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With 'Jupiter Ascending' Pushed Back, Has Luck Run Out For The Wachowskis?

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by Kevin Jagernauth
June 5, 2014 12:04 PM
18 Comments
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With six weeks to go before the film was set to open, with TV spots and trailers already out in the world, Warner Bros. made the bold move earlier this week to yank their summer sci-fi blockbuster "Jupiter Ascending" from their slate, and reschedule it for the far less glamorous slot of February 6, 2015. It was definitely a surprise, and it's not often that any studio punts their big seasonal tentpole so soon before it's set to hit theaters. And while the reasons for this move have yet to be made official (though many have posited reshoots could be in the works, given the timeframe) it has made us wonder around the Playlist watercooler if the Wachowskis' luck has finally run out.

But first let's rewind to 1999, when a largely unknown sibling duo, whose only film to date had been lean, sexy thriller "Bound," dropped "The Matrix" into multiplexes. Expectations were modest, but the movie turned out to be a monster. The dystopian, sci-fi action flick was a melange of all their genre influences, but it connected with mainstream audiences to the tune of over $460 million worldwide, plus it was huge on DVD, becoming the first movie to sell more than three million copies on disc. Warner Bros. smelled a franchise and they went gunning for it.

The next four years saw The Wachowskis not only writing and directing two sequels—"The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions"—but also overseeing a series of related animated shorts, and directing more material for the videogame "Enter The Matrix," which would tie into the narrative of 'Reloaded.' And initially, audiences were ready to come on board. Released in the spring of 2003, "The Matrix Reloaded" was a big hit tallying $742 million worldwide. The problem? It wasn't very good and it muddled the clear mythology of the first film with a lot of... stuff. And so, when "The Matrix Revolutions" arrived in the fall in the same year, audiences had considerably cooled, with the movie actually earning less domestically and internationally than the first "The Matrix." But hey, at the end of the day, WB had three movies worth over $1.6 billion in ticket sales, and all kinds of ancillary revenue coming to them too. As far as they were concerned, The Wachowskis were golden.

The studio produced the Wachowski-penned "V For Vendetta," which became another hit and earned a strong following. So for their next directorial effort, the Wachowskis were tasked with bringing WB property "Speed Racer" to the big screen, and while the results weren't quite disastrous, they were certainly disappointing. Critics didn't take to the $120 million dollar movie, and audiences were lukewarm, with the entire effort only earning a bit over $90 million worldwide. (Though here too, there is a small cult who adore this film).

Okay, so it was bound the Wachowskis would stumble eventually, but it is telling that for their next film, the sprawling, ambitious "Cloud Atlas," WB didn't finance the flick. Instead, utilizing mostly European and Asian funding, the siblings put together over $100 million, rounded up an all star cast, but again, audiences didn't follow. Warner Bros. distributed the movie stateside where it earned a paltry $27 million, though overseas it took in over $100 million, likely netting the movie perhaps a small, but insignificant profit (you don't round up stars like Tom Hanks and Hugh Grant to barely make your money back). In short, that was two costly flops in a row for the Wachowskis.

Which brings us to "Jupiter Ascending." WB was clearly hoping that a return to sci-fi would excite audiences once again, as they put $150 million up for the movie. And certainly, one can't fault the Wachowskis for lack of ambition as the marketing so far has shown they've put their entire imagination into the effort. But indeed, something has gone wrong. It would appear where WB had previously given the siblings all kinds of leeway to execute their vision, somewhere along the way with this one, problems arose. Again, with weeks to go before a movie is due in theaters, and a campaign in full swing, you don't yank it unless there is a serious issue. The move perhaps suggests that whatever is "broken," the studio and filmmakers tried to fix but simply couldn't in time despite best efforts.

This does make one wonder how much longer the Wachowskis will get this kind of money and freedom from major studios (well, WB), particularly if "Jupiter Ascending" underperforms (and a February release date suggests that WB isn't confident about its prospects). However, perhaps they are already preparing for the worst. You might recall that earlier this year, rumors swirled that the pair were preparing a new "The Matrix" trilogy, that would act as prequels to the current movies. And while it's yet to be seen if that's true, if there's any way to get back in WB's good books, it would be helping them find a way to reinvigorate a billion dollar franchise.

But we'll end all of this on a note of caution. While it might be easy to ring the death knell for the Wachowskis, all one has to do is look at last summer's "World War Z." There was a film with a troubled production, highly publicized reshoots and more, and the final result? A pretty good movie, that is also Brad Pitt's biggest hit of his career, with a sequel now in the works. Perhaps the same fate could await "Jupiter Ascending," where careful tinkering could bring the movie where it needs to be. But this is never a path studios like to go down if they can avoid (it's costly, and yes, the publicity doesn't help) and time will tell if "The Matrix" will continue to be the peak of the Wachowskis career. But the directors aren't putting all their eggs in the studio basket—the duo are currently at work on the Netflix series "Sense8" and perhaps the expanded, more adventurous storytelling realm of television will better suit the next steps of their career. 

