Jupiter Ascending is one of a few summer movies to be an original idea and also it is the Wachowskis’ latest big budget extravaganza. Now the rumors about the sci-fi epic’s budget has ranged from $150 to $200 million and this does not include marketing, which means it could be estimated that Warner Brothers will be in the hole for well over $200 million. Obviously, we do not know the exact budget or how successful Jupiter Ascending will be, but it is surprising that studios still trust the siblings with that amount of money.
I will be appreciative of the siblings for revolutionizing cinema with the original Matrix; and their directorial debut Bound is not perfect, but still a good time. While I did not hate The Matrix sequels as much as the general public, I can acknowledge that they were a huge step backwards. Yes, it was really smart for them to shot both sequels back to back, but it felt like they did not know where to go next with the franchise. Also, add the over saturation of the ‘slow-mo’ technique and the Wachowskis’ were delivering a product to a ‘lose-lose’ situation: the constant parodying or re-use of the things that made the original Matrix revolutionary made the public clamor for something new in the sequels. In reality, the siblings delivered flawed but competent sequels that did not change the game like people wanted.
With that said, the box office numbers began to steadily decline for the Wachoski siblings after The Matrix Revolutions, which made almost $150 million less than The Matrix Reloaded. But the third entry was ultimately deemed successful because of its massive $288 million foreign box office, which was also down from the second entry’s $460 million earnings. And since then, the box office has not been kind to the directors; 2008’s Speed Racer was critically lambasted and only made $43.9 million domestically. The $50 million in foreign receipts could not help it overtake its $120 million budget: it was a shame because I loved the cartoons and forgave the limited story for its amazing visuals. Their next film Cloud Atlas, which is the only project where the siblings worked with a third director, bombed horribly in the United States and it received reviews on both ends of the critical spectrum: many considered it a failed experiment. Obviously, the siblings have come a long way since the wild success of The Matrix, but are these directors the box office draw that they used to be?
No, but only a few select directors are box office draws: for instance, Martin Scorsese just became a box office draw in the 2000s when Aviator became his first film to make over a $100 million. The box office, at times, can be very unpredictable and besides major Superhero movies there is not much of a guarantee. But can the Wachowkis’ latest box office woes be based on the public’s lack of faith in them, the inability to market the material (hardcore sci-fi), or the time frame in which the studio chooses to release the product; well in certain circumstances it can be all three. The easiest example of this is Speed Racer, which was their follow up to the third Matrix movie; in my opinion, I think the public still had a ‘bad taste in their mouth,’ and the fact that this was labeled ‘from the creators of The Matrix trilogy, did not help it. Also, add the outlandish visuals that separate it from the average kids picture, as well as, being released the week after the breakthrough success of Iron Man (ultimately leading to the box office juggernaut of Marvel) and it becomes quite understandable why Speed Racer bombed. Furthermore, the Speed Racer IP is so old that most modern children did not know who or what it was: so it might as well have been an original idea.
Meanwhile, the Wachowskis’ are pushing a hardcore sci-fi movie that has not been previously established. And though I sound skeptical, I truly want this original sci-fi idea to work, but these days a brand new license is a hard sell in a movie industry living and dying off of sequels and remakes. That is why no matter what I think about its box office chances, I want it to succeed because its success means studios will take more chances with new ideas; however, for every Inception there is a movie like 47 Ronin, which horribly bombs and scares every studio from taking a chance with a new big budget endeavor. While I think people’s aggression towards the Wachowski is in the past, I think a hardcore sci-fi movie is still a hard sell for the general public.
Yes, movies like Star Trek and Prometheus make money but they are sci-fi movies based on previously established properties: except Avatar, these days it is rare to see bigger budgets given to these projects. But Avatar is the exception because the huge budget was due to the popularity of the director, James Cameron; but for every hugely successful sci-fi epic like Avatar, there is a John Carter that crashes and burns. While I do believe we live in a nerd renaissance, in my opinion, sci-fi still divides the general public; which means that it will be a harder sell for a new IP than the average action or Superhero flick.
The last element that will judge the fate of Jupiter Ascending is its box office competition. On its July 18th release it will be facing The Purge: Anarchy and the Planes sequel; both films have their specific demographic but I do not think that they will be the biggest problem for the Wachowskis’ film. The bigger worry should be the previous week’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is a sequel to a hugely successful reboot. This sequel could have the legs to affect the box office numbers of the following week. On top of this, The Purge: Anarchy could do further damage by diluting the numbers and if so Jupiter Ascending could be the biggest flop of the summer.
An important factor that could prevent this flop is the advertisements or its pre-release word of mouth; but at the moment, both have been lackluster. While the word of mouth will either negatively or positively increase as the release date gets closer, the advertisements have not done enough to sway public opinion. It will be stupid for me to say that the entire internet has the same feeling for Jupiter Ascending, but up until its first trailer no one was talking about this movie: and well after its second trailer the mood has not changed. For a movie that is being released in four months, the real marketing has yet to begun; but one would expect that Warner Brothers would be pushing harder on a nearly $200 million investment. Perhaps it is too soon to make a call on Jupiter Ascending, but the ambivalence I have been seeing thus far (plus the previously mentioned factors working against it) has not boded well for the success of the final product.
But again, who knows what will happen with this sci-fi epic? The box office is erratic enough that this movie could work; but between the hardcore sci-fi elements and its overall competition, many wonder if this will be the next John Carter. Perhaps I am blowing this out of proportion and Jupiter Ascending will do just fine. But I want more big budget movies with innovative ideas and if more movies like this bomb then the studios will be less likely to attempt something that is not a sequel, reboot, or remake. Well if this fails, at least we get Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: the day a Nolan film flops is the day that original ideas are in real trouble.