Although critics praised the visuals, originality, world-building, and Michael Giacchino's musical score, the general attitude toward the film was negative, with most criticism focused on incoherence in the screenplay, the characterization and an over-reliance on special effects. However, the film has found a more positive response from audiences, particularly among a niche of female science fiction fans who appreciated the film's campiness and the film's deviation from typical gender stereotypes in a genre that is traditionally male-centered.
Earth's residents are unaware that the human species on Earth and countless other planets were established by families of transhuman and alien royalty for the purpose of later "harvesting" the resulting organisms to produce a type of youth serum for the elites on still other planets. After the death of the matriarch of the House of Abrasax, the most powerful of the alien dynasties, her children, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth), quarrel over the inheritance, with Balem inheriting an enormous refinery on Jupiter and Titus spending his inheritance on a lavish spaceship, declaring his intention to dismantle the youth serum trade, of which Earth is the next intended source.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) narrates that her father, Maximilian Jones (James D'Arcy), met her mother, Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy), in Saint Petersburg, Russia. After Maximilian is killed in a robbery, Aleksa names their daughter Jupiter, after his favorite planet, and they move to Chicago to live with Aleksa's family.
Many years later, Jupiter works with Aleksa and her Aunt Nino (Frog Stone) to clean the homes of wealthy neighbors. To buy a telescope, Jupiter agrees to sell her egg cells with the help of her cousin Vladie (Kick Gurry), under the name of her friend Katharine Dunlevy (Vanessa Kirby). At Katharine's house, Jupiter and Katharine are attacked by extraterrestrial 'Keepers'; and when Jupiter photographs these, they erase both of their memories of the incident. Jupiter stumbles upon the strange photograph on her phone while waiting at an egg donation clinic, but cannot recall anything about it. During the procedure, the doctors and nurses are revealed to be Keepers sent to kill her, and she is saved by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a former soldier sent by Titus to bring her to him.
While Caine and Jupiter ascend to a ship, it is destroyed by a squad of Keepers who then attack them. Caine fends off the attack and manages to kill the Keepers and hijack one of their vehicles while protecting Jupiter. Afterwards, Caine realizes that Jupiter must be of great significance to both Titus and Balem, who is revealed to have sent the Keepers to Earth to capture her. He takes Jupiter to the hideout of Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), another former soldier living in exile on Earth. As Jupiter discovers that she can control the bees in Stinger's residence, she is revealed to be a galactic royalty. Stinger agrees to help Jupiter, but a group of hunters who initially were hired by Balem but bribed by Kalique capture her and take her to Kalique's palace on a distant planet, where Kalique explains that Jupiter is genetically identical to the dead matriarch, and therefore the Earth's rightful owner. Supported by Captain Diomika Tsing (Nikki Amuka-Bird) of the Aegis (an intergalactic police force), Caine retrieves her from Kalique, and takes her to the planet Ores (the intergalactic capital planet) to claim her inheritance.
In another attempt to lure Jupiter to him, Balem sends Greeghan (Ariyon Bakare) to kidnap Jupiter's family. On the way back to Earth, Titus's henchmen capture Jupiter and detain Caine, as punishment for not bringing Jupiter to him as promised. Titus reveals to Caine his plan to marry and kill Jupiter and claim Earth. He then throws Caine into the void; but Caine survives and returns with Stinger to save Jupiter at the altar before she completes the marriage contract. Jupiter asks to return home, but learns that her family has been taken hostage by Balem. In his refinery in the Great Red Spot, Balem demands Earth in exchange for Jupiter's family. Realizing that Balem can "harvest" Earth only with her permission, Jupiter refuses. Caine infiltrates the refinery and damages its gravity hull, causing the refinery to begin collapsing. While the occupants evacuate the refinery, Tsing's ship moves in and rescues Jupiter's family.
Jupiter survives the collapsing structures, only to land at the feet of Balem who tries to kill her; but she fights him off, and is rescued by Caine while Balem falls to his death. As the refinery is in its final stages of collapse, Tsing opens a portal to Earth and prepares to evacuate, potentially leaving Caine and Jupiter behind. However, she is relieved to find that they have survived and crossed the portal along with Tsing's ship. Jupiter's family is returned home with no memory of their disappearance, while Jupiter secretly retains ownership of the Earth. Caine's rank in the Legion is restored, and he and Jupiter begin a relationship.
