The State of Cyberpunk in 2022: Is Cyberpunk Dead?
I covered a lot of this content in the Cyberpunk Matrix Podcast that came out on January 29th, 2022, but I thought for those of you who prefer reading and seeing content to listening to it, I’d create the blog post for you here too. I also made a video about all this, which you can check out over on the YT channel.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it for you folks, the state of Cyberpunk leading into 2022 looks grim media-wise. There isn’t much to look forward to after the live action Cowboy Bebop and Matrix Resurrections finally came out. But I thought today I’d go over the few things to look forward to, how the cyberpunk media we have gotten recently is doing, and the overall state of things in the Cyberpunk media landscape. So let’s dive right in.
The bad news: A lot of recent Cyberpunk media has not been doing so well.
The Cyberpunk juggernaut that was Matrix Resurrections, unfortunately, critically underperformed at the box office. Perhaps part of this is due to its simultaneous release on HBO Max in the US, but lukewarm reviews and an average rating of 62% from Rotten Tomatoes surely didn’t help–this film was very polarizing. But how much did it really underperform? Here are the figures:
What does Matrix Resurrections’ lack of success at the box office mean?
Matrix Resurrections released on December 22nd, 2021, alongside Sing 2 and The King’s Man. It also released a week after what would become a box-office blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home. With projected gross of $40 million over its 5-day release, it only grossed $22.5 million, a little more than half what it was anticipated to make. With its weekend gross of $10.75 million, it was worse than Wonder Woman 1984 a year prior. As of January 25th, Matrix Resurrections has made a total worldwide gross of $148.6 million, which, compared to its total budget of $190 million, seems like it may lose WB money, unless if it is able to make it up in the long term with merchandising and DVD/digital copies. The one silver lining is that it may have contributed to more HBO Max subscriptions, which was why it was added to HBO Max release in the first place.
What does Cowboy Bebop’s Season 2 cancellation mean?
Cowboy Bebop fared even worse than Matrix Resurrections. With a 47% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, many reviewers felt it didn’t live up to the original anime. Less than three weeks after the show’s debut on Netflix, its second season was already cancelled.
Does this mean Cyberpunk is dead?
This isn’t to say that Cyberpunk content can’t be successful. It’s worth noting that Battle Angel Alita, which released in February 2019, made $405 million at the box office compared to its budget of $200 million, and Ready Player One made $582 million from its budget of $175 million. Of course, both of these titles came out pre-pandemic, so it could be that people’s habits of going to the movies, mixed with streaming online like on HBO Max, make comparing titles difficult. So, no, Cyberpunk isn’t dead. Yet.
Is Cyberpunk dying?
Nonetheless, as of it stands now with the pandemic as a reality, Netflix and other production companies may think twice before investing in Cyberpunk sci-fi titles with a big budget. The industry is probably also further threatened by Disney (which acquired 20th century fox, the producers of Battle Angel Alita), with its Marvel titles dominating the box office and now big-budget Sci-Fi series such as The Mandalorian now also dominating the market on the streaming platform. Despite having decidedly Cyberpunk moments, the Star Wars franchise still remains in the Space Opera or Space Cowboy realm, and not really in the Cyberpunk genre, although it’s close and probably debatable to some whether it’s Cyberpunk or not.
The Good news: a couple Cyberpunk titles we can look forward to
The one definitely Cyberpunk media we can look forward to is actually Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, the newest Cyberpunk-inspired edition to come to the trading card game Magic The Gathering. I covered some of this back in my 2021 year in review post.
Another to look forward to is the Netflix series Edgerunners, an anime series set to arrive on Netflix sometime this year, but the release date hasn’t been announced yet and it’s anyone’s guess if it will stick to its 2022 timeline.
We also have the recent news that season 2 of Upload is coming to Amazon Prime in March, so at least there’s that. If you haven’t already, it’s a great funny series to check out, you can read my review of it here.
The OK News: The Cyberpunk community, especially indie Cyberpunk authors, is still kicking.
Cyberpunk novels are still being written. Matthew Goodwin, Elias Hurst, Andrew Dobell, Anna Mocikat, S.C. Jensen, and many more are all Cyberpunk authors in the Cyberpunk community who are supporting each other, have written a lot, and are still churning out great content. Many are also participating in Cyberpunk Day, an event which started a couple years ago and helps fans of the genre discover cyberpunk content creators.
A Final Note: Cyberpunk is Now
Despite the apparent lack of Cyberpunk content, there’s still a whole year in front of us, and we can always be pleasantly surprised. Netflix has a habit of dropping content without warning, and the same could happen for Amazon Prime or other streaming platforms. But regardless of whether we see a lot more cyberpunk media this year, Cyberpunk is still very much in everyone’s minds nowadays, because of how Cyberpunk the news is becoming.
Already the COVID-19 pandemic brought dystopian scenes to view with empty streets and warning signs in usually bustling metropolitan areas, which led many artists to discover and add to the Cyberpunk aesthetic. We also had Fake News and people questioning reality during the US elections, which bled into other governments in other countries doing the same, as well as street riots including the January 6 Capitol Riot shocking the world.
News Headlines Becoming Cyberpunk
As of writing this, Russia has amassed troops at the border of Ukraine, and as the world waits with bated breath to see how the standoff resolves itself there are reports that Cyberhackers are sending fake bomb threats to Ukraine schools and companies to pre-emptively sow terror before whatever happens.
“Why are you doing this?” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in comments directed at Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, in which he mentioned both the military buildup at the border and the flurry of bomb threats. “To threaten us? What is this sadomasochism? What is the pleasure of this? Of someone being afraid?”–President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in what could have been a quote straight from a Cyberpunk thriller film.
Finally, and most importantly, when Mark Zuckerberg announced he was rebranding Facebook as Meta and planned to shift the company to Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality with a new “Metaverse”, Cyberpunk became suddenly very real indeed.
“Once upon a time, a very long time ago – until Thursday 28 October 2021, to be precise – the term “metaverse” was known only to lexicographers and science fiction enthusiasts. And then, suddenly, it was everywhere” notes John Naughton from The Guardian.
The metaverse is dystopian – but to big tech it’s a business opportunity reads Naughton’s headline, dated January 29th, 2022. With Facebook’s morph into Meta, the New York Times also reported how “Shifting a 68,000-person social networking company toward the theoretical metaverse has caused internal disruption and uncertainty.” (January 31st, 2022) Thousands of Facebook employees now have the choice to adapt and change to become VR and Metaverse engineers, or find themselves new jobs. This sounds like it was taken out of Ready Player One’s OASIS creation backstory, and yet it’s not–it’s real life.
So with the news having what amounts to Cyberpunk headlines every day, I think it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood and the media start creating more Cyberpunk content to mirror the Cyberpunk times we’re living in. How do we deal with social restrictions born from pandemic and sanitary concerns? How will the Metaverse and Virtual Reality upend the current online marketplace? No one can tell, but we need Cyberpunk more than ever to both warn us and show us what we should want that to be.