Teenage songwriter Jerrica Benton and her younger sister Kimber live with their Aunt Bailey and two foster sisters, Aja and Shana. The four girls frequently videotape themselves playing music and wearing colorful 80's outfits just for fun, but Jerrica is too shy to sing on camera. Jerrica learns one day that due to Aunt Bailey's financial problems their house will be auctioned. She vents her emotions by recording a song with the video camera Kimber uses to post blogs. She disguises herself by calling herself Jem, her deceased father's nickname for her.
She is interrupted just before deleting the video and an Internet-obsessed Kimber posts it onto YouTube. The video attracts millions of views in a single day. Jerrica is offered a record deal by Starlight Productions and travels to LA with her sisters. They meet music producer Erica Raymond and her son Rio. Erica is polite and courteous with the four girls but shows particular interest in Jerrica, who she sees as a potential superstar.
The girls settle down in LA and discuss their next move. They've brought along a small robot called 51N3RG.Y (pronounced synergy) built by the Benton sisters' deceased father, Emmett. The robot suddenly activates itself and leads them on a scavenger hunt. Each clue represents something Jerrica did or wanted to do with her father. The objective is to find several missing pieces designed to fit into the robot so that it can be fully activated. The girls find the first piece in the Santa Monica Pier. They find the second clue in a guitar once owned by Jerrica's father when, by coincidence, the band plays a concert.
Rio and Jerrica begin to develop feelings for each other, much to Erica's dismay. Erica signs Rio off to another singer in an attempt to keep him away from Jerrica. Aunt Bailey tells Jerrica via FaceTime that their house is going for auction in a few days. Desperate to save the home, Jerrica asks Erica for an advance. Erica says she'll happily oblige, but only if Jerrica agrees to leave her sisters and start a solo contract. Jerrica relents, believing she is doing it for the family. Her sisters discover the truth about the contract, denounce her for leaving them out of the deal, and leave. After a dull solo performance, Jerrica becomes depressed over her mistake and goes to visit the LA house where she used to live with Kimber and her father.
Her sisters arrive to visit her at the old house and make amends. They vow to help her finish the scavenger hunt and Rio goes along too. Jerrica realizes that the last piece is the earrings her dad told her to wear, but Erica made her take them off when she first went to Starlight. The earrings are now stored in Erica's office. Rio and the girls break into Starlight headquarters, almost getting caught by Erica, but succeed. The reward for finishing the hunt is a final hologram message from Jerrica and Kimber's father. They also discover Rio's late father's will, which gives him a majority of shares in Starlight and effectively puts him in control of the company.
At the end of the movie, Rio and Jem kiss, Erica is fired, the house is safe, and everyone is happy. Jem and her sisters play their final concert together. Rio chats with a woman called Lindsey Pierce (Jem creator Christy Marx in a cameo role) at the concert. She offers to give the band the cover of Rolling Stone, and asks Rio what to call the band. He suggests "Jem and the Holograms." Lindsey says it's a great name.
In a mid-credits scene, Erica, now terminated from Starlight, arrives in a seedy junkyard, where she attempts to recruit a group of punkish young women into a band to rival the Holograms. They decline, saying that Erica dropped them the first time they were signed with Starlight. They change their minds when the leader, Pizzazz, discovers that Rio is dating Jem, and take Erica inside. The graffiti on the side of their trailer reveals their name as the Misfits.
Cameo appearances from the original TV series cast include: Samantha Newark, the voice of the original Jem, as a hairstylist; Britta Phillips as a stage manager; and Jem's creator Christy Marx as Lindsey Pierce.
With the recent successes of the live-action reboots of G.I. Joe and Transformers, Hasbro was rumored to be considering a live-action film with Universal Studios. Hasbro and Universal had signed a six-film contract in 2010, or a new incarnation of the animated series. On March 20, 2014, a live-action motion picture adaptation of Jem and the Holograms was announced, to be directed by Jon M. Chu.
Chu has said he had spent ten years developing the film with producer Jason Blum. The film's musical producer, Scooter Braun, stated that he drew influence from his work on the career of Justin Bieber. It was later revealed that the original Jem writer Christy Marx was not involved in any part of the film's production. In response to her having no part or consultation on the film, Marx defended Chu's sense of ambition for the project via Facebook and left it up to the fans to decide whether or not the project was a "smart decision".
In April 2014, it was announced that Aubrey Peeples had been cast as Jem, with Stefanie Scott as Kimber, Hayley Kiyoko as Aja, and Aurora Perrineau as Shana. Peeples had admitted being initially unfamiliar with the franchise although she subsequently became familiar with it and became a fan quickly. Other parts were announced throughout the next couple of months with actor Ryan Guzman cast as Rio announced on April 30 Juliette Lewis's involvement on May 19. and Molly Ringwald on May 20. Principal photography began on April 22, 2014 in Van Nuys, later on May 19, shooting was underway in Los Angeles. Shooting ended on May 24, 2014.
On October 23, 2015, Chu confirmed his intentions to make a crossover film between Jem and the Holograms with Transformers and G.I. Joe, but due to the film's disastrous reception combined with Chu's personal retrospective view on the film, plans to make a crossover film have likely been abandoned.
The soundtrack for the film, featuring original compositions and also songs by Hailee Steinfeld and Dawin, was released in North America by Silent Records and Republic Records on October 23, 2015.
