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Box Office: Why Did Star Trek Beyond Fall So Far Below Star Trek Into Darkness?

Star Trek Beyond‘s weekend box office estimates are in, and it’s a real good news, bad news situation. In this summer of sequelitis, Beyond‘s performance is being greeted as perfectly adequate, but when judged according to its budget and franchise history it’s a clear disappointment.

Let’s do the numbers:

Film

Domestic Debut

International Debut

Worldwide Debut

Production Budget

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

$59.6m

$30m*

$89.6m

$185m

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

$70.2m

$31.7m**

$101.9m

$190m

Star Trek (2009)

$75.2m

$35.7m***

$110.9m

$150m

image00The good news? Beyond took the weekend box office crown, knocking The Secret Life of Pets off of its perch. Moreover, that $59.6m is the third highest debut for any live-action movie this summer, trailing Civil War ($179m) and Apocalypse ($65.7m). It’s also on the extreme high end of the $55m-$60m pre-release projection.

The bad news? This marks a 15% decline from Into Darkness‘ domestic debut and a new low for the revived franchise. Paramount now needs Beyond to reach its peak potential internationally just to break even.

The good news? Beyond logged franchise highs in 17 markets, and scored first place debuts in roughly half (16) of the markets it played in. According to Deadline, it opened comfortably above Star Trek in Germany and light years above both Trek and Into Darkness in Russia, Taiwan and Thailand.

The bad news? It also opened below Into Darkness in Germany and below both Trek and Into Darkness in the UK and Australia. According to Variety, Beyond’s total international debut is 14% below what Into Darkness did in the same geographic spread.

The good news? China awaits with an excellent release date (9/2) up against no competition from another Hollywood title.

The bad news? China is currently suffering through its first prolonged box office slump in years.

The good news? Paramount partnered with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on Beyond. As per Variety, “Alibaba will help cover the merchandising and promotional costs, and is also serving as a brand ambassador of sorts to the Middle Kingdom. The association worked well for Paramount in the case Rogue Nation, which grossed $135.7 million in China, an impressive 25% jump on the previous film in the franchise.”

Let’s make some guesses for where Beyond’s box office totals might end up

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-First-Official-Teaser-Poster-Is-Here“Yes, we know the domestic marketplace is tough, but we did at the hot end of what anyone was forecasting. Justin Lin delivered,” is how Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore chose to characterize Beyond‘s domestic opening. He might as well have said, “Look, Ghostbusters, Independence Day and Tarzan would have all killed to have a debut this big! It’s not Justin Lin’s fault that everyone suddenly decided this was the summer to hate on Hollywood’s live-action blockbusters. Can’t you lemmings quit playing Pokemon GO long enough to see a movie! I got five kids to feed!”

Five Kids to Feed

And, yes, that was just a Total Recall reference.

But it’s difficult to spin what is so obvious to the naked eye: the domestic numbers for these new Star Trek movies are going in the wrong direction. Paramount’s hope is for Beyond to continue the franchise’s international growth, but as of right now Beyond‘s  totals project out to:

Film

Domestic Total

International Total

Worldwide Total

Production Budget

Star Trek Beyond

$191m (Projected)

$204.6m (Projected)

$395.6m (Projected)

$185m

Star Trek Into Darkness

$228.7m

$238.6m

$467.3m

$190m

Star Trek

$257.7m

$127.9m

$385.6m

$150m

That’s if Beyondpulls the same domestic multiplier as the last two films (and Ant-Man),” but continues to trail Into Darkness internationally.

Let’s throw out some theories for the fall-off between Into Darkness and Beyond

1. The Into Darkness backlash still lingers

AP_Film_Review-Star_Trek_Into_DarknessInto Darkness set franchise highs internationally and worldwide, and could be seen as a bottom-line success, albeit one which didn’t quite catapult the film series into an ultra high-end tax bracket. Still, there was enough there to warrant a sequel.

Yet the hardcore fans seemed to hate it. Remember, Trekkies voted Into Darkness the worst Star Trek film of all time, an argument perhaps not supported by a more level-headed assessment of the franchise’s true low points (looking at you, Nemesis and Final Frontier). That vote took place in the months after Into Darkness release, and the hatred expressed toward the film still lingers on today.

Beyond, by all appearances another bang-bang, whiz-whiz action-heavy Star Trek movie [read my review], gave those fans no reason to come back, especially when the final trailer was less about the movie and more about cross-promoting a new Rihanna song.

