Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: What the Hell Happened With Jupiter Ascending & What Does It Mean for The Future of Sci-Fi?

When Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow flopped last summer despite an almost euphoric response from critics (90% Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes) and fans (90% of RottenTomatoes readers “liked it”) it was easy to crack a joke like, “You see, America, this is why you can’t have nice things!” Warner Bros. had thrown dang near $180 million at making this thing, probably somewhere in the $100 million territory to market it, a ton of money for something which though adapted from a generally obscure Japanese young adult novella turned manga felt more like an original property, a humans vs. aliens sci-fi story featuring a Groundhog Day-like time loop. It was a big budget star vehicle for Tom Cruise like we used to always get as opposed to the modern trend of big budget films in which the franchise or intellectual property is the star, not any of the actual actors (see Chris Hemsowrth’s continual struggles to find a hit outside of Thor for proof of that). It also happened to be a dang good film with a kick-ass performance from Emily Blunt, intelligent plotting which didn’t speak down to the audience, and plenty of comedy via clever editing, mostly tied to the various ways Cruise’s character dies during the time loop. These are all good things we claim to want more of, yet here was Edge of Tomorrow limping out of the gate to such a degree that no amount of positive post-opening weekend word of mouth could save it. For shame, America! For shame!

See what you did, America? You made them give the movie a profile-boosting new title for its home video release

Well, last week there were those who wanted to prevent history from repeating itself. Warner Bros. has again thrown around $180 million at making and $100 million at marketing another highly ambitious, original-seeming science-fiction film from people we’ve liked in the past. This time it’s Jupiter Ascending starring Mila Kunis as a Chicago housemaid whose unique DNA makes her “the lost relative of intergalactic heirs that own planets the way wealthy humans in our world own estates,” with Channing Tatum and Sean Bean sent to protect her from those who seek to push her aside in their quest for power. It’s directed by the Wachowskis, to whom we forever bow for having made The Matrix. Unlike Edge of Tomorrow, this one’s a genuine original concept not adapted from anything though the Wachowskis’ have copped to lifting ideas from The Odyssey, Star Wars, Dune, Terry Gilliam movies, and The Wizard of Oz.

Jupiter Ascending Dorothy
Kunis’ blue and white outfit is an homage to Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, and Tatum’s part-canine role is meant to be a sort of Toto-like traveling companion

Big budget? Original concept sci-fi? This is the type of film we should be supporting, dangit, just as we should have supported Edge of Tomorrow. Marvel, Fox, Sony, and Warner Bros. are going to crank out comic book movies up to 2020 and probably beyond, revisionist fairy tales are all the rage thanks to Frozen and Maleficent, it really seems like not even Paul Walker’s death will derail the Fast & Furious movies, and although no one seems to be asking for them we are definitely getting another Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean, and probably another Transformers. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of that, but it’s not the type of product that inspired the Wachowskis to make The Matrix. As they told The Wall Street Journal, they grew up adoring original stories created solely for film, Raiders, Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Back to the Future, etc. “The last 15 years have all been about derivative material and things we keep rebooting again and again, like children with bedtime stories. When we were young, it was people like Gene Siskel driving us, saying: ‘Why should I see a movie based on a book? I know what’s gonna happen.’” Now, that has shifted to, “Why should I see something not based on something I might already know? You’ve got to do something like to get my attention if you want me to turn away from video games and TV, and even those options are being overrun by derivative content right now.”

Star Wars Poster
Star Wars stole its ideas from other places just as Jupiter Ascending unabashedly lifts ideas and visuals from Dune and Terry Gilliam movies

There’s a small problem, though: It turns out that Jupiter Ascending isn’t a very good movie. To be fair, some of the things critics are picking on are more simple genre conventions than actual defaults, such as the fact that this is a basic hero’s journey in which “a lovable every-person protagonist with a dead-end job gets plucked out of obscurity by a space warrior, who reveals that the protagonist is actually some kind of chosen one.” See: Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. At least this time the hero is female. However, there are aspects worthy of more serious criticism, as Devin Faraci argued in his BadAssDigest review:

Nothing in Jupiter Ascending works, beyond the production design. The space ships and the Jovian refinery and the bizarre creatures and baroque costumes are incredible, the stuff that makes a “The Art Of…” book mandatory […] But everything else… The script is dead, a series of scenes of expository dialogue where Mila Kunis, grotesquely miscast, parades through various quadrants of the galaxy while everybody tells her who she is, what she means and what they want. She has almost no chemistry with Channing Tatum, trapped in a humorless role as the dog man Caine Wise. Their love, which must be the engine for the plot (such as it is) generates less heat than your phone. Tatum often seems to be tolerating his leading lady. And the action – how many sequences where the CGI camera weaves through CGI action until Channing can save Mila at the last minute can you stomach? I hope it’s more than five. Many more than five.

