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Here's Why Maria Bello Replaced Rachel Weisz In The Mummy Movies

Over a decade before Universal's attempted Dark Universe absolutely botched their Tom Cruise-led "Mummy" reboot, their original efforts at bringing the classic monster back to the big screen were certified hits. "The Mummy" trilogy, which kicked off in 1999 and concluded with 2008's critically panned "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," killed it at the box office, raking in a collective $1.25 billion worldwide according to The Numbers. For some time, it appeared as though the studio had a real heavyweight franchise on its hands.

A major reason for the success of the first two "Mummy" films was the solid cast, which helped revitalize the action-adventure genre by infusing it with both horror and comedy. They took what could've been a set of campy period films and made them appeal to a younger audience through witty dialogue and thrilling action. Most generally tout Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell as the centerpiece of "The Mummy" universe, but at-the-time-rising star Rachel Weisz's work as Evelyn "Evie" O'Connell proved just as integral. 

Weisz's performance in "The Mummy" turned out to be her big break. She signed on to do "The Mummy Returns" without question, but she's mysteriously absent from "Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," in which Maria Bello played Evie instead. The reason for Weisz's departure from the project was actually laid to rest nearly 12 years ago but hasn't necessarily become common knowledge.

Rachel Weisz didn't come back for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor due to scheduling conflicts

When talks of a third film in the "Mummy" continuity began to pick up steam back in 2007, so did discussions about why Rachel Weisz wasn't attached to the project. One common rumor ran rampant about her distaste for the script, which she reportedly felt went against Evie's character. Another was started by director Rob Cohen, who believed it had something to do with Rick and Evie's 27-year old son, Alex, whose inclusion would require Weisz to be aged up for the third movie. 

Weisz put the whole debacle to bed during an interview back in 2008, when she explained that she never got the chance to even look at the script. She'd also just finished on Rian Johnson's "The Brothers Bloomand was about to begin work on another film immediately, so she wouldn't have a moment to spare. Couple that with her and Darren Aronofsky's newborn son waiting for her at home, there was no time for a trip to China for 5 months.

"Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" was a critical flop and prompted Universal to rethink their plans for a follow-up based around the Aztecs, which were eventually canned. Little did Weisz know back then that she couldn't have pulled out of the series at a better time.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor suffered without Rachel Weisz

To say "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" suffered without Rachel Weisz would be an understatement. The film is the lowest rated of the trilogy, with an abysmal 12% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Moviegoers didn't find it charming either, as its audience score was only slightly better at 30%. In the audience comments on the aggregator site, many franchise fans noted that the film took a hit with Weisz's absence. One viewer wrote, "Ultimately the absence of Rachel Weisz and the change in location and mythology are the biggest flaws in this film. Weisz was a major part of the first two films and by having her replaced by Maria Bello, the original character is lost and replaced with one that doesn't meet Weisz's performance."

That fan hit the nail right on the head, as swapping out actors at the end of a trilogy is a devastating mistake. Given Weisz's revelation about her reason behind leaving "Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," the studio had no choice but to re-cast the role. We wonder if it might have been better to leave out Evie entirely to not frustrate and confuse the franchise's fans.

While Weisz wasn't in the film, there was a nice homage to her. According to an interview with Collider, Bello mentioned one of the novels her character had written featured "this amazing, beautiful Rachel Weisz ingenue and she was the character because she's so perfect." It was a great and subtle nod to Evie, who we wish Weisz would have been able to play. Unfortunately, it seems like nothing could save "The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" from bombing, and it's probably best the actress got out when she did.

If you enjoyed Weisz's performance in The Mummy movies, you can check out what projects she and the rest of the cast of The Mummy have worked on since the trilogy was filmed.