Paramount Pictures is hoping Kirk and Spock will help revive its sagging box-office fortunes.
"Star Trek Beyond," the third voyage on the USS Enterprise since J.J. Abrams revived the venerable franchise in 2009, is expected to easily replace "The Secret Life of Pets" as the No. 1 film this weekend. It's on track to gross about $60 million in ticket sales from the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.
Though down about 15% from 2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness," that would be considered a solid debut for the big-budget picture and a welcome success for a studio that could use a hit after the relative disappointments of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" and "Zoolander 2."
Paramount is last among the six major Hollywood studios in terms of domestic ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
Studio executives are cautious, projecting an opening weekend of $50 million to $55 million for "Star Trek." Nonetheless, Paramount clearly has high hopes for the new film, for which it recruited director Justin Lin of the "Fast & Furious" series.
The studio on Monday announced it had greenlighted a fourth "Star Trek," featuring "Thor" and "Ghostbusters" star Chris Hemsworth. "Beyond's" world premiere takes place Wednesday at San Diego Comic Con, complete with an outdoor Imax screening and a live orchestra.
"It is a very important film for them," said Bruce Nash, a box office analyst with Nash Information Services. "They need a film that's going to do pretty decent business, and clearly it will."
Abrams, who directed the previous two "Star Treks," produced "Beyond" with Paramount and David Ellison's Skydance Entertainment. Its estimated production budget of $185 million is similar to "Into Darkness," and it will need to do powerful business internationally. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said in April it would invest in the new "Star Trek."
"Star Trek" has been one of Paramount's most reliable franchises. The 2009 reboot posted $385 million globally, while the follow-up took in $467 million.
The latest space adventure was filmed largely in Vancouver, Canada, and Dubai, unlocking rebates and tax benefits for the production. That's in contrast with the previous two installments, which Abrams wanted to shoot in Los Angeles.
"Star Trek Beyond" has several factors working in its favor, including the loyal fan base and largely stellar early reviews. On the other hand, sequels have proved unpredictable at the box office this year, with disappointments including "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Neighbors 2."
"Beyond" returns Chris Pine as James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, joined by newcomers Sofia Boutella and Idris Elba. The cast and crew was dealt a tragic blow last month with the death of actor Anton Yelchin in a freak automobile accident at his Los Angeles home.
As "Star Trek" beams sci-fi fans to the multiplex, 20th Century Fox will try to draw families with its latest computer-animated offering, "Ice Age: Collision Course." Fox and analysts are expecting a debut of $25 million from the fifth "Ice Age" movie, which would be significantly lower than the last one that came out in 2012. That's not surprising, given the dominance of "Secret Life and Pets" and "Finding Dory."
Still, "Ice Age" movies tend to do a vast majority of their business overseas (ticket sales for the previous one, "Continental Drift" were more than 80% international). Indeed, "Collision Course" has grossed an impressive $127 million internationally already.
The only other wide release this weekend is "Lights Out," a PG-13 supernatural horror tale from Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema that is expected to take in $16 million to $18 million in its debut.