The Mummy is a 1999 adventure movie directed by Stephen Sommers. Set in 1920s Egypt, it centers around adventurer Rick O’Conell (Brendan Fraser), and librarian and Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), who inadvertently release a centuries-old mummy, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Along with Evelyn’s brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), leader of a group sworn to prevent Imhotep’s rise, they must compete with rival treasure hunters and stop the mummy from destroying the world.
The idea for the movie actually began in the late 1980s, and went through many different story ideas and directors before finally debuting over ten years later. The movie was a critical and box office success upon its release, prompting franchise sequels and spin-offs, and love for the movie continues to grow. Nearly 25 years after its original release, here’s why The Mummy is still a great movie.
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It Has Great Characters and Performances
The characters bring a lot to the movie, and have more depth than most action movie protagonists – particularly Rick and Evelyn. Rick is a strong action hero who also has a soft side and a sense of humor. After several stars turned down the role, Sommers sought out Fraser because he had both a classic adventurer feel and a friendly, down-to-earth persona. He was able to make Rick a heroic figure while still having fun and not taking himself too seriously, which made the character likable and relatable.
Evelyn was harder to cast; the studio originally wanted an American actor, but after four or five auditions, the role went to Weisz, an English actor who was largely unknown at the time. In a feature with Entertainment Weekly, Sommers said that the studio immediately saw she and Fraser were “a good pairing” who could bring the movie – and the romance – to life. Evelyn is smart and capable, and though she does end up needing Rick to rescue her, she is given much more to do and more defining traits than most women in action movies. She’s far from just a damsel or the love interest, translating ancient hieroglyphics, helping Rick find Hamunaptra, and finding the way to make Imhotep mortal again.
What’s also unique is that they treat each other as equals. Critic MaryAnn Johanson, in her original review, said it best when she explained that Evelyn and Rick are “Indiana Jones split down the middle,” with Evelyn providing the brains and Rick bringing the brawn. They have a true partnership filled with fun banter, and bring great chemistry to their scenes, like when Rick teaches Evelyn to throw a punch and makes sure she’s okay after their camp is attacked.
The supporting cast is also strong. Vosloo, who was given the role after one audition, is terrifying as Imhotep, desperate for his lost love and destroying anyone in the way. Hannah, who wasn’t known as a comedic actor, brings great fun to the cast as Jonathan. Finally, Fehr brings a strength and likeability to the fierce Ardeth. Everyone has great chemistry together and makes the movie believable and enjoyable.
It’s a Clever Re-imagining of a Classic
The movie is a re-imagining of the classic 1932 Universal Monster movie The Mummy, with Boris Karloff. Sommers enjoyed the movie as a child and wanted to bring his favorite parts to the new film, while adding more to make it even better. He included some of the horror elements of the original, while making the movie a romantic action-adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones. The 1999 version takes the basis of the original – Imhotep returning from the dead – and amplifies it. Rather than the slow-moving mummies of the old movies, Sommers makes Imhotep much more powerful and terrifying; he’s immortal, and has supernatural powers. His release also unleashes the ten plagues of Egypt. The pairing of Rick and Evelyn also makes the story better. We get to live the journey through them, and watch them fall in love while still working to defeat Imhotep. By raising the stakes and adding more characters and a sweet romance, Sommers blends old and new, and effectively updates a classic.
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It Blends Different Genres
The movie mixes many different genres – action, adventure, fantasy, history, horror, humor, and romance – to the point that Fraser even admitted the cast had no idea what kind of movie they were making. Yet, somehow, everything comes together in harmony. There are genuinely scary moments in the flesh-eating scarabs; thrilling action sequences and fight scenes; and a historical backdrop both in the ancient Egypt scenes and in the movie’s 1920s setting. The beauty of the different genres is that there is something for everyone to enjoy. It’s great for people who enjoy movies based on mythology; action adventure movies; horror movies; and even romantic movies. The movie utilizes many genres, and succeeds in all of them, creating great moments for everyone.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – the movie is pure fun. Amid all the action and danger, there are still moments where the movie lets itself have fun and not be overly serious, like Rick screaming back at Imhotep, or holding up a cat to scare him away. There’s also Jonathan pretending to be a zombie to blend in with the crowd, and Evelyn declaring, “Take that, Bembridge scholars,” after she successfully translates hieroglyphics.
The Mummy successfully takes a beloved horror classic and makes it both more accessible and more enjoyable. There’s history, action, danger, and romance, all led by great actors who bring believability and also great fun. With its strong cast, historical basis, and blending of genres, The Mummy truly has something for everyone to enjoy, and remains great to this day.