There are indeed those who can enjoy Jupiter Ascending for its visual splendor as well as those who simply don’t care about any of that and just want to appreciate Jupiter Ascending for the glorified, goofy B-movie that it is, particularly reveling in mocking Eddie Redmayne’s odd accent. However, rallying people to support Jupiter Ascending at this point seems like a lost cause because A) It’s not great; B) It’s box office fate has already been sealed after a dreadful domestic debut barely over $18 million. When Edge of Tomorrow flopped it at least made $28m in its opening weekend, just barely making it to a final total of $100m domestic due to strong word-of-mouth, something which Jupiter Ascending most definitely lacks. But, wait, it gets worse. According to Deadline, Jupiter Ascending’s official production budget of $178 million is crap. It actually cost north of $200 million to make even though its original budget wasn’t supposed to exceed $130 million. Then the visual effects were taking too long, and audience awareness was scarily low. So, WB delayed it from its summer 2014 release to this past weekend, throwing more money at it to finish the VFX, raise audiences awareness through marketing, and give the Wachowskis time to fix it.

Jupiter Ascending was, in effect, a lame duck film which had been greenlit at the treatment stage by Jeff Robinov, the then WB studio chief who had once been the Wachowskis agent before making his first splash at WB as one of the studio suits behind The Matrix. There wasn’t even a Jupiter Ascending script yet, and the Wachowskis were handed a $130 million budget to work with as well as final cut approval These are the same Wachowskis whose recent films, Cloud Atlas ($130m worldwide against a $100m budget) and Speed Racer ($93m worldwide against a $120m budget), lost tons of money.

After the failure of Speed Racer, the Wachowskis had to raise money for Cloud Atlas independently, mortgaging their houses when one of the financiers fell through

Giving the Wachowskis such a sweetheart deal for Jupiter Ascending is the type of thing only someone who owed his career to them would do, and it’s not surprising that Robinov didn’t survive in his post at WB long enough to see it through. His replacements are the ones who delayed Jupiter Ascending just as they are the ones now trying to spin the film’s box office into a positive considering it’s okay international debut (over $30m from 65 territories), conveniently leaving out the fact that they’re only going to see 25% of those ticket sales from China and 40-42% of ticket sales from all other foreign markets.

The Wachowskis know better. This is a flop. Even before it came out, they told WSJ, “We’ve been lucky. People at studios have been interested in our crazy, strange brand of complexity. And we’ve been allowed to keep making them. Will that continue? Probably not […] But it was a good run.”

What’s scarier, though, is what this means for the future of big budget, original science-fiction. Warner Bros. has been stung now by three such films now, Transcendence, Edge of Tomorrow, and Jupiter Ascending, all of which were greenlit by Robinov. They’ve also been behind or at least partially behind Interstellar (which they split with Paramount), Gravity, and Pacific Rim (which was financed by Legendary Pictures, who’ve since left WB for Universal). However, as FilmSchoolRejects put it, “The lifeline for original science fiction filmmaking isn’t a healthy one, and the numbers point to what studios have been trying to tell us for years: that originality comes with risks that adaptation and rebooting don’t. Having a smash hit or a depressed failure is essentially a coin flip unless your project comes stamped with the word Nolan on it.”

All of this is currently presenting science-fiction fans with a conundrum: Should we support Jupiter Ascending as a way of supporting original science-fiction filmmaking? If so, we’re a little too late on that. This was all so much easier when it was Edge of Tomorrow. At least that turned out to be a really good movie.

This Weekend’s Box Office Top 10 Actual Totals (2/6-2/8)

1. Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water (First Domestic Weekend)

  • Production Budget=$74m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$55.3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$16.2m
  • New Foreign/Worldwide Split=$28.6m/$83.9m

2. American Sniper

  • Production Budget=$59m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$23.2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$6.5m
  • New Domestic/Worldwide Split=$281.3m/$360.3m

3. Jupiter Ascending (Opening Weekend)

  • Production Budget=$176m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$18.3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$32.5m
  • Worldwide Debut=$50.8m

4. The Seventh Son (First Domestic Weekend)

  • Production Budget=Believed to be over $100m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
  • New Foreign/Worldwide Split=$83.6m/$92m

5. Project Almanac

  • Production Budget=$12m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.23m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= $1m
  • New Domestic/Worldwide Split=$15.6m/$19m

6. Paddington

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.22m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= $1.3m
  • New Domestic/Worldwide Split=$57.1m/$211.1m

7. The Wedding Ringer

  • Production Budget=$23m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= Not playing internationally
  • New Domestic Gross =$54.9m

