With the exception of 1989’s Star Trek V and 2002’s Nemesis, the Star Trek film franchise has been consistently reliable at the box office to the tune of approximately $80 million gross for each entry. Of the twelve movies made thus far, only three managed to break the fan barrier to reach out to mainstream audiences: 1986’s The Voyage Home, 1996’s First Contact and 2009’s reboot Star Trek. Given the massive $257 million the last film brought in – a series high – it was easy to see why Paramount Pictures may have thought that Star Trek had risen from the franchise dead and hit the mainstream.
So why didn’t Star Trek Into Darkness have a bigger opening than the last film? Sure, $84 million at 3,868 locations (a percentage of which are 3D and IMAX equipped) is nothing to sneeze at. Most movies would kill for an opening – or total run – reaching those heights. However, most of those movies didn’t cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to make and market. When you have that much riding on a movie and are part of an industry that dictates that each successive film should open bigger than the last one, $84 million doesn’t look all that great.
The Star Trek Into Darkness opening wasn’t due to bad buzz. The film received a solid reception from critics via an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 73/100 on Metacritic, and ticket buyers gave the movie a rock solid “A” CinemaScore rating.
Other factors led to the underwhelming debut, the first being the last-minute schedule switches from a Friday release to Thursday with IMAX getting the jump by starting shows Wednesday at 8pm. Few knew the opening day was moved up 24 hours as evidenced by the movie’s $11.5 million Thursday haul (Friday’s take was $22 million, Saturday was $27.2 million and Sunday is being estimated at $21.2 million). Apparently, a majority of the ads still had Friday listed as opening day as late as this past week.
The second factor could be competition from Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby. Each film is still pulling in big numbers and Gatsby may be drawing away the mainstream female demographic Star Trek established four years ago.
A possible third stumbling block may have been the four year wait for another entry. Serious Star Trek fans would turn out no matter how long the wait. Casual fans, on the other hand, may have all but forgotten about the series. In today’s market, most features are forgotten by general audiences within a matter of months. Four years might as well be forty to them.
Does the opening spell doom for the resurrected Star Trek franchise? It’s doubtful. Should the movie find some footing next weekend, which is going to be tough thanks to the arrival of fellow action flick Fast and Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness could work its way to a final domestic haul near the $190 million mark. Factor in the all-important foreign markets, who have already contributed $80.5 million to the film’s global total, and the movie should wind up as the highest grossing of the franchise thus far.
The next time around I would not be surprised if Paramount did some budget trimming and mandated that the next Star Trek adventure come out sooner rather than later.
– Shawn Fitzgerald