Bold Box Office for Star Trek
By John Hamann
May 10, 2009
The biggest knuckleball of the 2009 summer box office season opened this weekend in the form of Star Trek, the second huge, effects-laden prequel to launch in two consecutive frames. Could Kirk and company match Wolverine's impressive $85 million rocket launch?
After cruising the galaxy of movie box office for the last 30 years (to up and down results), Paramount finally pulled the trigger on a Star Trek reboot this weekend. Estimates for its success were all over the map, with some studio estimates predicting a $50 million opening, and some analysts looking for as much as $100 million. After receipts for Thursday night midnight screenings came in at $7 million, some got really excited; however, these weren't traditional midnight screenings; it was more of a soft open on Thursday night, with some showings starting as early as 7:00 p.m. The figure for Friday (not including that $7 million from Thrusday) came in at $24 million, and at that point we knew that Paramount had something to be excited about.
Our number one film of the weekend is obviously Star Trek, and while it couldn't tame Wolverine's opening weekend of $85 million, young Kirk and friends did blow the cover off the box office with an opening weekend take of $72.5 million, plus another $4 million from pre-midnight Thursday showings, which gives the movie a running total of $76.5 million so far. Paramount put Trek out to 3,849 venues this weekend, some of them IMAX, and recorded a venue average of $20,428. The debut is huge for this franchise, as the opening frame is more than the combined total of the last three films' opening weekends (Nemesis - $18.5 million opening, Insurrection - $22.1 million opening, First Contact - $30.7 million opening). The debut throws out the trend of Star Trek films opening between $14 million and $23 million, when removing the top and bottom score. The average opening for Star Trek is about $19 million with all films included.
The Star Trek reboot avoids the small bump that the opening frame of Batman Begins ($48.7 million opening) had over the previous film in that franchise, Batman & Robin ($42.9 million opening), as this Trek starts with almost four times the amount of the last Star Trek picture. The 2009 Star Trek outgrossed the last film (2002's Nemesis finished with only $43.3 million in domestic box office) in two days. The average domestic total for the Star Trek franchise was previously about $75 million, so to gross more than that already is a huge plus Paramount; however, the difference with this entry is budget. This Trek cost $150 million to make, whereas the last three films had an average budget of $58.6 million. There was a lot of pressure on Paramount to ensure this worked, as Star Trek has been a valuable franchise for the studio, not only in terms of movie box office, but also revenues from home video and ancillaries as well.
The biggest risk for Paramount may have come with casting, as Paramount chose nobodies Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto – the sometimes villain of NBC's Heroes - as Spock – two unknowns to most moviegoers. They did surround them with some up-and-coming movie names, like Simon Pegg, John Cho and Karl Urban, and cast Eric Bana as the villain and put Winona Ryder and Tyler Perry in cameos. Obviously, the $150 million budget was spent on effects, and Paramount did a stellar job of promoting them. The trailer and TV ads were fantastic, and the international rollout was inspired, as the cast moved from city to city around the world promoting the film. This Star Trek needs a decent international showing, as the large budget handicaps the possiblity of making a profit off of only domestic grosses. We usually think of a "true cost" of a movie as double its production budget, as that figure does not take into account prints and marketing costs, and on a summer blockbuster, those costs are huge. Paramout would need a domestic gross approaching $300 million to see an actual profit on a film like this, so they turn to overseas grosses and ancillaries to turn a profit. The last Trek film, Nemesis, earned only $24 million overseas, so the studio is looking for a Stark turnaround (Iron Man earned $260 million overseas last year).