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Declining to Boldy Go Into The Darkness: Making Sense of Star Trek’s Under-Performing Box Office

Damnit Jim, you sunk my battleship!

Last year, at this time Universal’s Battleship, the film adaptation of the Hasbro board game, opened to a colossal thud with an opening weekend gross of $25.5 million for a film whose budget was reportedly north of $200 million.  Unwilling to acknowledge that perhaps making Battleship into a film, a rather poor one at that, was a painfully stupid idea, the film’s director Peter Berg consistently blamed Marvel’s The Avengers for sinking his film.  He argued (to MTV News) that having been released domestically three weeks after Marvel’s box office phenomenon the audience was too busy seeing The Avengers for the fifth time to give his movie a chance.

Yeah, Peter Berg. The Avengers is why your movie bombed so hard. Sidebar: Please don’t make Rihanna shoot me with that gun for mocking you.

Maybe J.J. Abrams should start preparing his argument against Iron Man 3 (and maybe also to a far lesser degree The Great Gatsby).  Abrams’ new Star Trek: Into Darkness, made on a budget of $190 million and released two weeks after Marvel’s latest box office phenomenon Iron Man 3, is by no means the colossal failure that was Battleship.  After all, it managed a weekend gross of $70.6 million with Iron Man 3 and Great Gatsby behind it with $35.2 million and $23.4 million respectively.  So, it, in fact, earned double the amount of the next closest film.  It’s when you compare it to the previous Star Trek (2009) film, though, that the Scooby-Doo ruh-roh moment comes in (all figures are domestic, unless otherwise indicated, and come from the fantastic box office news site

The Star Trek: Into Darkness numbers are these:

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $70.6 million
  • First Four-Day Gross (adding in Wednesday previews and Thursday): $84.1 million

As a point of comparison, the Star Trek numbers are these:

  • Opening Weekend Gross: $75.2 million
  • First Four-Day Gross: $86.7 million

So, Into Darkness failed to live up to Paramount’s lofty projection of an opening weekend gross of $100.  Check out our discussion of Paramount’s complicated relationship to Iron Man 3 for why the studio really needs Into Darkness to do well.  Worse than that, Into Darkness didn’t even equal the initial output of Star Trek, even if it only failed to do so by a couple million here or there.

Here’s the thing, though – it’s actually worse than that.  Remember, Star Trek came out in 2009, the same years as James Cameron’s 3D extravaganza Avatar.

Because of Avatar 3D film and IMAX theaters (and their related inflation of ticket prices) have exploded (although 3D ticket sales are now on the decline).

So, the box office figures above are actual numbers.  What happens if we adjust the figures for Into Darkness to reflect 2009 ticket prices thus negating the benefit its’ overall gross received from inflated 3D/IMAX prices?  Or forget about the money entirely and look at total number of tickets sold to see how many people actually saw the film?

The Adjusted Star Trek: Into Darkness numbers are these:

So, now we know around how disappointed we should be with the box office – which is to say probably a bit more than we might have guessed when looking at the actual numbers.  The big question is why this happened.  There are various factors to consider.

Quality wise, Star Trek Into Darkness is scoring fairly similar reviews, not as good but not bad, to those of its predecessor.  Into Darkness currently has an 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 73 (out of 100) on Metacritic, whereas Star Trek’s sits at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes  and 83 (out of 100) on Metacritic score (in our review of the Into Darkness we argue it may not quite feel like the Star Trek of old, but the film is an undeniably engaging action film perfectly suitable for the summer movie blockbuster season).  Moreover, the word of mouth for Into Darkness looks to be strong as the exit-polling performed by industry standard-bearer CinemaScore indicates those who viewed the film opening night gave it, on an average, an A (on a A-F grade scale).


So, to those Trek fans that passionately dislike Abrams’ approach to the material and view the box office as validating their less than stellar opinion of the new movie I would say that the metrics we have to actually gauge how much the general audience actually likes the film does not bear out that argument.  There is much more of an argument to be had over whether or not Abrams and Paramount’s unrelenting decision to hide the real (rather marketable) identity of the villain in all promotional material was a real mistake.

The real box office culprits might simply have been time and competition.  For fans, the 4-year delay between films might have turned from “they are totally making a sequel” to “geeze, why aren’t they making a sequel?” to “seriously, what the hell!” to “holy crap, I only care about comic book movies now!”  Abrams and his screenwriters have indicated the delay was largely due to their need to wait and find the right story (SPOILER: A snarky Trek fan could argue all they really did was watch two of the Original Series cast films and combine them together and call it good.  It took fours years to come up with that?).  At one point, Into Darkness was scheduled for a June 2012 release before Paramount delayed it 11 months to give Abrams more time and capitalize upon perceived weak competition.  However, Iron Man 3 wasn’t supposed to do as good as it is nor was Great Gatsby, which was originally supposed to have been released this past Christmas.

Star Trek, on the other hand, had far smoother sailing on its opening weekend in which its’ only real competition was the mediocre (quality and box-office wise) X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was in its second week of release at the time.

First of all, why is Wolverine the only one allowed to look ahead? What is it on the ground the others are so intensely staring at? Also, all we need to know about this film is that the upcoming Wolverine pretends this one does not exist.

While Into Darkness failed to equal or best the domestic take of Star Trek’s opening weekend, it is outperforming it in worldwide box office.  According to

“On average, Into Darkness tripled the last movie’s debut across its 34 new [foreign] markets. Still, including last weekend’s territories its only trending up 80 percent over its predecessor, which earned a terrible $128 million in 2009. To date, Into Darkness has grossed $80.5 million overseas.”

And, on the plus side, even after adjusting for ticket price inflation Into Darkness’ domestic gross after four days of release is still nearly $30 million more than Star Trek: Nemesis made in 13 weeks of release ($84.1 million vs $58.4 million).  This is by no means a bomb.  This is the harder to talk about category of not a hit, not a bomb but  instead a slightly under-performing sequel.  Plus, it is at least outpacing 2009’s Star Trek worldwide, which is an arena not always kind to Star Trek films in the past.  It’s just not doing as well domestically as some would have hoped, and by some I mean everyone at Paramount.

What say you?  Let us know in the comments.


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