Can Warner Bros. Avoid Another Wachowski Misfire?

Jupiter Ascending

Warner Bros. stunned Hollywood when it pushed the release of “Jupiter Ascending” by seven months — a move that seemed abrupt, but had been debated by the studio for nearly six weeks as the Channing Tatum-Mila Kunis science-fiction epic’s box office prospects dimmed. Delaying a movie’s release is no easy decision, since it adds millions of dollars in interest and other completion costs to the budget and creates negative buzz that is hard to shake. But it can be even more costly and potentially deadly to roll out such a pricey pic, already laden with a production budget of $175 million, before it’s ready.

That became abundantly apparent when Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution, and other execs saw the latest version of the picture — which had already gone through minor reshoots in January and again three months later to clarify plot points.

The decision to shift the film’s prime July 18 release date to February 2015 was prompted by weak response to a research screening in late April and the fact that the visual effects, on which the futuristic thriller heavily relies, were incomplete.

That left Kroll without enough strong content or time to build an effective marketing campaign to give the movie a proper launch. Warners will spend more than $100 million on worldwide marketing for the movie, which was one-third financed by Village Roadshow.

“The evolution of this film always had a tight delivery, a tight release,” Kroll told Variety. “But it was really about protecting the movie.”

Studios often find themselves in the self-inflicted position of having to race to make a release date that has been set far in advance amid a competitive landscape, and allows no margin for error. This is not the first time that Warner has opted to move the release date of a movie that wasn’t yet cooked.

William Sargent, co-founder and CEO of Framestore, one of the major vfx vendors on the film, says studios have become more willing to delay a film’s release, even if that means swallowing millions in interest.

“We have seen Warners delay a release for excellent marketing reasons, of which ‘Gravity’ is the ultimate example,” said Sargent, noting that film was completed almost a year before release. But after several lukewarm screenings, the release was pushed. Warners also moved back the 2014 fantasy action picture “300: Rise of an Empire” when its effects weren’t finished.

The studio can only hope that “Jupiter Ascending” winds up benefiting from its delay as those two films did. But there are no guarantees, and the stakes remain high.

Moving the picture leaves a gaping hole in Warner’s summer lineup, and comes during a trough for Hollywood’s biggest film studio. While “Godzilla” has performed respectably (Warner only owns 25%), “Blended,” starring Adam Sandler, was a dud, and the Tom Cruise-toplined “Edge of Tomorrow,” which cost $175 million, is still far from breaking even.

The “Jupiter” shakeup also casts a shadow on directors Lana and Andy Wachowski, whose past two films, “Cloud Atlas” and “Speed Racer,” wiped out at the box office. “Jupiter” was to mark the siblings’ long-awaited return to the science-fiction genre after their successful run with “The Matrix” movies.

Without a new franchise or Batman, Superman or Harry Potter sequel in its arsenal this year, Warners has taken risks on several original properties.

But the payoff this summer has so far been elusive.

David Cohen contributed to this report.

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  1. Patrick Byrne says:

    The most boring film I have seen in years. Redmayne and Kunis are ATROCIOUS actors. He whispers and she has as much personality as a door knob. Will be in the $1.00 bin at Walmart very soon.

  2. Bryan says:

    Just saw the movie tonight. $200 million to make. $100 to promote and it absolutely sucks. It looks good, but someone keeps forgetting to tell the Wachowski’s they need to focus on the story. In the end, that’s what matters otherwise you get movies that fail.

  3. Why is Variety so persistent in sabotaging Jupiter Ascending? I like the visuals I have seen so far. I will support a big-budget sci-fi movie which is not based on any existing works.

    • marie says:

      Sabotaging? Yea, because every body in America reads Variety and follows their advice on every film. Don’t be over-dramatic.

  4. Mark says:

    It has a terrible title – and I hate to say it – but that could hurt its box office a lot.

  5. Wrong says:

    Movie looks bad and probably will be bad. Lots of terrible/mediocre actors in it, and whats that stupid tv actress Mila Kunis doing in movies now? She’s subpar at best. Are you telling me there are no other actresses capable of filling this role?

    Obvious Flop will be obvious. Of course noone can tell what the Science Fiction community will do. They’re always starving for movies so they’ll probably settle for less again and see this travesty.

