Christopher Nolan's Jupiter Transcending: Your Guide to 2014's Thinky Sci-Fi Blockbusters

If last year's blockbusters erred on the whimsical side, this year's crop looks to be taking a more thoughtful, philosophical route, with three sci-fi tentpoles – Wally Pfister's Transcendence, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar – selling themselves as big idea movies more than anything else.

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If last year's blockbusters erred on the whimsical side (lots of superheroes and fantasy), this year's crop looks to be taking a more thoughtful, philosophical route, with three sci-fi tentpoles – Wally Pfister's Transcendence, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar – selling themselves as big idea movies more than anything else.

A new trailer for Jupiter (out in July), which looks like the most bonkers of the three, hit the internet yesterday. Transcendence will be released next month; Interstellar, the most mysterious of the three, is due in November. Is this the year brainy sci-fi translates into box office bucks, or will all this originality end up baffling audiences and scaring studios away from taking risks? We've picked apart what these projects have in common, and what sets them apart.

Is Outer Space Involved?

Part of Jupiter Ascending is definitely set on Earth, we think. There's some weighty nonsense about Mila Kunis commanding bees and cleaning toilets. But there's also plenty of outer-space business too. "Your Earth is a very small part of a very large industry," someone tells Kunis's character, who is confusingly named Jupiter. It seems that evil space-king Eddie Redmayne owns the deed to our planet, and it's gonna take a lot of space battles to get it back. Answer: Yes

Transcendence is very clearly set on Earth. We've got lecture halls, laptops, anti-technology terrorists. Johnny Depp's too busy being in a computer to go to space. Answer: No

Interstellar is called Interstellar. It's about space travel, possibly about traveling through a wormhole, although details have been so under wraps ever since Nolan got on board as a director. Answer: Yes

Is Christopher Nolan Involved?

Interstellar is directed, written and produced by Christopher Nolan, based on a script written by his brother Jonathan. Answer: Yes

Transcendence is directed by Wally Pfister, Nolan's cinematographer, and executive produced by Nolan. If it's a hit, it will signal the beginning of a Nolan-run empire of very serious movies about somewhat silly things, like a man living in a computer. Answer: Yes

Christopher Nolan is not involved in Jupiter Ascending. One does not need to scan the credits to learn this fact. Simply watch the trailer—see how the film seems to have a vague sense of humor, or at least a bit of self-awareness about its silliness? This is proof positive that Christopher Nolan is not involved. Answer: No

Does the trailer have an insufferably pretentious release date?

Transcendence is "coming soon," according to the trailers. Fine! Answer: No

Jupiter Ascending is coming out July 18, the trailer tells us. Noted! Answer: No

Interstellar comes out "One Year From Now." *vomits ceaselessly* Answer: Yes

Do Audiences Have Any Idea What's Going On In These Movies?

Transcendence is dealing with weighty themes, but the through-line of the trailer is pretty clear: Johnny Depp's computer scientist character gets shot and, while on the brink of death, is uploaded to a computer.  His expanding virtual consciousness then begins to prove problematic. Answer: Yes

Jupiter Ascending does okay selling itself as an epic sci-fi action movie, what with the special effects and the planets and the lasers and Channing Tatum beating people up. So people will get that it's a blockbuster, even if further plot details are difficult to pick out. Answer: Kinda

The Interstellar trailer sees Matthew McConaughey blathering about reaching for the stars. It features archival footage of the Dust Bowl era, pilots breaking the sound barrier, the launch of various space missions, the Moon Landing and so on. There's a lot of business about cornfields. A rocket launches into the air at the end? This is supposed to be a movie about wormholes, god dammit. Answer: NO

Will they be box-office hits?

Transcendence is tracking for an opening weekend of about $25 million, and an overall gross of about $75 million. That would be below its $100 million budget, but about in line with Johnny Depp's career these days. Answer: Not really

Jupiter Ascending cost $200 million to make. It will not make its budget back, certainly not domestically. If it does, I will happily eat my hat. Answer: No

Interstellar is directed by Christopher Nolan, probably the biggest box-office draw director around. It stars Matthew McConaughey coming off a career year. It's a sci-fi epic opening in November, which is less crowded territory for big-budget movies. It will make a ton of money unless it truly sucks. Answer: Yes

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.