Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009 #11:
Star Trek Blasts Off
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
December 29, 2009
Abrams took a page out of the Batman Begins playbook and chose to tell a story of how Captain Kirk came to be the leader of the Starship Enterprise. In the process, he made the bold gambit to ask audiences to accept the alternate universe premise that permeates throughout science fiction, thereby liberating the story from any pre-existing notions about the character. Instead of being raised by the best of fathers, Kirk was slightly modified into a rebelling teen with stepdaddy issues and a penchant for loose aliens and barfights. Okay, that last part isn't any different from the original Kirk, but you get the point. In starting from scratch, Abrams set himself up to be ridiculed and possibly even burned at the stake by the obsessive fan-base that comprises the Star Trek audience. Even the best case scenario prior to release appeared to be another performance on the level of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact.
Then, early reviews came in. Action films aren't supposed to be well reviewed. It's the nature of the beast in this industry for popcorn flicks to be fluffy and instantly forgettable. This is particularly true of science fiction releases. So, when Star Trek's first reviews were glowing bordering on orgasmic, everyone was caught a bit off-guard. By the time all was said and done, the film was 94% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the best reviewed movies of 2009. And again, we're not talking about a smallish indie film that is hoping to be an Oscars contender. No, we're talking about a $140 million production that is the 11th film in its franchise. It's hard to stand out in a situation such as this yet that's exactly what happened with Star Trek.
The film debuted to a spectacular $79.2 million, which is impressive enough on its own. What boggles the mind is realizing that this three-day tally surpasses the entire domestic run of six of the prior ten Star Trek films. By the end of day five, it has beaten three more. The only thing left to do was become the most successful film in the franchise by surpassing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (my personal favorite) and its domestic total of $109.7 million. This happened on Star Trek 2009's eighth day in theaters. In barely over a week, it was already the biggest Trek film of all-time. And as I pointed out at the time, even if we adjusted for inflation, it torched the competition on its way to $257.7 million domestically, a whopping $50 million ahead of any prior inflation-adjusted Trek release. It has become Abrams' second consecutive $390+ million worldwide performer and has even wound up getting a surprising amount of end-of-year awards mentions.
Simply put, this project is a success in every possible conceptualization of the word. Better yet, Abrams is poised to once again follow the Batman trajectory with his next film, which promises the introduction of the Star Trek franchise's answer to The Joker, Khan Noonien Singh. Don't be surprised if that one opens north of $100 million. After four decades in existence, Star Trek is somehow once again a franchise on the rise.