8. The Imitation Game

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= $6m
  • New Domestic/Worldwide Split=$74.5m/$150.5m

9. Black or White

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= Not playing internationally
  • New Domestic Gross =$13.1m

10. The Boy Next Door

  • Production Budget=$4m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.1m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= Less than $1m
  • New Domestic/Worldwide Split=$30.8m/$33.2m

Source: Rentrak


  1. Edge of Tomorrow was a damn good movie. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has seen it and didn’t like it. That said, I also saw Jupiter Ascending out of curiosity and because I heard it looked pretty. It looked gorgeous. It had potential. It was ultimately just plain bad. We shouldn’t support a bad movie for the sake of supporting original sci fi (Edge of Tomorrow isn’t anyway). We should support good sci fi.

    I know it may be petty, but I am kind of glad Jupiter Ascending bombed because maybe it will force the Wachowski’s to work on what they struggle with the most. Creating a cohesive, engaging plot rather than a film of set pieces and sequences. If they can do that and pair it with their talent for making beautiful movies and employing interesting concepts, they could make something that really makes an impact.

    The thing about science fiction that is great is that it’s about the concepts. A science fiction movie doesn’t need a $100M+ budget to be great. I think we’ll see more successes in smaller projects. If we can focus on getting an original $40M project off the ground I think more will begin to flourish. Which means the industry will have to try to stop falling for grandiose ideas that require massive budgets.

    1. All spot-on…The future of sci-fi on film may be more Looper than Jupiter Ascending, and that is not really a bad thing. Or something like Predestination. It does mean, though, that if your sci-fi concept requires a big budget and your name is not Christopher Nolan then you probably need to rethink that concept a little. Even Jerry Bruckheimer is getting squeezed on the budget for the next transformers.

      1. I thought of Predestination too, although again that’s not an original story but an adaptation from a sci-fi classic author. Still, excellently acted and shot. As Ashley said, we shouldn’t base it on whether it’s original or adapted – but on whether it’s good or not!

        People should see Predestination! 🙂

      2. I have now seen Predestination, a film I mostly first heard about when you blogged about it. If that’s the future of sci-fi I am cool with it. Let the Jupiter Ascendings of the world come back around when something inevtably comes along and makes a ton of money thus spurring knock-offs; if people can survive in this lower budget range and make smart, interesting sci-fi like Predestination or something ambitious but a bit more commercial like Looper then all of this worry is overblown.

  2. Question: Do we really need to support the genre? Yeah, it might become “out of fashion” for a while. But like more or less every genre, it will be back. Perhaps not with a big splash but it will.
    Plus, sci-fi does not equal sci-fi. I haven’t seen Jupter Ascending, but I am pretty tired of movies which put style over storytelling. Matrix might have started the trend, but it we have seen so many movies of this kind in the last years, especially since I-Max became a thing in the US, that I am just sick of it.

    1. Mmm…. but the 2nd and 3rd Matrix films had lots of style and substance… It’s just a pity that the style was eclipsed by these excessively long and BORING Neo vs Infinite Agent Smith fights that just kept going and going and didn’t know when to stop; the substance was this kind annoying background information about the creation of the Matrix and why it failed the previous times and this little girl makes the sunsets (yawn) etc etc.

      Maybe the problem is more isolated than a general problem? The Wachoskis haven’t done anything as amazing as The Matrix I and maybe the blame just lies with them and the studio executive who green lit them without any restrictions.

      1. Well, YMMV, but I didn’t even like the first Matrix movie. It was, in my eyes, a very basic idea with some very predictable spins thrown in. I know that fans of the movie read a lot into it, but…well, for me it was always pretencious nonsense.

  3. There are two things you could support by seeing Jupiter Ascending: 1. Big budget sci-i, 2. Big budget action films led by a female, although Tatum is the real action star always saving Kunis. However, I am not someone who really feels a need to make some kind of statement with a ticket purchase. I just want to see a good movie, and Jupiter Ascending looks like such a bad movie.

  4. So we ran an impromptu poll and discussion on Jupiter Ascending, and have gotten really mixed results:

    We haven’t seen the movie yet, but are still thinking we might. Because it sounds like if we’re ever going to see it, on the big screen might be the good place to do it – if the reason to see it is the visuals.

    Plus I’m still not sold on seeing Kingsman, because I’m really bugged by Mark Millar. And a movie for Valentine’s Day is our plan…

  5. *mumbles* I loved Jupiter Ascending too… 😉

    Agree with all the criticisms, but love it all the same, not least because of your topic here. I want more sci-fi movies and I’m not sure I’ll get them.

  6. Loved Jupiter Ascending!… absolutely love sci-fi!! I disagree that Main charac ters had no chemistry. I was waiting on edge for the to connect!!

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