What would you say to a shared cinematic universe based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos?

I am just throwing this out there for idle speculation. The gold standard of “shared movie universes” is of course the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC has tried to ape their success with…less successful result. And then there’s the attempt to create a shared movie universe out of old Universal horror movies. I’d give them props for trying something other than another superhero universe, but I was pretty certain it was destined to fail (and apparently I was right) based on two suppositions:

  1. It was going to star Tom Cruise in the lynch-pin role (similar to Robert Downey Jr in the MCU). And who wants to see Tom Cruise in any movie ever again at this point?
  2. The universal horror movies were never actually connected in the same way that superhero comic book character series were. The MCU works because there’s decades of comic book crossover stories between Iron-Man, Captain America, Thor, et. al. to draw from. The Universal horror movie monsters, while iconic, were mostly self-contained beasts. (Yes, some movies late in the series showed crossovers, but those were last-ditch attempts to wring a few more cents out of tired-out properties at that point.)

But that got me to thinking – all of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories WERE connected and took place in the same universe. While the stories themselves were self-contained, there was a backstory mythology connecting all of them. And there are any number of iconic stories that have never gotten decent movie treatments (if made into movies at all.) So why isn’t any canny Hollywood producer not pitching a shared movie universe based on H.P. Lovecraft stories?

Anyway, I thought I’d throw the idea out there for the Teeming Millions to kick around. What are your thoughts? Could it work? HOW would it work? What stories would you like made into big blockbuster (or even small moody indie) movies?

Although Lovecraft reused certain references and elements in his stories (and shared them with other contrmporary horror and fantasy writers) the construction of a cohesive “mythos” was really a construct of August Derleth. There are few common elements across multiple stories other than Cthulhu (by refernece only), the Necronomicon, and its author, the “mad Arab Abdul Alhazred”, which is not a real Arab name. But the most significant argument against a cinematic universe is that the essential theme is complete impotence of mankind against a horrifying and indifferent universe of incomprehensible dimensions and implacable cosmic beings of indescribable power. There are few of Lovecraft’s original stories in which humans do anything more than temporarily stave off evil or close some portal which does not make for a particularly enthusiastic following.


I agree that there isn’t really a lot of “blockbuster” potential in H. P. Lovecraft stories as-is. And if you’re going to rewrite them into something substantially different, I’d be just as happy with something like “Stranger Things” that doesn’t have Lovecraft’s name pasted on it.

If we start with “Cabin in the Woods” and keep Joss Whedon’s crew involved, I’m all for it.

Guillermo del Toro has been trying for years to get an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness made. Studios are reluctant to finance it because they don’t see blockbuster potential, largely because it has neither a love story nor a happy ending.

“No love story and no happy ending” is a pretty accurate description of everything Lovecraft ever wrote (with the exception of “The Dunwich Horror,” which lacks a love story but has a happy ending of sorts). So I don’t see a huge cinematic audience for a series of Lovecraft-based movies.

Although Derleth did try to assemble a coherent Cthulhu “Mythos” after Lovecraft’s death (and I have to admit that I don’t much care for Derleth’s patchwork contraption. Lovecraft never would have explained his beings as “elementals”), you can’t blame it all on him.

Lovecraft was expansive in sharing his universe. He himself borrowed stuff from Robert W, Chambers’ The King in Yellow, from Clark Ashton Smith’s fantasies , from Edgar Allen Poe and from Ambrose Bierce. And his correspondents in the Kalem Club contributed their own stories and bits to the mythos, most notably to the collection of “forbidden” books – Robert E, Howard, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, and others. The nature of such things is to be undisciplined and chaotic, and I think trying to forge it into a cohesive and consistent whole would be difficult. I’m not sure you could turn it into a Cinematic Universe that would support a number of financially successful films – not without extensive tinkering that would turn it into a wholly new and different thing. Kinda like what happened with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, come to think of it.

As for the Universal Monsters not being connected, what Cinematic Univerrse are you living in? It’s true that the First Wave of films in the 1930s were all separate and independent (except for Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter), but when the Second Wave started up you not only had lots of sequels – Son of Frankenstein, still with Boris as the monster, and all those other Frankenstein sequels, Son of Dracula, the three connected Mummy movies (connected with each other, not the original Mummy), then the crossovers, starting with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and terminating with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This wasn’t exactly “late in the series” – it occupied most of the 1940s.

I don’t know, are you sure Lavinia Whateley wasn’t in love with Yog-Sothoth?