In 2009, Warner Bros' president Jeff Robinov approached the Wachowskis about creating an original intellectual property and franchise. Development began two years later, with the production and visual effects teams doing pre-production work based on a first draft of the script, while The Wachowskis were shooting the future segments of Cloud Atlas. The story was partly inspired by Lana's favorite book, the Odyssey. "It was making me super-emotional," Lana has said. "The whole concept of these almost spiritual journeys and you're changed." Another inspiration was The Wizard of Oz which Lana contrasts to the Odyssey. "Dorothy is pretty much the same at the end as she is at the beginning. Whereas Odysseus goes through such an epic shift in his identity." The Wachowskis themselves describe the plot of the film as an effort to reverse the classical sci-fi-trope of the hero who is "emotionally withholding and strong and stoic." Instead, they tried to create a new form of female sci-fi hero in the space-opera genre. "[...] We were, like, 'Can we bring a different kind of female character like Dorothy or Alice? Characters who negotiate conflict and complex situations with intelligence and empathy?' Yes, Dorothy has a protector, Toto, who's always barking at everyone. And that was sort of the origin of Caine."
Producer Grant Hill and visual effects supervisor Dan Glass have noted that the Wachowskis never repeat themselves. Hill has described the design as an original take on the look of space environments, while Glass mentioned it was influenced by cities around Europe rather than science fiction touchstones. Examples include Renaissance architecture, modern glass and Gothic art.
The film was a co-production between the United States' Warner Bros. and Australia's Village Roadshow Pictures, with both studios providing 40% of the budget and RatPac-Dune Entertainment the remaining 20%. Roberto Malerba and Bruce Berman served as executive producers. Principal photography commenced at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden on April 2, 2013, on an initial budget of $130 million. Filming also took place at Ely Cathedral in England.
The production remained in the London studio through June, then moved to various locations in Chicago, Illinois throughout late July and August. Minor reshoots to clarify plot points took place in January and early May of the next year, the latter of which took place in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. One of the opening scenes shows Dancing House in Prague which was designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect who is the author of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao shown in a few scenes before. This was the second feature that cinematographer John Toll shot digitally, using Arri Alexas and Codex Recorders, after Iron Man 3, in part due to the visual effects element. Legend3D handled the stereoscopic conversion of the film, having recently integrated the Mistika post-production software into their pipeline. Vision3's Chris Parks is the stereoscopic supervisor of the film.
An eight-minute-long chase sequence, code named "Fifty-Two Part" by the film's crew, depicts Jupiter and Caine fleeing from aliens and spaceships in downtown Chicago shortly after they first meet. It was the longest sequence in the script, involving some of the film's most difficult stunts. To complete it, Kunis and Tatum had to film every day for six months.
Several of the film's effects rely heavily on practical stunts instead of CGI. Tatum has noted there was minimal use of digital doubles and instead most stunts were done by the principal actors or stuntmen attempting to match the pre-vis sequences. For the scenes of Tatum's character flying using antigravity boots, Glass has stated that his team invented a way to use stuntmen instead of doing them digitally, despite the limited available time to shoot them. They created a rig of six cameras, called the Panocam, which was mounted on a helicopter and covered nearly 180 degrees of the action. During post-production, the directors could combine the overlapped filmed footage, essentially creating a camera that could swing around the action independently of the helicopter's actual flying path. The technique piqued the interest of other directors who have subsequently used it in their own movies.
Visual effects vendor Framestore used Vicon T40 cameras for pre-vis and motion capture purposes, the same camera system they used in the visually acclaimed Gravity.
The film's score was composed by Michael Giacchino. On June 10, 2013, Giacchino tweeted that Ludwig Wicki, Robert Ziegler & Tim Simonec they was conducting the film's score at Abbey Road Studios in London. In August, Giacchino stated: "We're actually recording all the music first, before they're even done shooting. It's been done sort of backwards, and it's much more freeing doing it that way. I'm not locked down to any specific timings and what the film is doing. I can do whatever I want. It opens up a lot more possibilities." The Wachowskis first used this approach during production of Cloud Atlas at the recommendation of co-director Tom Tykwer who has made all his movies this way, and have since commented they will never make a movie without recording the music first.
The film was originally to be released on July 25, 2014, but it was later shifted to July 18, 2014. On June 3, 2014, the film's release was delayed to February 6, 2015 due to poor test screenings that April and to give additional time needed to complete over 2,000 special effects shots, which ended up ballooning the final budget north of $176 million. The film was released in IMAX 3D, as was its competitor Seventh Son from Universal Pictures.
