What a ‘Jupiter Ascending’ Delay Means for Warner Brothers, the Wachowskis, and Channing Tatum

It looks like Channing Tatum will have to settle for one summer release this year. Warner Brothers this week announced Jupiter Ascending would be shifting to February 2015. However given the low buzz and even lower expectations surrounding the sci-fi film, many are suggesting that could be a good thing as Tatum, Warner Brothers, and directors Andy and Lana Wachowski all could be negatively affected should the film flop.

Credit: Warner Brothers

The Wachowskis

It's been 15 years since The Matrix took theaters by storm and in the time since the box office hasn't been kind to the Wachowski siblings. While both of the Matrix's sequels were financial successes, there was noticeable drop-off between the second and third films ... namely because audiences largely gave up trying to figure out what was happening on screen.

That haze has never let up. The pair's follow-up movie Speed Racer crashed and burned in the summer of 2008. Based on the classic cartoon series, the film was described as a psychedelic mind-trip that stalled out at the starting block, before international audiences helped cut the loss. 2012's Cloud Atlas netted a similar result and that was with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in lead roles.

Budgets and grosses courtesy of The-Numbers.com

Having Ascending collapse would be detrimental to the pair and the delay gives the industry more time to call into question their profitability. These are not cheap movies to make. With continued under-performance, investors will begin to lose faith in Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) ), which has distributed all of their films.

A third straight bomb would also make Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) investors a little leary of its upcoming Wachowski collaboration Sense8. After all Netflix has built a reputation off its original projects and a lot of that success has come from drafting profitable talent in front of and behind the camera. Executives are clearly OK with taking risks, but after a while the odds begin to go against you.

Channing Tatum

For Ascending's star Channing Tatum, the movie's delay helps his personal stock. Sony's 22 Jump Street is expected to do as well as the original, and to follow that up with a potential flop would take away momentum. Studios looked at Tatum's stellar 2012, which included The Vow, Magic Mike, and the original Jump Street remake and were falling over themselves to sign him. Yet 2013 produced two of his biggest flops to date in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and White House Down

Budgets and grosses courtesy of The-Numbers.com 

To be fair G.I. Joe and White House Down each recouped its production budget with international totals factored in, but domestically they under-performed. With the expected success of 22 Jump Street and a sequel to Magic Mike on the way plus roles in two upcoming X-Men movies, Tatum is about to become red hot once again. Ascending was a big risk for him and could still be an albatross come 2015.

Warner Brothers

Most important is the impact on the studio. Warner Brothers built its summer slate with a tentpole film in each month: Godzilla in May, Edge of Tomorrow in June, Ascending in July, and 3D tornado disaster pic Into The Storm in August. The slate also features Jersey Boys and Tammy to fill the gaps.

Taking Ascending out of the mix gives it a huge hole in schedule and gives rivals Sony and Universal a big leg up on what would have been a crowded weekend -- now the relocated Sex Tape and sequel to The Purge catch a huge break. The move also has a domino effect on Warner's 2015 slate. The studio now needs to fine a new home for Liam Neeson's Run All Night, which was slated for that February weekend.

Officially the reason given for the move was that the film needed more time to finish up its extensive special effects, but even though some outlets rushed to defend the decision, many are acknowledging that this could bring an added cost to the budget and hurt the project even more financially. If the effects were really the reason then the studio was right to take its time. But after Blended bombed and with Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow looking to come in soft, the timing is a little too convenient. After all, what studio wants to have (at least) three bombs in an annual report to investors?

 

Moving a summer tentpole from July to February doesn't send a sense of confidence to investors or the industry and the recent failures by the Wachowskis have only amplified that. Had the film shifted to November or December that would be one thing, but Warner is moving this to a brand new fiscal year. The movie could still work in February -- Shutter Island and The Monuments Men were among a few successful films to be moved to the first quarter over the years, but in both cases Academy Award consideration was also a major factor.

The move does benefit the studio in one way: Run All Night is now guaranteed a better release window. Neeson has proven to be the king of the first quarter with Taken, The Grey, Unknown, and most recently Non-Stop dominating in the early months. In 2015, his third (and presumably final) Taken film will open just two weeks into the next year. Having a similar movie come so soon after would have probably been not been as successful as Warner Brothers hoped. Funny how things work out.

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