2. Yet those who loved or liked Into Darkness also went ignored

Alice-Eve-Star-Trek-Into-DarknessOpening weekend audiences graded Into Darkness as an “A” on CinemaScore, and it currently has a 7.8 out of 10 from nearly 400,000 IMDB user ratings. That’s the second highest rating on the site for any Star Trek movie, behind only the ’09 Star Trek (8.0). Point being, not everyone hated Into Darkness.

How does Beyond reward those fans? By completely ignoring them. They waited three years to see how things turned out between Kirk and Alice Eve’s version of Carol Marcus, especially since the Federation appeared to be on the verge of war with the Klingons, and they’ll have to keep on waiting because Beyond pretends Into Darkness never happened. Carol, who joined the crew at the end of Into Darkness, is neither seen nor referenced in Beyond. Same goes for the Klingons. Of course, to know that you have to actually see the movie, but you could guess as much from the trailers.

Perhaps Paramount was in a lose-lose situation. Left to honor those who embraced Into Darkness while also appeasing those who rejected it, they attempted a course correction, returning to a more episodic format while also upping the action. The result is a movie which scored a decent A- from CinemaScore, and a respectable 84% on RottenTomatoes, yet here we are discussing its lackluster box office.

3. The gap between the core audience and the studio is growing wider

star-trek-beyond-poster2Does “This is not your father’s Star Trek” ring a bell? That was part of the ad campaign for the 2009 Star Trek, and as BoxOfficeMojo argued at the time:

While accurate in its description of the movie itself for better or for worse, this line was not only puerile but unnecessarily insulting to the previous Star Trek incarnations and the audience base. One doesn’t have to alienate the fans in order to broaden the appeal (even if most will take the abuse and still see the new movie anyway). The Batman and James Bond franchises were successfully rebooted without openly attacking what came before (and Batman had more to apologize for after Batman Forever and Batman and Robin).

That set the tone for the oddly contentious approach Paramount has taken to Trekkies with all of these films, continually taking for granted that those bunch of nerds would automatically show up no matter what. However, it’s a strange feeling to be a fan of a film or television franchise which appears to no longer care about you. J.J. Abrams managed, as an outsider to the Star Trek phenomenon, to pull the franchise from the clutches of the Trekkies and deliver it in an easier to swallow form for the masses. Many admired his ability to make the once byzantine seem accessible. However, there has been a growing chant of “But what about us?” from longtime Trekkies who no longer recognize the Trek they loved in Abrams’ version.

That’s not to say disgruntled fans should always be catered to [insert obligatory reference to Ghostbusters controversy]. That’s also not to say JJ’s approach to the ’09 Star Trek was wrong. In fact, I know people who have only come to the franchise through his movies, and those same Trekkies who voted Into Darkness the worst in franchise history also voted the ’09 Star Trek as the franchise’s sixth best.

However, battle lines have been drawn from the beginning, and when Paramount selected Justin Lin to helm Beyond it seemed remarkably transparent that now Star Trek was going to be turned into a Fast & Furious riff, which is exactly what Lin ended up doing (so much action, so much rhetoric about the power of family). For many, though, what they still don’t see is their version of Star Trek, and now that Bryan Fuller is back in the fold, promising a new TV series (Star Trek: Discovery) which will return the franchise to its core (and be set in the old timeline) what use do certain fans have for the movies anymore?

4. The George Takei controversy furthered the Trekkie/Paramount divide

Star Trek (2008) Directed by: J.J. AbramsSo, you have a group of disenfranchised fans who see nothing from the Beyond trailers which indicate it will be substantially different from Star Trek and Into Darkness. There are continued stories from the convention circuit about older Trek actors feeling disrespected by the way they’ve been ignored by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company, which is still in charge of the films even if Abrams no longer directs them. And what should happen to come out in the weeks before Beyond’s release? That Simon Pegg and Justin Lin, determined to up Trek’s inclusiveness by revealing Sulu is gay, outright and knowingly ignored George Takei’s wishes.

You don’t actually have to agree with Takei on this, specifically that Sulu shouldn’t be gay because that’s not how Gene Roddenberry envisioned the character. I side more with Pegg and Lin. However, look at how Takei’s argument might resonate with those with an already negative opinion of the Abrams movies, specifically their treatment of the franchise’s legacy actors (other than Leonard Nimoy) and apparent disregard for Roddenberry’s original vision (from THR):

“I said, ‘This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen,” Takei says.

After that, all was quiet from Beyond until a few months ago, when Takei received an email from Pegg “praising me for my advocacy for the LGBT movement and for my pride in Star Trek,” he says. “And I thought to myself, ‘How wonderful! It’s a fan letter from Simon Pegg. Justin had talked to him!'” Takei was certain the creative team had rethought their decision to make Sulu gay.