Jupiter Ascending had a surprise premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2015 at the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre in Park City.
Jupiter Ascending grossed $47.4 million in North America and $136.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $183.9 million, against a budget of $176 million.
The film was originally expected to gross between an estimated $21–23 million in its opening weekend. The film also features in the list of "The Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2015" published by screenrant.com. The film reportedly earned a gross of $1 million from Thursday preview. However, the film was a box office bomb, earning an estimated $6.4 million in its opening day, and later being forecast to open at around $18 million. The film earned an estimated $7.6 million for its second day and an estimated $5 million on its third day, for a gross of $18.4 million in its opening weekend by playing in 3,181 theaters, with a $5,776 per-theatre average. It finished in third at the box office behind The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water ($55.4 million) and American Sniper ($23.3 million).
Despite a disappointing North American debut, the film opened in the top spot overseas, earning a solid $32.5 million playing in theatres of 65 markets in other territories. Among top markets were Russia, where the film earned a gross of $4.7 million and topped the box office. It also opened in markets such as France ($2.5 million), South Korea ($2.1 million), the UK ($2 million), Brazil ($1.9 million), Mexico ($1.8 million), Germany ($1.8 million), Italy ($1.2 million) and Spain ($1.1 million). The film also debuted in Asian markets, bringing in $6 million in total from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The film opened in China in March ($23.2 million) and the opening in China took it to the top spot in the international market for the weekend.
Jupiter Ascending received generally negative reviews from critics. Criticism has centered on the incoherence of the film's screenplay, Redmayne's performance and its over-reliance on special effects, although the visuals, musical score, and originality were praised by some. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 26%, based on 229 reviews, with an average rating of 4.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Pleasing to the eye but narratively befuddled, Jupiter Ascending delivers another visually thrilling misfire from the Wachowskis." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 40 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". In CinemaScore polls conducted during the opening weekend, cinema audiences gave Jupiter Ascending an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.
David Edelstein of the magazine New York was highly critical of the whole film, calling it "inane from first frame to last...it's miraculously unmiraculous." Joe McGovern of Entertainment Weekly was also critical of the film, giving it a C+, writing that the film was "just another incoherent sci-fi spectacle." British film critic Mark Kermode said, "Jupiter Ascending is a lot of things. Bonkers, all over the place, incoherent, preposterous, ridiculous dialogue that George Lucas would have thrown in the bin, spectacularly overripe performances. I'm not going to say it's good, but I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. I had fun."
The film received a "secret screening" at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival which was invitation only and did not include members of the press. Variety's Ramin Setoodeh reported that the theater was half empty, a handful of patrons walked out during the movie, and once it finished, reactions were negative. An attendee was quoted as having hated it for being "just ridiculous" while screenwriter Neville Kiser liked it and commented that the PG-13 film would fare better with its intended audience of teenagers. Setoodeh reported many people were in agreement that the choice of Sundance was odd.
Amid the criticism, the film picked up an enthusiastic following, particularly among female sci-fi fans who have embraced the film with the general attitude of: "This movie is garbage, but it's OUR garbage!" Donna Dickens of HitFix.com noted that many viewers found the film attractive for providing "the wish-fulfillment of prepubescent girls". Dickens explained that where Hollywood typically portrays strong women in action films as "Arnold Schwarzenegger with boobs", Jupiter Ascending presents Kunis' character differently. "Women don't always want superhuman robots to look up to. We want to be the same klutzy nobody who is cosseted and petted and told we're special – despite all evidence to the contrary," she wrote. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot had a similar perspective, praising the film for avoiding sexist jokes. Baker-Whitelaw described the film as "catnip for a certain subset of geeky, self-aware young women", adding that it "is dumb, and weird, and beautiful, and it wants you to be happy." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club described the film as "an imaginatively goofy, Rococo space opera," and opined: "It might not be as compelling a synthesis of pop philosophy and geek tastes as The Matrix, but it feels personal in the way that big-budget, effects-driven movies rarely do." David Blaustein of ABC News wrote that the film "is a campy visual sci-fi spectacle that could very well become a cult classic." Polygon's Susana Polo named Jupiter Ascending number 8 on the staff's list of the top 10 films of 2015, admitting that while the movie doesn't work, it is so full of ambition that "it doesn't work in such a fantastical way that it remains startlingly compelling." In September 2016, Medium published an article about the 30 most polarizing movies of the 21st century with Jupiter Ascending ranking No. 29. The list was created based on data from Taste.io, a user rating website for movies.