Why Jupiter Ascending Bombed At The Box Office, And What We Can Learn From It

2015's "Jupiter Ascending" was meant to be a glorious return to ambitious sci-fi for Lilly and Lana Wachowski, the duo that brought us "The Matrix," one of the most significant genre films of all time. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned for the filmmakers, as the film went on to become one of the biggest bombs of the decade, barely making back its massive production budget in ticket sales, representing huge losses for Warner Bros.

But what went wrong? The movie had a great A-list cast led by Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, not to mention eventual Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne. It also had the Wachowskis behind the camera and immense financial resources. Yet, the pieces of the puzzle that ultimately came together don't form a picture that audiences were all that interested in — at least not nearly enough to justify the film's massive budget.

It was not well liked

The film centers on Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who lives a mundane life on Earth. That all changes when she meets Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered hunter who lets Jupiter know that her genetic signature marks her as the next in line for a gigantic inheritance, meaning that the balance of the cosmos may well rest in her hands. With that, an ambitious, space-sprawling adventure ensues.

Despite the ambition, that story didn't come together in a satisfying way in the eyes of the majority of moviegoers and critics. As it stands, "Jupiter Ascending" holds a mere 28% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes to go with an equally poor 38% audience score. Sometimes, a movie like "Venom" can overcome poor critical response if audiences drastically disagree. In this case, the consensus was clear: most people thought this was bad movie that couldn't possibly generate the buzz needed to fill theaters.

Its budget was far too high

The problem with films like this is that everything is relative in the movie business. A low-budget horror film can succeed by making far less at the box office than a superhero film because it costs much less to make. Therefore, it takes less money to turn a profit. In the case of "Jupiter Ascending," Warner Bros. bet big on the Wachowskis by writing a massive check. With a reported $176 million budget, this film had to do huge business to justify the expense, especially since that budget does not account for marketing costs. As a general rule, a movie like this will cost just as much to market as it did to produce. So, even if we're being generous, the studio was $300 million in the hole before a single ticket was sold.

Warner Bros. probably needed somewhere between $500 and $600 million just to have a hope at breaking even. Studios generally see about half of the money from ticket sales, so the box office figures have to (roughly speaking) double the investment to equal profit. As it relates to this movie, the math is particularly brutal as they missed that mark by an awful lot.

Too much competition

"Jupiter Ascending" hit theaters on February 6, 2015. That wasn't a great choice. Not only was the film met with terrible reviews in advance of its opening, but it was a very crowded weekend. "The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water" also opened that same weekend, as did "Seventh Son" (another big budget bomb). Plus, "American Sniper" was still in the middle of its massive run, with "Paddington," "Project Almanac," and "The Wedding Ringer" all in the top 10 that weekend as well.

It was a recipe for disaster, as the Wachowski's big sci-fi flick debuted at number three with just $18.3 million, setting it up for a ruinous run. It finished with just $47.3 million domestic and $136.5 million internationally for a total of $183.8 million. That means it barely made back its budget, leading to massive losses almost instantly for the studio. The home video market has been a little help, with a reported $19.8 million worth of domestic DVD sales. That's not nearly enough to make up for the lackluster theatrical run.

The lessons contained within

This is an example of everything seemingly going wrong for a film. Not only did "Jupiter Ascending" arrive on a crowded weekend, but critics and audiences weren't having it, while Warner Bros. spent a fortune to make it. Aside from having a line-up of creative people that any studio would be happy to have on a project, everything else made for a bad business move of epic proportions.

One can never be sure how a movie will turn out and it's reasonable to bet on the Wachowskis given what they did with the "Matrix" trilogy. But spending nearly $200 million on almost any movie is a fool's errand. The only movies that can justify that kind of budget are big entries in major, established franchises that are as close to a guarantee as the movie business is willing to afford. And even then, trying to lower that price tag is often a good idea. In this case, the directors were coming off of another big-budget flop in "Speed Racer." It probably wasn't the best idea to let the budget ascend to such great heights for another big sci-fi film that wasn't connected to a big franchise.

That's not to say filmmakers like the Wachowskis shouldn't make original films, but making them at that budget level is taking on a high level of risk. Even with a much better release date, it's tough to imagine a way to mitigate something this off the mark.