  6. Brad says:

    Speed Racer is a fantastic, crazy, silly and really entertaining movie, and it looks great, every frame of it. So many people can be so wrong about a movie. Speed Racer is a terrific movie.

  7. TM RN MBA says:

    “Cloud Atlas” was a beautiful and masterful film, audacious in its scope. It still makes me weep.

  8. Jack Ciri says:

    They should just release it whenever, cut their losses.
    Jupiter Ascending looks like it’s going to be a terrible movie and I bet it performs in line with Babylon A.D. or Max Payne

  9. sharklasers says:

    I finally got around to watching Speed Racer after years of people raving about it. It is truly weird and truly underrated.

    Cloud Atlas is a giant, sprawling mess. But I could not get the film out of my head. It haunted me. In the end, Cloud Atlas achieves greatness, despite its flaws — Tom Hanks was miscast. Strangely enough, Halley Berry fared much better. I don’t know how to describe it. On paper, Cloud Atlas reads like a stinking bomb full of plot holes and bad decisions. However, it’s luminous on screen. It has a bit of a delayed effect. It took a day or so for it to sink in.

    I can see how both Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas would flop at the box office, as they are very expensive niche films, despite their enormous scope.

    But I’m going to trust the W’s on this one. Their vision is undeniable. It’s still possible to save a movie that misses its release date.

  10. Connor Kizer says:

    Speed Racer is one of the most exciting and crazy things i’ve ever seen. Time keeps folding back on itself in this movie of constant flash backs until it explodes into checkered flags at the end. this is the only movie to use cgi properly. everyone please watch this movie again and come into contact with your other selves in the past future other possibilities, and everything you could mean.

  11. The Lorax says:

    Cloud Atlas is underrated: yes, the plot is twisty, but it does all come together, and has both beautifully poignant moments and (very brief) scenes of pure horror: an ambitious undertaking that, with the benefit of being able to rewatch it on video, should lay bare all the plot details that some may have missed on a single viewing. Also, great action set pieces AND, after it’s over, you’ll be pondering the nature of time and “the human experience” in a way far more profound than was inspired by the Matrix.

    Or, go see the Transformers and watch a story about the slow inevitable pointless march toward global Armageddon that a feisty band of humans manage to ward off for another week or so. How apt.

  12. Alex says:

    The Wachowski Brothers (sorry, Lana) made one really cool film. We all know what it was, it was the one that came out right before Phantom Menace came out that year. I don’t want to be mean, I just think they blew all that one, then lost their edge. At least they had one good one. That’s good, right.

  13. Jay says:

    We need Batman without a billion dollar budget, basically. too many small movies this summer because the big movies were pushed off. what happened to the midsize budget hits of the 90s? they went the way of the audience: online. Hollywood needs to spend less $ and churn out better movies. no to Lone Ranger train wrecks. yes to Earth to Echo

    • Agreed, Earth to Echo was great! I watched it with my partner and 8yr old son, and for the first time in ages my son sat through the whole thing, totally enthralled.

      I can’t wait to see Jupiter Ascending. I love all the films that have come from the Wachowski siblings. I think Matrix and Cloud Atlas were amazing. So very clever. From the look of it, Jupiter Ascending is set to be just as good. Here’s hoping it shuts up the critics, and brings redemption for the Wachowskis.

  14. Ari says:

    John Carter anyone?

  15. Dan Wheeler says:

    If Warners would get off their ass and invest in properties that are DC related but aren’t Batman or Superman then they wouldn’t have this problem.

    • Robert says:

      That’s actually an excellent point. DC has a wealth of characters with an already made fan base; they’re ignoring a pot of gold.

      Warners should be commended for being ballsy and going for original material, but plundering DC characters in the same way that Marvel has done to it’s own world, will also offer a host of new films with original qualities.

  16. Matt Toomb says:

    Ahh interweb. The stock market’s got nothing on you baby. Volatility in it’s most immediate form. Personally, I loved Speed Racer, and the Tom Hanks one was good too… Just need to re-watch it again. On that note, I literally JUST re-watched the Matrix movies on Blu-Ray… And it was a MUCH different experience than I remember 10 years ago. (I know, right?!) I remember loving the original so much that the sequels just didn’t measure up, plus I was in my early 20s and didn’t really dive into the deeper levels of the films. Now, my mind is changed. While they did not delivery completely on the first one’s promise, Reloaded and Revolutions are def worth a second watch after a decade… All three movies are top-notch cyber-punk sci-fi – and I personally can’t wait for Jupiter Rising… Although WB is not well known for doing this with positive results… I’ll still see it opening weekend.

