Box Office Guru Wrapup: Star Trek Softer Than Expected at #1

Vulcans and their comrades came out to power the sci-fi sequel Star Trek Into Darkness into the number one spot at the North American box office, however grosses were substantially below industry expectations across the board. The Paramount franchise film had an extended release and grossed $70.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday period with a total of $84.1M since its start on Wednesday night in IMAX locations making for a debut that was smaller than its 2009 predecessor's.

The studio chose to make the highly anticipated 3D tentpole available to fans earlier via premium large-format screens. The release kicked off on Wednesday with about $2M in ticket sales from 336 higher-priced IMAX 3D screens with shows starting at 8:00pm. Thursday was the official full opening day with $11.5M in business. The figure was not too impressive, however the release date was changed very late in the game from Friday so not all moviegoers knew about the earlier debut. Friday jumped 91% to $22.1M, Saturday climbed another 25% to $27.5M and Sunday was estimated to drop 24% to $21M. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period, the new Trek averaged $18,241 from 3,868 locations.

Four years ago, Star Trek opened in a slightly different format. It was slotted into the second weekend of May with a Friday release kicking off with Thursday night shows in all theaters starting at 7:00pm. It had an IMAX release in 138 locations, but was all 2D. Its opening was $75.2M over the three-day period and $79.2M including $4M from Thursday night shows. Add in that film's Monday gross to make a similar 4.5-day start, and its $86.7M was bigger than the $84.1M of Darkness despite the new chapter having higher 2D ticket prices plus 3D surcharges plus 200 additional IMAX screens.

Studio research showed that the audience was 64% male and 73% 25 and older. A very high 16% of the gross ($13.5M) came from IMAX indicating that fans were willing to pay extra in this case given that about 30 minutes of the film were shot with those special cameras making for a premium experience. Overall, 45% of the gross came from 3D screens including IMAX.

The underperforming numbers of Into Darkness were downright baffling. Paramount made a good product and picked a fine time to release it giving it two weeks distance from the summer's other action tentpole Iron Man 3. Reviews were mostly positive (more than good enough for a sci-fi sequel) and audiences also liked the film with opening day ticket buyers giving an A grade from CinemaScore. The marketing push was strong and normal for May action tentpoles. 2009's Star Trek not only opened well, it also had solid legs with 70% of its domestic business coming after the first weekend. Sequels to leggy blockbusters like these usually open bigger, especially if 3D is added in.

Before the film's release, Paramount openly predicted a $100M opening through Sunday. Studios routinely low-ball these forecasts so the final numbers end up looking like they are above expectations. So the performance was probably much lower than what the studio internally believed was likely.

If internal factors were not to blame, it may have been external ones that were in play - namely competition and erosion of audience interest. Competition that the two Trek movies faced was almost identical, although allocated differently. The rest of the Top 15 films this weekend grossed $77M which was 10% more than the $70M that 2009's Trek faced. Factor in four years of ticket price increases and the same number of people saw competing movies each time.

But what was in fact different was how much the second and third place films dominated the rest of the marketplace while all other movies made chump change. In both years, the runnerup pic was a superhero flick (Iron Man 3 and 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the third place film was a female-skewing pic (The Great Gatsby and 2009's Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). This year's duo grossed a stellar $58.6M, up a whopping 60% from 2009's $36.7M. This weekend's two holdovers were an awesome twosome that combined for the highest gross in box office history for the second and third place movies on the critical third weekend of May and they may have taken away some of Trek's potential audience.

Darkness also came out four years after the Star Trek reboot and some fans, especially those who are not die-hard ones, may have lost interest in the franchise during that gap. The first nine Star Trek films spanned two decades and never had a gap this big. 2002's Nemesis came out after a four-year void, ended up as the lowest-grossing film in series history, and was credited with killing the franchise. Until J.J. Abrams rebooted it six and a half years later.

Most franchises in recent years have not taken that much time off in between installments including Twilight, Harry Potter, Iron Man, Transformers, and the Star Wars prequels. Even newer ones like Hobbit and Hunger Games have told fans that they will get a new chapter every year. Last year, however, there were a pair of films that came out exactly four years after their last installments and opened bigger without even needing 3D - The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Both were threequels to a reboot and followed sequels that were also very successful so audiences were more hooked to the brands. The love shown for 2009's Star Trek could have been somewhat of an anomaly. It certainly brought in a broader more mainstream crowd, but many may have lost the excitement this time around especially with popular alternative options from Mr. Stark and Mr. Gatsby out there right now.

