Star Trek Merely Whelms
After a much-hyped worldwide publicity tour, Star Trek Into Darkness opened and…just kind of showed up. It’s an okay movie, with slick action and an ultimately frustrating plot, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything more than okay. And apparently everyone else was merely whelmed too because the box office was not even close to what everyone—myself included—was projecting. Paramount set the line at $100 million opening weekend and I thought it would actually go a little higher. The 2009 reboot was well liked and opened to $75 million, so the sequel should have, especially accounting for the rise of IMAX and 3D ticketing in the last four years, been able to top that.
But it didn’t. And even with a $70.6 million, number one opening weekend (which goes up to $84 million when you add in IMAX screenings that began on Wednesday and a last-minute Thursday opening day shift), STID fell far short of its projections. So what happened, and what does it mean?
STID got an A on CinemaScore, so it’s not like audiences hated the movie and that points to strong word of mouth, but the flipside of that coin is that the audience was made up primarily of Trekkies. There’s a perception that sci-fi, as a genre, has a ceiling and STID falls in line with that. The audience from 2009 to now has not significantly expanded, and maybe even shrank a little when you factor in that inflated IMAX/3D ticket prices account for nearly a quarter of STID’s take and it still couldn’t beat its predecessor. So it would seem that Star Trek in 2009 didn’t open up a new audience so much as appease a pre-existing one, and STID wasn’t enough to overcome the sci-fi handicap, either.
There’s also the matter of that ad campaign. I think this may have been the biggest mistake made. The JJ Abrams School of SECRETY SECRETS works fine for a smaller movie like Cloverfield, but we’ve already seen it skewer a previous summer project, Super 8, and now it seems that audiences didn’t know what to expect with STID, either, and the uninitiated stayed away. Particularly with a project like Star Trek, where you have to convince people it’s not too nerdy, withholding from the audience isn’t going to work. And it didn’t.
What this means is that it’ll probably be another four years before there’s another Star Trek. Though the foreign box office is much stronger for STID and Paramount is willing to go all in on a franchise based solely off foreign receipts (see also: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Abrams has Star Wars VII penciled in for 2015 and it’s not like Trek is setting the world on fire. Why rush? This should also be concerning to Chris Pine, who has yet to deliver a hit on his own, and who got upstaged in STID by Benedict Cumberbatch and Simon Pegg. He’s not even the star when he’s the star.
But Cumberbatch escapes unscathed—in fact, he’s coming up smelling like roses. He got overwhelmingly positive reviews and proved that he can fit into a mainstream project, and is surprisingly convincing in action sequences. It was a good showing for The Batch, and I fully expect him to announce another franchise/blockbuster gig by the end of the year. Star Trek stumbled. Benedict Cumberbatch did not.