The Wachowski siblings first gained fame in 1999 with The Matrix, the virtual reality sci-fi thriller that spawned a generation of slow-motion fight sequences. Since then, though, they’ve struggled to duplicate that level of success, writing two lackluster sequels to go along with a slew of box office disappointments (V for Vendetta excepted). It seems strange that the same talents who revolutionized the sci-fi genre more than a decade ago would struggle to get anyone to see their movies, and yet here we are, wondering what happened with their latest flop, Jupiter Ascending.
The saga of getting their blockbuster released was a long and arduous one. It was originally slated for a release in July 2014 but was pushed to February, due in large part to what Variety describes as a need for “more time to complete their work on more than 2,000 special effects shots in the film.” One hundred and seventy-five million dollars and a 10-month delay later, and Jupiter Ascending is set up to be the biggest box office flop since John Carter in 2012. Carter suffered largely from an issue of poor advertisement on the part of the studio, as well as a last-second title change, in which the recognizable “of Mars” that had graced the comic was removed. Jupiter Ascending‘s issues, though, seem to run far deeper than simply poor marketing.
According to Box Office Mojo, the Wachowski siblings’ latest venture opened to the tune of $19 million for its first weekend, getting trounced by both The Spongebob Movie ($56 million) and American Sniper ($24 million). Given the astronomical budget for Jupiter Ascending, getting beat out by a kids’ movie and a film that’s been out for nearly a month doesn’t bode well for anyone making back their money. Of course, matters aren’t helped much by its 22% Rotten Tomatoes score, rounding out the disaster that this movie appears to be.
It never bodes well when a production is pushed by almost a year, leading to raised costs, rushed efforts to speed along the film, and a general air of nobody quite knowing what they’re doing. What comes out the other end is a final product that more often than not is far from worth the wait. In the wake of all this, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has something positive to say about Jupiter Ascending. Richard Brody of The New Yorker lays into it, dubbing it “a churning, swooping C.G.I. universe that’s decorated to the corners of the frame without taste or imagination.” Most other critics find themselves agreeing with Brody, putting the final proverbial nail in the coffin.
For this to reach John Carter proportions of flopping, we have to dig into the numbers. IMDb reports that film made $284 million worldwide in 2012, just barely making back its bloated $263 million budget. Jupiter Ascending would need a huge boost from a worldwide release to even approach the point where it breaks even. So far, early returns don’t bode well.
Perhaps this all will serve as a lesson for the future of overly wrought CGI in movies, oftentimes costing far more than they’re worth. How many times have we heard of a movie like this going horribly over budget thanks to big-money special effects and post-production delays? Hopefully this will be the final time before the inevitable return to practical effects, and the realization that maybe this is not a smart way to make a successful movie.