This is not the first time this year that Paramount has found itself in this situation. March's G.I. Joe: Retaliation was the follow-up to the studio's summer 2009 hit The Rise of Cobra and also had a 3D upgrade and a shift in opening day from Friday to Thursday with Wednesday night previews. The new pic (with added starpower) opened to $51M over 4.5 days which did not match up to the $54.7M three-day opening of the 2D Cobra. The sequel is on track to end with $122M, short of the first film's $150.2M, but is seeing much better numbers from overseas markets.

The road ahead will be tricky for Into Darkness. It is well-liked for the most part and it has the Memorial Day holiday weekend on its second frame. But the core adult male audience will be tempted away with two more big sequels opening at the end of this week - Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III. Also sci-fi sequels tend to draw the bulk of their audiences upfront, even if word-of-mouth is very good.

Overall, Into Darkness is not likely to match the $257.7M final domestic gross of the last Star Trek. However, it still has a shot at $200M if it can hold up relatively well next weekend. Budgeted at $190M, the Kirk-and-Spock sequel will definitely see substantial growth on the international side as several key overseas markets have become much more lucrative since 2009.

This weekend, the new Trek launched in 33 international markets and grossed an estimated $40M from those plus seven holdover territories that bowed last week. Cume outside of North America is $80.5M with the global gross at $164.6M. Russia led the new markets with $8M (quadruple the opening of the last Trek) while the U.K. led the holdovers with a $5.9M weekend and $24M total. Half of the international marketplace has yet to open so plenty of potential is ahead with debuts scheduled in China (May 28), Korea (May 30), France (June 12), Italy (June 13), Brazil (June 14), Spain (July 5) and Japan (August 23).

Dropping a notch down to second place was two-time chart-topper Iron Man 3 which pulled in an estimated $35.2M in its third weekend of release. The Disney title declined by 52% which was not bad considering it had such direct competition to face with Trek's launch playing to the same adult male action crowd. Marvel's hit 3D threequel has now soared to a domestic cume of $337.1M putting it at number 25 on the list of All-Time Domestic Blockbusters and passing the $336.5M of 2007's Spider-Man 3. Iron Man 3 is still on a trajectory to break the $400M mark.

Overseas, the latest Tony Stark smash remained a key contender collecting an estimated $40.2M, although sales dropped by more than half from last weekend. Iron Man 3's international total climbed to $736.2M propelling the global gross to a towering $1.07 billion on its way to about $1.3 billion. Currently, it sits at number nine among all-time worldwide hits.

The lavish Leonardo DiCaprio drama The Great Gatsby enjoyed another big weekend grossing an estimated $23.4M in third place. The 53% decline was quite respectable considering the weak word-of-mouth, negative reviews, and huge upfront turnout last weekend. After ten days, the Baz Luhrmann film has raked in $90.2M driven by adult women and is already the studio's top-grossing film this year. No third place film has ever grossed this much money on the third weekend of May and Gatsby's success may have chipped away at some of Star Trek's potential. DiCaprio hardly ever does sexy heartthrob roles any more so this rare turn is pulling in audiences despite mixed buzz on the quality of the picture.

Following its debut on Wednesday as the opening night film of the Cannes Film Festival, The Great Gatsby rolled out across international markets and grossed a strong $42.1M from nearly 8,400 screens in 49 territories. Leading the way was Russia with $6.2M followed closely by the U.K. with $6.1M. Major markets still to come include the director's Australia (May 30), Mexico (May 31), Brazil (June 7), and Japan (June 14).

The rest of the top ten was filled with leftovers that attracted small crowds with each grossing in the rough range of $1-3M. Paramount's Pain & Gain dropped 38% to an estimated $3.1M for a cume to date of $46.6M. In its ninth weekend of being the only toon game in town, The Croods slipped only 24% to an estimated $2.8M boosting Fox's total to a robust $176.8M. The cavepeople comedy will finally face competition next weekend with the studio's own release of the animated adventure Epic.

The baseball drama 42 followed with an estimated $2.7M, off 41%, giving Warner Bros. a solid $88.7M. Universal's sci-fi offering Oblivion fell 47% to an estimated $2.2M giving the Tom Cruise film $85.5M so far domestically. International sales are now up to $173M putting the global gross at $258.5M.

Adding some more screens in its fourth weekend was the indie hit Mud which grossed an estimated $2.16M sliding only 15%. Roadside Attractions has collected $11.6M with the rural tale on its way to the vicinity of $20M. The Tyler Perry-produced flop Peeples tumbled 53% in its sophomore round to an estimated $2.15M and a weak $7.9M to date. Rounding out the top ten was another Lionsgate release The Big Wedding with an estimated $1.1M, down 56%, for a $20.2M cume.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $145.3M which was up 9% from last year when The Avengers remained at number one with $55.6M; but down 7% from 2011 when Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened in the top spot with $90.2M.

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