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18 Comments

  • fucku | June 18, 2014 11:53 AMReply

    Too subversive and original for the average movie goer? Give me a f'n break. First matrix was good...and were done. They make terrible movies. Abstract crap is still crap. They need the matrix prequels...all they got. All u fanboys go find someone more talented to blow.

  • Jcool | June 6, 2014 5:57 PMReply

    Seems like all the fans the Wachowskis have left have decided this is the article to comment on.

  • Jonathan | June 6, 2014 11:50 AMReply

    It's a little presumptuous to assume something with the film is "broken." If I had to bet, I'd guess that the tracking on the film was horrendous. There's very little oxygen in this summer blockbuster environment for something as original and singular-looking as "Jupiter Ascending." Summer blockbuster audiences seem to like having strong expectations of what they're going to get out of a movie. Watching the trailer for "Jupiter," you're not sure what you're getting into. I imagine the studio simply moved the picture to give it a better shot at success. That's not unprecedented.

  • benutty | June 6, 2014 11:13 AMReply

    I'm sorry, maybe I'm missing this, but where exactly in this post is the evidence that the Wachowskis were ever lucky or even remotely talented in the first place..............

  • Tracy | June 6, 2014 5:04 PM

    The evidence is clearly stated in the box office success of "Bound," "Matrix Triology", and "V for Vendetta". You may like to snark at their success, and, after the last 2 Matrix films plus "Cloud Atlas", with justification, but to say they never had talent is subjective. I like some of their movies, others not so much. **shrug**

  • Jonathan | June 6, 2014 11:46 AM

    The Wachowskis are very, very talented.

  • Drew | June 6, 2014 11:02 AMReply

    I don't think luck has run out on the Wachowskis. If anything, they may be too unconventional for major movie studio tastes. Studios generally want to release Captain America, more moronic Adam Sandler films, teen vampires, and Fast & Furious. The Wachowskis are probably too "subversive" for them.

    To get what they want done, they have to probably operate not only outside the studio system, but find new digital venues for their work, like this forthcoming Netflix project.

  • JOHN | June 5, 2014 11:43 PMReply

    If their last film, CLOUD ATLAS, was considered a "flop" then I will take a Wachowski flop any day. I wish box office receipts weren't the only measure of success by commentators. Divisive, yes. Too much for the average Joe moviegoer to comprehend? Perhaps. But who the hell cares about the average moviegoer's opinion on this blog site? There's plenty of throwaway popcorn movies released every week. Filmmakers that push the envelope consistently deserve our respect.

  • Ryan | June 5, 2014 6:52 PMReply

    I would love to see them go back to smaller budgeted films if it meant creating another movie along the lines of Bound.

  • LB Johnson | June 5, 2014 3:53 PMReply

    The only way their luck runs out is if no one finances anything they ever do ever again. And we all know that will never happen. So "luck running out" is a silly question. Must be a slow news day.

  • Tracy | June 6, 2014 5:05 PM

    Agreed. I think it would do wonders for them to pull back and refocus on story as opposed to spectacle because they have proven they're capable of telling a ripping yarn on occasion.

  • skywater | June 5, 2014 6:23 PM

    I think kevin may have been refering more to the big budget nature of the projects. Of course getting a small budget feature will always be easier.

  • President mao | June 5, 2014 3:17 PMReply

    'With 'Jupiter Ascending' Pushed Back, Has Luck Run Out For The Wachowskis?'

    In one word? YES.

  • Matt Goldberg | June 5, 2014 3:02 PMReply

    It seems a bit unfair to harp on The Wachowskis' current fate while ignoring the fact that Jupiter Ascending was the only big-budget film due out this summer that wasn't based on preexisting material. If it failed so be it, but now studios are so skittish they won't even try to give audiences something untested.

    Why is it that we're always giving studios shit, but the moment they decide to change release dates, they're wise and infallible?

  • RNL | June 5, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    The Matrix sequels came out in 2003, not 2002.

  • Chris | June 5, 2014 12:22 PMReply

    I'm hoping they can get Jupiter Ascending in good shape for February. Say what you will about them, at least they're making an original (hopeful) blockbuster. If it flops how many more Captain Americas await us?

  • lee | June 5, 2014 1:39 PM

    ditto. We should show more respect for those who 'stumble' due to ambition and originality, unfortunately we're hung up on those who 'succeed' with mediocrity. And I use 'succeed' and 'stumble' just to describe the point, how about we talk about success and failure in ten years time. Cloud Atlas did not feel like a bad film, it felt like a film that broke so many rules of current taste and narrative expectation that I couldn't figure out what I was watching, it was bewildering. Maybe it won't feel so bewildering in the future.

  • Davey | June 5, 2014 12:39 PM

    Agreed. I'm not always crazy about their stuff (SPEED RACER is actually my favorite of their films, and the only one I really love), but their work is always ambitious, exciting, interesting, and well worth paying money to see, and I'd take the new Wachowski over the new Marvel any day.

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