.

Meanwhile, Universal was experimenting. It had started digging back into its classic horror vaults and pressed ahead with 2010’s The Wolfman and 2014’s Dracula Untold. The Mummy 4 was to fall in-between those movies it seemed. Yet alongside all of this work, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was building elsewhere in Hollywood. And the grosses that the MCU movies were bringing in led to pretty much every studio in town looking for a cinematic universe of its own.

Thus, a few different factors ultimately brought The Mummy 4 to a shuddering stop.

Firstly, there was no getting away from the non-plussed response from fans to The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. It simply hadn’t had the impact of the previous two movies, and as such, there was hardly clamour for more. Furthermore, The Wolfman struggled too, and the tease at the end of Dracula Untold failed to have people furiously heading to Google to try and find out when they could discover what’d happen next.

Secondly, the stakes for blockbuster cinema had been raised, and a $400m hit just didn’t cut it to the same degree anymore.

Thirdly, Universal knew it wanted a universe. It knew that The Mummy had been its best box office performer over the past two decades. It had to choose, ultimately, between The Mummy 4 and a reboot to launch a project it was going to call the Dark Universe.

It did not choose wisely.

By 2012, it was announced that a writer had been hired – Jon Spaihts – to fashion a new take on The Mummy, one that would leave Brendan Fraser behind With that announcement, the plan for Rise Of The Aztec was duly abandoned, and Antonio Banderas’ chances of doing battle with Fraser were over. And whilst Fraser has also expressed interest in returning to the series, there seems precious little chance of that happening.

A pity. Because across three films, of which I’d suggest just the one has been particularly good, he’s been a large part of the reason that even the weakest of them remains worth a watch. Who knows if The Mummy 4 would have been a decent film, of course. But there’s decent odds notwithstanding that on it being an improvement on the aforementioned reboot…

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