The "Star Trek" movie series has lived long at the box office. But is it time for Captain Kirk and Spock to really prosper?
"Star Trek Into Darkness," the second J.J. Abrams-directed installment in the science-fiction franchise, debuted in a handful of theaters late Wednesday evening and has since collected $3.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The movie launched at 8 p.m. in 336 IMAX locations, because 30 minutes of the film was shot on IMAX cameras.
The picture is expected to rake in about $20 million by the end of Thursday. By Sunday, those who have seen prerelease audience surveys say, "Into Darkness" is likely to have grossed a healthy sum of about $100 million.
That means that after two weeks at No. 1, "Iron Man 3" will drop to the runner-up position. No other new films are hitting multiplexes, though "The Great Gatsby" is likely to have legs during its second weekend of release. Fortunately for Paramount, "Into Darkness" is attracting the most interest among older male moviegoers -- not the most popular demographic for "Gatsby."
It will prove difficult to compare the opening of "Into Darkness" against the launch Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek," because the latter debuted at 7 p.m. on a Thursday. By weekend's end -- including those additional evening showings on Thursday -- the movie had sold $79.2 million worth of tickets. If projections are correct, the sequel will make slightly more than that during the same time period.
But Paramount has more at stake with "Into Darkness." The studio and co-financier Skydance Productions spent $190 million to make the new film -- at least $40 million more than on the last one. The movie's budget was so much higher because unlike the 2009 film, "Into Darkness" was converted to 3-D in post-production.
Because the original only made 33% of its $385.7 million global gross overseas, Paramount is also paying more to promote "Into Darkness" abroad. The studio has said it increased the sequel's international marketing budget by 35% from the first film, and rolled out the red carpet for the movie in seven different countries.
Early international returns indicate those efforts may be paying off. Last weekend, Paramount opened its latest "Trek" in seven foreign markets, including Britain, Mexico and Germany. In those countries, the sequel made about 70% more than the previous version did four years ago.
As of Wednesday, the current movie's international gross stood at $40 million. This weekend, the film will debut in an additional 33 new markets -- the biggest being Russia.
"Into Darkness" has Chris Pine reprising his role as Captain Kirk, who has lost command of the USS Enterprise after disobeying orders yet again. Along with Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), he attempts prevent an invincible soldier (Benedict Cumberbatch) from helping start an intergalactic war.
Abrams' first take on "Trek" received almost unanimously positive response from critics, notching a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The sequel has also been well-received, but on Thursday lagged a bit behind the first, with an 87% score.