Friday Update: Star Trek Into Darkness earned $11.5 million yesterday, which adds up to a $13.5 million total when including its Wednesday night IMAX showings. That figure is less than half of what 2009's Star Trek had earned through its first full day ($30.9 million), and is also less than half of past Thursday in May openers like The Matrix Reloaded ($37.5 million) and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones ($30.1 million).
This would normally be cause for panic, though it's possible that most audiences just weren't aware that the movie was opening on Thursday (Paramount just made this change last week, and some of the messaging still says it opens on Friday). Still, a four-day total north of $100 million now looks like a stretch.
Thursday AM Update: Star Trek Into Darkness earned an estimated $2 million from 8 p.m. screenings at 336 IMAX locations yesterday. It also earned $1.3 million at midnight; while that figure is very low, it's likely due more to the confusing last-minute date change than to a lack of interest or awareness.
Forecast: With Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby still drawing crowds, the Summer movie season should continue at warp speed this weekend thanks to the opening of Star Trek Into Darkness. The highly-anticipated sequel is reaching 3,762 locations on Thursday, and by Sunday it should amass at least $100 million at the domestic box office.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the 12th Star Trek movie, and the first one since director J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with 2009's Star Trek. The brand actually got its start as a TV show which ran from 1966 to 1968; while it wasn't hugely successful, it did become one of the earliest forms of a "cult hit." With interest in intergalactic sci-fi renewed following the success of Star Wars in 1977, the show's crew was brought together for 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While it didn't do Star Wars-level business, it was still a hit with $82.3 million (or $260 million adjusted for ticket price inflation).
That crew stuck around for five more entries lasting in to the early 1990s; from there, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew (anchored by Patrick Stewart) took over for another four movies. That came to an ignominious end in 2002 with the disastrous Star Trek: Nemesis, which earned a series-low $43.2 million. At the time, it appeared as if the theatrical franchise was over.
A few years later, J.J. Abrams, a director best-known for his work on TV shows Lost and Alias, came onboard to reboot the franchise as an accessible, big-budget Summer action spectacle. Abrams revived the original characters (Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc.) but cast fresh young faces in the roles. The movie wound up opening to a very good $79.2 million (including Thursday showings) in May 2009, and held well throughout the Summer on its way to $257.7 million. That was over twice as much as any other Trek movie, and it also set a record for ticket sales. The success was largely due to the perceived quality of the product, which was universally praised by critics (95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (it still has a spot on IMDb's Top 250 list).
It took four years, but Abrams and company are finally back with Star Trek Into Darkness. Previews for the movie pull pretty directly from the sequel playbook—they show that the key elements of the first movie are still in place (the crew, the action, etc.), while also raising the stakes by introducing a new, formidable terrorist threat personified by Benedict Cumberbatch's villain character (who may or may not been updated version of a classic Trek foe). The campaign has also centered around an impressive-looking sequence that has a beat-up Enterprise fall from orbit in to the San Francisco Bay, which helps differentiate this entry from the previous one.
Reviews have been solid so far—the movie is hovering around the high-80s on Rotten Tomatoes—and reaction from its overseas debuts have been positive as well. Early ticket sales have been strong as well: Fandango reported that the movie was accounting for 71 percent of ticket sales on Tuesday, while MovieTickets.com reported a 60 percent share.
Just last week, Paramount made the last-minute decision to move the official release date up to Thursday; combined with the Wednesday evening IMAX shows, this makes it difficult to come up with a specific weekend prediction. For the best comparisons, it may be necessary to go all the way back to 2003 and 2004, when anticipated sequels The Matrix Reloaded and Shrek 2 opened on the weekend before Memorial Day. Including their pre-weekend releases (Shrek opened on Wednesday, Matrix on Thursday), the movies earned $134.3 million and $129 million, respectively, by Sunday. With a decade of ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D/IMAX ticket pricing, it's possible that Star Trek Into Darkness winds up at a similar level. Paramount is currently forecasting $20 million on Thursday and $80 million over the weekend for a $100 million four-day tally.
Outside of the U.S., Star Trek adds 33 new territories this weekend (including Russia) for a total of 40, which represent 50 percent of the foreign marketplace. This past weekend, it earned $31.7 million from seven markets, which was up an average of 70 percent ahead of the first Trek movie. Unfortunately, that movie only earned $128 million overseas (Star Trek isn't traditionally a worldwide brand), and the mega-budget sequel is going to need to do better than a 70 percent increase to ultimately be considered a success.
Forecast (May 17-19)
1. Star Trek Into Darkness - $89 million ($117 million 4-day)
2. Iron Man 3 - $33.2 million (-54%)
3. The Great Gatsby - $27.6 million (-45%)
Bar for Success
With goodwill from the first movie and the support of a monster marketing effort, Star Trek Into Darkness needs to noticeably improve on its predecessor's opening—around $100 million for the four-day start is good enough.
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• Last Weekend's Report: 'Gatsby' Great, But 'Iron Man' Leads Again
• Summer 2013 Forecast
• May Preview
• 2013 Preview