    • sharklasers says:

      Upon review, the rave thing was what almost ruined the whole trilogy for me. Other than that all three are very rewatchable for me. Sometimes I’ll skip around the movies and just watch disjointed parts — the car chase scene is still amazing. But they’re all at worst, very entertaining. Except for the rave scene. Other than that, they mostly hold up.

    • The Lorax says:

      I agree: I think “Reloaded” is actually my fave of the three (the battle scenes in Revolutions go on and on, yes, to make the point of “never give up, never surrender!”) but it’s all a little too much. I think Revolutions could have been a GREAT 90 minute movie, and they didn’t have to treat our heroes so shabbily at the end, just for the purpose of making us cry: yes, I could imagine a “happily ever after” scenario for our Trio that was satisfying, with that same unsteady truce to set up “The Matrix Online” backstory.

      Also, despite the game’s critical failings, “Enter the Matrix” was another branch of the story that really ads to the enjoyment of the films (well, of “Reloaded” at least): on the Blu-Ray set you get to see the live-action clips that are used in the game, but a complete movie that interwines “abridged” gameplay scenes between the video clips would be great (I couldn’t find such a thing with a casual search on machinima.com, so if something does exist, I for one would love to watch it).

  17. Jim says:

    Maybe M. Night Shyamalan can take over this troubled picture. BWA HA HA HA.

  18. flyoverland says:

    If the Wachowskis have anything to do with it, then the misfire is inevitable.

  19. Teagan says:

    How is Edge of Tomorrow far from breaking even when it’s made $298 million? It’s budget is $175 million. Even if they spent $100 million on marketing, it has still made money.

    • Grunt says:

      Nope. For a blockbuster to break even, it has to make at least twice to thrice his budget worldwide (domestic + foreign). And as a general rule, if domestic box office < production budget, the movie is considered a disappointment, if not a flop.

      Right now, EoT is at $74M domestic (flop), and roughly $300M worldwide, which is still way under $350M (x2) or $525M (x3). Thus it's far from breaking even.

      • IAN says:

        You’re wrong, Grunt. Taking into account dvds etc, the movie has already broke even. You’ll probably hear how it’s a flop, though. Hollywood accounting ftw.

      • Robert says:

        It’s extremely disappointing to see an excellent film like Edge Of Tomorrow struggle to make back it’s money, let alone turn a profit. Best film of the year so far, by far.

  20. Richard says:

    the price tag on these movies is just to high. Moving the film might help though, every week a new blockbuster is coming out and films can not hold anymore. First Spiderman then Godzilla the X-men followed by Malifecent, its just to hard to gain steam.

    • Elian Gonzalez says:

      IAN, movies do indeed need to earn $3 for every dollar spent in production in order to break even.

    • Dom says:

      You’re forgetting that movie theatres get a large percentage of the ticket price (other than the first weekend where the studios get a better spread). So even if a movie makes 300m, the studio is only seeing approx 150m of that. DVD/Blu ray sales only account for about 40-50m in a very successful title. Also, most of Edge of Tomorrow’s box office is foreign box office. Studio’s often lose more percentage points if they have a third party distributor assisting with distribution in these different countries. There’s no way Edge of Tomorrow has broken even to date.

      It’s a shame, because Edge of Tomorrow has been one of the better films this summer.

  21. JSinTheStates says:

    Another misfire? The Wachowskis have never had a misfire! Their movies are intact! It’s the f’n Distribution Execs who destroy films!

    • Patrick Byrne says:

      Watched as most of the audience walked out of this Jupiter mess before the end. NO CONTENT, just endless special effects and TERRIBLE actors.

  22. Colin Vickery says:

    The question is why does Warners keep giving the go-ahead to movies that cost a staggering $175 million each – that are based on properties with no public awareness.

    • Dave Brown says:

      I assume you are saying that if it’s not a known property spend less? I hope you’re not saying that studios should keep making unnecessary sequel and remake one after another, or movies based on cartoons or kids shows, right? I think a movie without a number or based on ANYTHING that has been represented in a visual medium already would be a welcome change of pace.