Tom Cruise is still a draw. Maybe not for you, but in general he is. I certainly don’t watch things because he’s in them but don’t avoid it either. When he is in a good movie, I enjoy him there despite his personal life (though Scientology sounds nice next to Cthulhu cults).

And contrasting him with RDJ is weird: he was at his post-drug freak out nadir before Iron Man made him bankable.

Most Lovecraft stories don’t make good movies, but an original story in the universe might work. I can’t even remember at the Mountains of Madness, and Call of Cthulhu doesn’t have a standard plot. Not sure which ones translate best to movie: Dunwich Horror and The Whisperer in Darkness maybe?

As for a full universe: I’m intrigued.

You’ve seen 50 Shades of Grey, now see 50,000 Tentacles of Yog-Sothoth!

Basically anything can be adapted to anime though, sometimes more than once.


Or manga:

NSFW: Contains Hokusai’s 1820 woodcut The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. NSFW: The Long Tentacle of H.P. Lovecraft in Manga (NSFW)

One of my all-time favorite underrated PC games, Blood, draws very heavily from Lovecraftian horror as well as overlapping generally with Old West and Victorian genres. It’s really, really difficult to overstate just how ahead of its time this game was in terms of its “world-building” and sense of immersion, even if it had a very loose plot. The aesthetic and environments were so awesome and the gameplay was extremely challenging and unforgiving. I don’t know how many other people played this game, but I think it can probably be found on Steam. It was a DOS-based game that was contemporary with Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior and used the same engine, I think.

Anyway, I have always wished there were a cinematic adaptation of that game, or at least set in that game’s “world” if not following its plot exactly - maybe a TV series would be better than a movie, actually. Kind of like a cross between Deadwood and There Will Be Blood, but combined both with Lovecraftian horror and dark comedy.

Edit: apparently there’s already a comic from Korea of all places, which is inspired by that game though not a direct adaptation of it. Priest.

I can see an anthology show working — more Black Mirror than MCU. Lovecraft’s stories don’t have a lot of elements connecting them strongly, but they do resonate thematically with each other. There are also opportunities for Easter Egg cross-references.

As it happens, a terrific novel called Lovecraft Country is being developed as a series for HBO. The author came up with the concept as a pitch for a TV show: he needed a reason for his characters to be running around fighting monsters every week. So he made them researchers for a fictionalized version of the old Green Book travel guides for African Americans — essential gear for black travelers during segregation.

It’s a great read; while the interconnected stories within the novel aren’t all that Lovecraftian in tone — in fact, they’re positively anti-Lovecraftian in many ways — they tackle many of Lovecraft’s themes and (by now hoary old) plot devices, with a fresh perspective.

Oh, PS: I think a strong case could be made that “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” also has a happy-ish ending. I think, with some tweaks, that book could actually make a decent conventional movie.

PPS: if you want to see an adaptation of HPL that really does create a shared universe, check out Alan Moore’s comic series Providence. He really does tie the stories together…

Holy shit, that sounds awesome. I hope the adaptation does it justice. HBO is hit-and-miss with their series (yeah, even Game of Thrones…in fact, especially so.)

The studios are probably right on this one, del Toro’s most recent film features both a love story and a happy ending, albeit with a Deep One instead of an Elder Thing.

Is this one of those books that gets better after a slow start, hopefully? I bought it September based on the premise but only got a few pages into it before losing interest.

There have actually been two movie adaptations of “The Dunwich Horror.” The first, in 1970, was from American International Pictures, produced (but not directed) by Roger Corman. It starred Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whately.

The more recent, from 2009, was a TV movie on SyFy, which changed the setting to Louisiana. It also starred Dean Stockwell, this time playing Dr. Armitage.

Neither movie is particularly good, although the 1970 one is at least interesting in an early 70s kind of way. “Dunwich Horror,” I suppose, may be the most adaptable of Lovecraft’s stories because, as I said, it does have a fairly conventional “heroes fight the monster and defeat it” narrative. It’s just about the only Lovecraft story of which that’s true. It still doesn’t have a typical love story–it’s notable that both adaptations saw fit to add a sexy young heroine to the cast–but structurally it does conform to what most people expect of a “monster movie.”

Yeah, that just might work!

Well, I like the idea of a shared cinematic universe, based on a series of novels but, since horror/suspense doesn’t push my buttons, I’d have to say ‘no thanks’ to one based on Lovecraft’s work. Now, if someone wanted to create a shared cinematic universe based on Heinlein’s work, I’d like to get in on that.