That is until one month ago, when he received an email from Cho informing him that the actor was about to embark on an international media tour for Beyond. Cho said it was bound to come out that his character was gay, and “what should he do?” A disappointed Takei told Cho to go about his promotional duties, but that he was “not going to change” his mind on the matter.

“I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed,” Takei says. “I thought after that conversation with Justin that was going to happen. Months later, when I got that email from Simon Pegg, I was kind of confused. He thinks I’m a great guy? Wonderful. But what was the point of that letter? I interpreted that as my words having been heard.”

They reached out to a legacy actor (a very social media savvy one at that), and when they didn’t like what he had to say they ignored him. Or, more accurately, there was a clear communication breakdown. Still, not the best argument to be playing out in the press in the weeks leading up to the new movie.

5. Paramount consistently dropped the ball with their promotion

Star Trek Beyond Trailer 2 ChairEverything about Paramount’s promotion of Star Trek Beyond felt off. Whereas the rest of the summer blockbusters came at us with their best pick-up lines every other minute Star Trek Beyond played it coy from the other side of the bar until last call. They’d like us to believe this was a strategic choice, that offering up one ultra-short teaser in December before going on media silence until dropping the second trailer in May was meant as an antidote to what every other summer blockbuster was doing. However, it’s just as likely the result of Beyond’s remarkably rushed production schedule (as I discussed last year).

To briefly recap, Paramount had a completely different script and director, and when both of those fell apart they were left scrambling in ways unique to a production of this size. As Justin Lin told Deadline, when Abrams offered him the chance to direct he hesitated. “I knew that this was going to be a logistical nightmare. This film went from a new idea to production in six months. That’s never really been done before on a film of this scale.”

He went into even more detail for BirthMoviesDeath, “As the script was being written, I had to prepare to shoot in three and a half months, which is something unusual. For us to be able to have a crew of hundreds of people waiting for directions, while we also had to write the script, was extremely challenging.”

And maybe Paramount’s marketing department was equally challenged to find finished footage they could actually use in trailers and TV spots, which might be why Beyond‘s final trailer arrived literally a week before its release date. That trailer ultimately gave away too much of the plot, but at least it realized there was a plot. Prior to that point, most people still had no idea what this movie was even about.

The way Paramount went about all of this set off multiple warning flags, worrying those who were actually paying attention and completely losing those who have become accustomed to constant reminders of a film’s impending release.

As Deadline explained:

If a studio is going to expand the fanbase of a franchise, it’s never too early to get the word out. Paramount skipped Comic-Con last year with any type of major tubthumping for Star Trek Beyond. [It] also didn’t help Paramount in the distribution/exhibition community when they opted out of showing any footage from Star Trek Beyond at Cinema-Con. That move prompted some gossip among rival distribution chiefs, who suspected something was wrong with the film and buzzed about the pic’s production delay.

Paramount claims it had a plan: In May, the studio threw a fan event on the Melrose lot, and showed off a new trailer and exclusive footage. Even though that was two months out, shouldn’t they have hosted the event six months sooner during the 50th anniversary year of the franchise? Disney just threw its Star Wars Celebration in London with a big spotlight on its prequel Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and that doesn’t come out until December.

Paramount also chose an outdoor IMAX theater at San Diego Comic-Con to be the site of Beyond‘s world premiere, a first of its kind event and a lovely gesture toward the fans. Social media was immediately lit up with reactions from those lucky enough to be in attendance. However, Comic-Con attracts 130,000 people every year. How many of them were able to attend the Beyond premiere? And of those who weren’t how many actually found the time in their obviously busy weekend at Comic-Con to head out to see Beyond in a theater?

Other variables to consider include the current heat wave punishing Europe and suppressing ticket sales, the general down market for live-action blockbusters in North America right now and the late-July release date versus the prior two Star Trek movies having May release dates.

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About Kelly Konda (1817 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

1 Comment on Box Office: Why Did Star Trek Beyond Fall So Far Below Star Trek Into Darkness?

  1. I don’t understand the reasoning behind the marketing team’s attempts to distance the Star Trek reboots from previous Star Trek films. Especially since they basically just revised Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s movie poster in attempt to get lure longtime fans into theatre seats. I was not satisfied with Star Trek: Into Darkness; I found it boring. I haven’t seen Star Trek Beyond yet, but I intend to. Hopefully I’m not disappointed.

    “I got five kids to feed!” Hilarious! My favorite scene in Total Recall.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Box Office: How Much Does Star Trek Beyond Need to Gross to Guarantee Star Trek 4? – We Minored in Film
  2. Star Trek Beyond Box Office Update: Week 5 – We Minored in Film

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