On February 25, 2015, the first official image from the film was released, featuring Peeples as Jem, Scott as Kimber, and Kiyoko as Aja performing on stage. On May 12, 2015, director Chu revealed the first official film poster. The next day, on May 13, a trailer was released online. On August 11, a second trailer was released, this time featuring the robot 51N3RG.Y (pronounced as synergy) which itself was based on the supercomputer of the original cartoon series, which generates and holographically projects the band's images and creates their special effects during stage performances. Critics responded negatively to the May 2015 trailer for the film, noting that the reboot seems to share little with its animated predecessor. Hillary Crosley Coker of Jezebel commented that the film "looks like a less interesting version of Beyond the Lights". Uproxx noted the trailer's low rating on its official YouTube page, while The Huffington Post in Canada wrote that the changes to the original plot have "disappointed '80s kids everywhere", then highlighted multiple negative fan reactions. Williesha Morris, also writing for The Huffington Post, criticized the film's re-imagining of the Jerrica character, stating that the original cartoon "represented female empowerment, not angst". Actress Scott, who plays Kimber, and producer Blum have both addressed the negative reactions by asking fans to reserve judgment until the film is released. Scott stated that "I think that they have to see the movie to understand that things that they think are missing are in there." Blum has described the film as being "a hundred percent true to the spirit of Jem".
Jem and the Holograms was theatrically released on October 23, 2015 by Universal Pictures.
Jem and the Holograms received a DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo release on January 19, 2016. Special features include 12 deleted scenes, an audio commentary by director Chu, a gag reel, a music video for "Youngblood", and a featurette titled "Glam, Glitter, Fashion, and Fame: The Reinvention of Jem".
The film was released in North America on October 23, 2015, alongside The Last Witch Hunter, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, and Rock the Kasbah, along with the wide release of Steve Jobs. Initially projected to gross $5 million in its opening weekend, projections were lowered to $3 million after only grossing $34,000 during its Thursday night previews ($36 per theater average). It ultimately opened fifteenth at the box office with $1.4 million, the worst opening of 2015 and the fourth worst opening ever for a film screening in more than 2,000 theaters, and the worst ever for a film released by a major studio. On November 10, 2015, just over two weeks after release, Universal removed Jem from theaters entirely, after grossing $2.2 million. Jason Guerrasio of Business Insider described the pull from theaters as "an unheard of move for a movie that was in theaters nationwide."
The film's international roll-out began on October 22, where it debuted to a fourth-place finish in Slovenia. It debuted in 9 screens and had a weekend gross of $2,064. The total was $3,046. In its second weekend, the film dropped 37% to finish at fifth place with $1,297. Its third week resulted in a steep 84% decline to $210. Its three-week total is $6,886.
The film opened in Croatia on October 29, where it debuted in fifth-place with $1,421 from 11 screens. The film dropped over 40% in its second week with $870 from 7 screens, but the third week saw its screen count increase to 13 and it suffered a scant 8% decline to end the weekend with $801. The film’s three-week total was $3,744.
The film opened in Iceland a day later, where it made $1,197 on opening weekend from 6 screens. The film retained its screen count for the next week, seeing a 41% drop to end with $698. The following week saw the film take in $195 from 1 screen, a substantial drop of 72%. Its three week-total was $2,862.
The film opened in Norway on November 6. It placed number four at the box office with $14,764 from 62 screens. Its two-week total was $20,046.
The film opened in Singapore on November 26 where it grossed $9,311 from 8 screens for a 13th-place finish. Release dates for other parts of Europe was December; the film opened in the UK on 12 February 2016 and grossed $12,869. The film was released in France in April 2016.
The film never made it to cinemas in Australia; instead, it went straight to DVD there in mid-March, 2016. As of 30 December 2015, the film grossed $142,526 internationally, bringing the worldwide gross to $2.3 million.
The film received generally negative reviews from critics and fans of the original animated series. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that the film has a rating of 18% based on 66 reviews; the average rating is 3.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "Jem and the Holograms ignores its source material's goofy charm in favor of bland by-the-numbers drama." Metacritic gives the film a score of 42 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". CinemaScore audiences gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale. Footage of celebrities and fans talking about the Jem animated series was edited into the film in such a manner that the fans appeared to be talking about the film's version of the characters. The fans who submitted the footage were not informed as to how it would be used in the film, resulting in many being upset by the manipulation of their perspectives on the character and series.
Geoff Berkshire of Variety praised Peeples' performance as Jem, noting that she "keeps the film watchable", as well as Lewis as "a nonsensical bitch-on-wheels caricature with offbeat line readings and live-wire energy", and noted that "a generally unremarkable tech package — cinematography, sound, costuming & makeup, etc. — at least provides a modest showcase for costume designer Soyon An, makeup head Mary Klimek and hairstylist Vanessa Price, who come the closest to channeling the vibrant spirit of the Jem cartoons that originally made fans fall in love."
Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating that the film "is one of the weirdest big screen adaptations of a cheap TV cartoon that I've seen", giving his observation that the film even sometimes evokes the films of Terrence Malick, a filmmaker known for his films' lush cinematography and reflective nature. Seitz's overall conclusion is that "[the film is] not a good film in terms of plot or tonal consistency, and it offers almost nothing in the way of true conflict, but it's always an observant and sincere movie, and occasionally a beautiful and deep one."