There’s Only One Way This Franchise Can Survive
Inevitably every movie franchise reaches a point of diminishing returns, and not even necessarily due to poor creative choices or bomb installments (though Underworld certainly has both of those things). The problem for Underworld, and why even a legacy sequel down the line wouldn’t really work, is that every other major character who isn’t Selene (Kate Beckinsale) was only in a couple installments before dying or being sacrificed to the Budget Gods of the Bottom Line. As great as Kate Beckinsale was as Selene, and as great as Beckinsale continues to be in other projects, Selene can’t be the be-all-end-all if Underworld is to have a future. The way things were left in Underworld: Blood Wars, the underperforming fifth installment from 2017, there certainly could be more story with Selene, but letting things end is okay — especially in Hollywood, where finality is only a temporary state of being.
As for how it came to be a five-movie franchise (so far), that was all thanks to the collaboration of Beckinsale and director/ex-husband Len Wiseman. The trailer featuring Beckinsale’s Selene wearing that black PVC catsuit and duster as she blows a hole in the floor around her to escape some werewolves undoubtedly peaked viewers’ interest. It wasn’t entirely the supernatural angle that people embraced so much, either, but the seemingly rich world to get lost in. Accomplished British actors like Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen definitely brought more life to their characters than one might expect, plus obviously Beckinsale sold it all as the anchor at the center. Her first foray into being an action movie lead, far from her last, struck a chord with audiences enough that this R-rated action movie with a crappy September release date proved to be a solid performer. It wasn’t some runaway blockbuster, but Underworld‘s raking in of nearly 100 million worldwide on a budget of 22 million was enough to get working on another one.
‘Underworld’ Expands, Yet Contracts By Constantly Killing Its Characters
The sequel, Underworld: Evolution, did well enough at continuing the existing storylines already established in the first film, but the series’ tendency to kill off all the new characters by the end of the film they were introduced in really become a problem as Scott Speedman, Selene’s vampire/werewolf hybrid love interest — which manages to be nowhere near as interesting as it sounds — decided he was done with the series. Beckinsale became the sole returning character, plus Speedman’s Michael wasn’t exactly written out at the end of the second film, so some kind of unsatisfying explanation for his offscreen departure was inevitable. There was a prequel, Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans, which bought some time with origin stories of a couple characters who were already dead (Sheen’s Lucian and Nighy’s Viktor among them), but then the fourth film dove back into Selene and her troubles. Only this time Michael was MIA, often just out of reach (and played by a body double/CGI), and now Selene had a daughter.
The return of Beckinsale to the series after six years, plus the 3D boost, made Underworld: Awakening the highest grossing (and most expensive) of the Underworld series to date, so it probably seemed like things were going well. If the series had leaned into Selene’s relationship with her daughter, Eve (India Eisley), then maybe things could have been built up from there, except the fifth Underworld film didn’t come out until five years later and by then her daughter had also disappeared. That leaves Theo James’ David and his father, Thomas (Charles Dance), as the only other connective tissue between the Underworld films. “Connective tissue” is really the best way to describe their characters, unfortunately, despite the inherent class that Dance can’t help but bring to anything. It was the lowest grossing of the Underworld series and effectively put an end to the franchise.
This is where a reboot could come in and perhaps open up the series to a world beyond Selene and her direct relations. Not to besmirch Beckinsale, as there would be no Underworld series without her, but after several movies of her present, backstory, and implied future, it’s no disrespect to move on. It’s a whole world of vampires and werewolves, after all. Another change for the series might be to connect it to the real world in some way, as opposed to the anonymous and metallic blue Cityburgs or Eastern European-esque woods settings (castles, too) which have mostly been the case so far. Maybe one or two of the surviving characters from the original five Underworld films could pop up at some point in a rebooted series, but there were so few to work with by the ending of the fifth movie, and that’s kind of the problem that needs correcting in the first place. For Underworld to succeed, it should start anew — and then once things are on solid ground, perhaps re-integrate Selene’s daughter or, if handled correctly, even Beckinsale herself as more of an added-value element rather than a reason for seeing the movie.
Underworld, as a series, could also just be left as it is, but there has proven to be enough blood in these veins, financially speaking, that an executive somewhere will see the potential in more. Vampires and werewolves are timeless movie monsters that could be dropped into any time or setting by a talented writer, and when things are made that much easier by a cinematic world already existing, then it’s only a matter of time. Maybe not this year and maybe not next year, but at some point the Underworld universe will be given a new shot at life. If not a film series, then maybe they could take a page from Chucky’s blood-soaked book and head to TV (Blade also attempted a TV revival, once upon a time, but that series should be an example of what not to do). Whatever the medium, hopefully Selene and all her family business is left for the history books when that happens. It’s time for some fresh blood.