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Underworld is a 2003 action horror film directed by Len Wiseman and written by Danny McBride, based on a story by Kevin Grevioux, Wiseman and McBride. Kevin Grevioux wrote the original screenplay. The film centers on the secret history of vampires and lycans (an abbreviated form of lycanthrope, which means werewolf). It is the first (chronologically, the second) installment in the Underworld franchise. The main plot revolves around Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire Death Dealer hunting Lycans. She finds herself attracted to a human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), who is being targeted by the Lycans. After Michael is bitten by a Lycan, Selene must decide whether to do her duty and kill him or go against her clan and save him. Alongside Beckinsale and Speedman, the film stars Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, and Bill Nighy.
An international co-production between companies from the United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, and the United States, the film was released on September 19, 2003. Upon its release, the film received generally negative reviews from critics, but a smaller number of reviewers praised elements such as the film’s stylish Gothic visuals, the “icy English composure” in Kate Beckinsale’s performance, and the extensively worked-out vampire–werewolf mythology that serves as the film’s backstory. A surprise hit, the film grossed $95 million against a production budget of $22 million. The film was followed by Underworld: Evolution, released three years later, and by three other films.
Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a Death Dealer
Scott Speedman as Michael Corvin, a medical student who becomes a hybrid
Bill Nighy as Viktor, the second most powerful of the vampire elders
Michael Sheen as Lucian, the leader of the Lycans
Shane Brolly as Kraven, a vampire noble who plots to kill the elders
Erwin Leder as Singe, a Lycan scientist who plans with Lucian to make a hybrid creature
Sophia Myles as Erika, a vampire courtesan who desires Kraven’s favor
Robbie Gee as Kahn, a vampire warrior who helps Selene
Kevin Grevioux as Raze, Lucian’s right-hand-man
The film was the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by White Wolf, Inc. and Nancy A. Collins, claiming the setting was too similar to the Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse games, both set in the World of Darkness setting, and to the Sonja Blue vampire novels. White Wolf filed 17 counts of copyright infringement, and claimed over 80 points of unique similarity between White Wolf’s gaming systems and the film. One of those points being that the vampires in Underworld “drink blood”. White Wolf, Inc. also said the script was very similar to a story entitled The Love of Monsters (1994), which they published, written by Nancy A. Collins. In September 2003, a judge granted White Wolf an expedited hearing. The lawsuit ended in a confidential settlement.
The film grossed $51,970,690 in the US and $95,708,457 worldwide. Underworld was released on DVD and VHS from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Underworld has a 31% overall approval rating on film-critics’ aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 161 reviews. The site’s consensus reads, “Though stylish to look at, Underworld is tedious and derivative.” Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B+” on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert said, “This is a movie so paltry in its characters and shallow in its story that the war seems to exist primarily to provide graphic visuals”. However, some critics were more favorable: the New York Daily News praised it as being “stylish and cruel, and mightily entertaining for certain covens out there”.
Salon reviewer Andrew O’Hehir gave a mixed review, stating, “by any reasonable standard, this dark vampire epic — all massive overacting, cologne-commercial design and sexy cat suits — sucks,” but that “at least it gives a crap”, conceding that despite the movie’s flaws, the complex vampire-werewolf mythology backstory “has been meticulously worked out”.