Will Tom Cruise be the Robert Downey Jr. of the Universal monster universe?

There is no reverse engineering of the Marvel formula more risky right now than what Universal is attempting with their shared universe of monster movies.

That risk reportedly just got a little less terrifying for the studio, though, if Tom Cruise really is in talks to star in “The Mummy,” the first film that they're using to help launch what they hope will be a major cornerstone of this new franchise. That's a huge win for the studio, and Cruise is one of those guys who works tirelessly once he's signed on to something. Considering how important he will be to the entire monster universe, not just his one film, this is a big moment for Universal. In essence, this is their Robert Downey Jr., which seems like an interesting echo when you realize that at one point, Tom Cruise was attached to play Tony Stark  for New Line in their “Iron Man” movie.

To be fair, Deadline absolutely refutes the Variety story, a case of some definite turf war playing out in public. I don't have a source either way, but I can do some digging and see if anyone's able to clarify off-the-record.

I'm so conflicted about these films. I would love for there to be a great series of Universal monster movies based on the classic characters. I love the classic characters. They had one of the original shared universes, and when I was young, watching films where Dracula and the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster all ended up colliding in different configurations was a huge spark to my imagination. They'd take the same basic pieces and rearrange them and see what variations they could play. It was fun. And they established a rule that holds true even now with franchises, that everything eventually degenerates into self-parody if things run long enough. You can be as serious about things as you want, and you will still eventually end up with Abbott and Costello running around screaming about Lon Chaney Jr.

When they first announced they were making these films, they made the comparison to Marvel, and there was some talk about “monsters as superheroes.” Whatever feelings you had about those earlier rumblings, just know that they've had some really smart writers pushing really hard to crack this for a while now. Jon Spaihts and Eric Heisserer both are very good at what they do, and they take the legacy of the Universal monsters as a pretty sacred trust. It makes sense that Universal has Chris Morgan working on the project. He's been a key part of keeping the “Fast and Furious” movies chugging along on-schedule, and he's proven himself to have a pretty keen ear for what the audience likes as a franchise evolves.

But they've got to get it off the ground first, and it's going to be tricky to pull it off. Part of the disagreement between Deadline and Variety has to do with Cruise's schedule. He's working on the new Jack Reacher film right now, and he's got “Mission: Impossible: Whatever The Next One's Called” shooting at the end of 2016. That leaves room for something else between those two, and certainly the Universal monsters is a big enough draw for Cruise. He's got to see the upside of how big it could be if it works.

Regardless of who stars in it, “The Mummy” is one of the most important films on Universal's slate, and we'll see how those choices start coming together soon.