The Wachowskis’ Expensive ‘Jupiter Ascending’: What The Hell Happened?

While this year’s domestic box office is off to a great start with $1.2B, it’s also produced too many bombs. Following Universal/Legendary’s Blackhat ($70M cost, $16.6M global B.O.) and Lionsgate’s Mortdecai ($60M cost, $19.1M global B.O.), this weekend brought Jupiter Ascending from Warner Bros./Village Roadshow (estimated cost $205-$210M) and Seventh Son (estimated cost $105M-$110M) from Universal/Legendary.

jupiter ass 2Both were flagged as disappointments some time ago; Jupiter Ascending is worse because of its exorbitant cost and the fact that it’s the third straight self indulgent disappointment from Lana and Andy Wachowski, following Speed Racer ($120M cost, $93.9M global B.O.) and Cloud Atlas ($100M cost, $130.5M global B.O.). They are a long way from the $1.6B The Matrix franchise and sources tell me this is it for them at Warner Bros. The first Matrix in 1999 was a crowning VFX achievement and while the second and third film disappointed by comparison, they made money. Nothing has, since.  

Jupiter Ascending might have relaunched the siblings as forces in the sci-fi genre. An $18.37M domestic opening per studio reporting this morning indicates that isn’t going to happen. Jupiter‘s B- Cinemascore doesn’t bode well with Fifty Shades Of Grey and Kingsman: Secret Service coming right on its heels next weekend. Sure, Warner Bros. is crowing about Jupiter’s overseas $32.5M bow  $33.8M in 65 territories (as of Monday morning), making it the No. 1 film on the int’l chart. That would be a great result if its budget hadn’t swelled from an original $130M to over $200M, plus an estimated marketing cost of $100M. That means Jupiter has to make big money abroad. Even if Jupiter takes in $150M-$165M abroad, the studio’s rental is 40-42% of the foreign B.O.  In China, the majors only take 25% of a title’s box office home. Cloud Atlas‘ anemic $27.1 M domestic gross was bolstered by China ($27.7M), Russia ($17M) and Germany ($12.7M), leading to an offshore gross four times its domestic result. Jupiter started with $4.7 M in Russia, with Australia, Japan and China still to open. Warner Bros may have made a mistake by not opening abroad first to build momentum, however, the studio went day-and-date with Jupiter in an effort to capitalize on school vacations. Universal’s Seventh Son, at a much lower budget, doesn’t look nearly as bad after opening foreign first and posting a $90.7M global B.O. Even though Legendary took a $85M writedown, Seventh Son‘s numbers look much better than what Warner Bros and its cofi partners are facing on Jupiter Ascending.

jupiter ascending 2So what went wrong? The cast is strong with Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, and exit polls showed that auds came for them. On this one, you’ve got to point the finger at the Wachowskis. The Warner Bros executives they were closest to left the studio while this picture was in the formative stages, and it created an unenviable situation where the filmmakers isolated themselves. The result was a movie that came in way over budget. The biggest champion of the siblings was Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov, who was their agent at ICM and who made his bones at Warner Bros with The Matrix. Robinov signed off on casting, costumes and production designs, but he was gone before shooting started.

wachowskiWith their key relationship gone, the siblings–never the most collaborative–did what they wanted. Jupiter was greenlit at the treatment stage, not script, and the Wachowskis had final cut. The Wachowskis set up Cloud Atlas as an indie, and they had real skin in the game, mortgaging their homes to fill a budget gap after a financier went bankrupt. That wasn’t the case here.

jupiter assNone of this is a surprise. Jupiter tested poorly at a screening last April, and because VFX wasn’t ready, the studio pushed from July 18 to Feb. 6. That gave the studio time to tinker. Said one insider, “When you’re in the hole for $100M-plus on a film, you’re not just going to release it on VOD. You’re going to fix it.” And so Warner Bros. threw more money at Jupiter. That  worked on Gravity and The Great Gatsby, but not here. The production cost of Jupiter swelled over 50% from its original $130M (after rebates). Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow each footed 40% of the budget with RatPac-Dune Entertainment, which finances a number of WB titles, making up 20% of the bill. The budget came in north of $200 million, sources said.

jupiter ascendingWarner Bros. used the production delay to take a teaser trailer to San Diego’s Comic-Con in order to excite fanboys. Rival distribution executives cited that the problem with the film didn’t lie in its marketing as its awareness increased from week-to-week in tracking.

Prior to the release of Cloud Atlas, Lana Wachowski told Deadline, “There were tons of movies that made a lot of money and were utterly and completely forgotten. Likewise, there were movies that didn’t make money that are still around and are still important and relevant.” It doesn’t sound like Jupiter Ascending is going to be one of those.

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