  23. bitter trekkie says:

    Waiting isn’t going to help if the movie isn’t up to snuff, and that means the characters, actors and script. You can’t VFX your way out of crap. And even worse, by then Guardians of the Galaxy will have established the new gold standard for this type of film. Maybe they should just go direct to DVD or let SyFy show it on Saturday night.

  24. Mike Branson says:

    I don’t understand all the negative comments. What wrong about moving a movie back to make it better and where it could be more successful?

  25. fred says:

    I know I am probably in the minority but I rather enjoyed Cloud Atlas, I have watched it several times and really feel that it benefits from multiple viewings. I will agree that speed racer was a bust, but I was actually looking forward to this film, it was one of the few that had piqued my interest this summer and I will still see it when it comes out in the winter

    • Patrick H Friel says:

      Ignore my comment Fred, it was meant for Mike, above you.

      • Agra Brum says:

        I’m with you; Cloud Atlas was great. The people I saw it with thought it was great. And I’ve watched it on the movie channels when it came on. A hard one to market, I suppose…
        And even speedracer wasn’t bad (considering the source material – an enjoyable, if forgettable movie in the theater).

    • Patrick H Friel says:

      Oh, you’re new, I see.

    • JD says:

      I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas as well. Before I saw it wasnt expecting much because of all the bad publicity that it got but it was really good. Read the book after and thought the film was better.

    • Angeleno says:

      I love Cloud Atlas! And I couldn’t agree with you more about the multiple viewings. It’s a movie that really rewards you if you are willing to spend time with it. The Wachowski’s went for something really different and interesting, and as far as I’m concerned, they succeeded. It was such a rush to have something unique that wasn’t just mindless entertainment. Just on the basis of Cloud Atlas alone, I will absolutely be there to see Jupiter Ascending.

  26. this movie looks TERRIBLE. they can delay it all they it, it will still bomb

    • snc says:

      Why is anyone surprised about Warner Bros’ actions ? The terrible acting of Mr. Overrated Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis ( What is happening to her film career ? ) didn’t do Jupiter Ascending any favors , and it is very distracting in those lousy trailers . Also , what is up with Channing wearing that lousy makeup with fake elf ears ? I know this film will be bad. I just hope it is bad and very watchable on the level of Troll 2 and The Room .

      Directors Lana and Andy Wachowski are in the career toilet . I loved their work in Bound and The Matrix , but sadly they haven’t released a decent since those classic movies .

      • Robert says:

        I think Tatum has recently found his niche in things like 21 Jump St; he has great comedic timing. Other than that, it’s alway been abit of a stretch to demand much more from his ability wise. But hey, he’s not an actor, he’s a movie star, and there’s as large a chasm between the two as can ever be.

  27. Glenn C. says:

    The trailer looks very cliched. Nothing that new. The villain just kept yelling in every shot. I don’t know about this one. I love how these certain directors just keep getting work from a film or two that was successful once in their careers. How their agents just keep milking that in order for their clients to just keep getting more work! How long can that last?! Come on!

  28. Dan says:

    Afraid that there’s simply no date best suited for this movie. There’s way too much competition in 2015.

  29. sammyglick says:

    All of these execs should be FIRED. Who couldn’t see this being a total turkey when it was still a screenplay?! Why spend $175M on this kind of self-help-seriously-muddled-sci-fi spiritualism-run-amok nonsense?! Don’t ANY of the execs at WB actually READ the projects before spending ungodly amounts of money and time to make them?! What a bunch of self-serving idiots…

    • malcolm says:

      your comments make NO sense,by the same logic your using Guardians of the Galaxy would never be made either …i mean a film about a talking raccoon and a walking tree whom would want to watch that

    • Jun says:

      Totally agreed. The movie is Twilight-ish. A heroine with absolutely nothing going for her becomes queen of the galaxy and falls in love with a half-werewolf hero? The only thing missing to make this a success is a stalker vampire and the fact that it’s not being marketed to teenage girls as it should be.

      The fact that reshoots took place in APRIL to clarify plot points tells you all you need to know about audience reaction during those test screenings. A muddled mess, indeed.

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