Most of the Universal Monsters have headlined multiple major motion pictures in their decades of being pop culture icons. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, they all anchored a wide array of motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s, while their lasting legacy in the world of cinema is felt well into the modern world. Modern productions like The Wolfman, The Mummy, and The Invisible Man have kept the legacy of these monstrous figures vibrantly alive. Strangely, though, one figure that hasn’t been exploited with endless sequels and remakes was The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Still one of the most influential monster movies ever, Black Lagoon spawned a pair of sequels in the 1950s, but the franchise hasn’t received a new installment since 1956.
It’s a peculiar development given how most of the other titans of the Universal Monsters canon have received endless new iterations, not to mention how merchandisable the titular monster of The Creature from the Black Lagoon is. However, just because it’s been nearly 70 years since Gill-man has terrorized movie theaters, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been attempts to revive this character. Universal Pictures and a wide array of artists have all tried their hand at bringing the Creature From the Black Lagoon back from the grave scarier than ever.
How ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Differs from Other Universal Monster Movies
One unique quality about The Creature From the Black Lagoon compared to the other Universal Monsters titles is how it’s a totally original story. While not the only totally unique creation in this franchise, most other Universal Monsters were based on characters from famous novels by the likes of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, or H.G. Wells. Some Universals Monsters titles even took titles from popular pieces of source material they were otherwise unrelated to, such as The Black Cat sharing a title with an Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name. The importance of this detail is that the classic Universal Monster movies were based on characters that anyone could access.
Universal had the copyright exclusivity to certain incarnations of the character (you can’t have Frankenstein’s monster be green unless it’s a Universal joint, for example), but anyone can adapt the source material these monsters were based on. This meant that Hammer Films, for instance, could make a slew of Dracula films and anyone could go out and make a Frankenstein adaptation. By contrast, Gill-man was an original idea only Universal could exploit. This gave the studio more control over the character, but it ensured Gill-man was nowhere near as ubiquitous in pop culture as their fellow Universal Monsters brethren.
This also meant that, after the original slew of Universal Monsters movies ended in the final years of the 1950s, that was curtains for Gill-man for decades. No other non-Universal attempts at imagining this character would dominate drive-ins during the 1960s. Still, even with this quality of the Creature from the Black Lagoon limiting the movie’s ubiquity in the years that followed, a remake of the original Lagoon seemed to be on people’s minds as early as the 1980s. In this era, John Landis toyed with producing a remake of it.
Another proposed remake came in the 1990s through director John Carpenter. The filmmaker had lots of big ambitions for the production, including getting into the creationism debate by having Gill-man be a “missing link between man and fish.” Leave it to Carpenter, who took a 1950s B-movie and reimagined it into the graphically violent masterpiece The Thing, to take Creature from the Black Lagoon in such an unexpected direction. Carpenter had also talked to visual effects icon Rick Baker about conjuring up a new Gill-man outfit (no CGI monster here!) that would be highly evocative of the beast’s original design. Unfortunately, the box office failure of early 1990s Carpenter films like Memoirs of an Invisible Man sealed the project’s doom. Universal had gone decades without a new Creature from the Black Lagoon movie and that drought wasn’t wrapping up anytime soon.
The ’90s Brought Another Wave of ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Remake Attempts
In the late 1990s, the Universal Monsters got a new lease on life thanks to the success of the 1999 blockbuster The Mummy. Suddenly, a new era for these beasties had begun. Unsurprisingly, shortly after this project’s success, Universal set out to remake other monster characters, including a version of The Creature from the Black Lagoon written by Gary Ross. Shortly after this project’s announcement, Guillermo del Toro was announced as the director of this feature. His creative clashes with Universal brass would ensure that del Toro wouldn’t stick around on Creature from the Black Lagoon. However, his desire to make a feature where the Gill-man and the human lady ended up together would inspire another separate motion picture years down the line…
After the del Toro incarnation died away, the next Creature from the Black Lagoon remake was prepped by Breck Eisner, a director then known for the 2005 box office dud Sahara. In 2008, Eisner explained that his ambition for this reimagining was that Gill-man had to be both terrifying and sympathetic. His plan at the time was to shoot the project in South America once his remake of The Crazies had finished shooting. However, Eisner’s take never materialized, which left the project once again adrift. As the 2010s began, Dave Kajganich would try writing a brand-new draft of this remake, but it too would go nowhere.
Why Has a ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ Remake Been So Hard to Make?
Given that Universal has cranked out new Dracula, Van Helsing, and Mummy movies all in the last 25-ish years, it’s somewhat surprising the studio hasn’t also produced a new Creature from the Black Lagoon feature, even a subpar one. A recurring issue may be simply that the movie revolves around a non-humanoid monster. Gill-man should be the primary focus of the story, but, if the likes of Transformers or Godzilla vs. Kong are any indication, studio executives would want there to be recognizable human actors front and center in the narrative. Whereas Dracula Untold or the 2010 Wolfman could deliver monster action with a famous lead human actor (since those titles were about mortal men becoming beasts), it’d be a bit harder to do that with Creature from the Black Lagoon. It doesn’t help that having a bunch of famous people stumble onto Gill-man would likely hew too closely to the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies.
Plus, Gill-man not being rooted in classic source material doesn’t offer many clues as to where a potential new movie could go. You could always flip through pages of a classic Bram Stoker novel to get inspiration for a brand-new Dracula adventure. There’s no roadmap for where Gill-man goes and the limited number of films the creature starred in further limits the amount of pre-existing material new incarnations of the character can draw from. With this and other potential problems always lurking in the shadows, it’s no surprise a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake has remained elusive.
The proposed Dark Universe in the late 2010s, a gritty reboot of the Universal Monsters, did offer some hope for a new version of Gill-man, with part of the character’s fin being shown in the first Dark Universe movie, The Mummy. However, the immediate demise of the Dark Universe ensured that this would be yet another avenue for a fresh vision of the Creature from the Black Lagoon that would get quickly closed off. The massive success of The Shape of Water in late 2017 has also made it more difficult than ever for a new version of Creature from the Black Lagoon to see the light of day since a remake would now come off as a pastiche of this Oscar winner. Perhaps someday Gill-man will once again terrify and thrill moviegoers, but as the last few decades of failed Black Lagoon remakes demonstrate, it’ll take a miracle to get this character back in theaters.