‘Star Trek’ Film Debut Falls Short in Crowded Box Office

Paramount Pictures’ “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the second installment in the rebooted franchise, opened to disappointing ticket sales, squeezed by holdovers “Iron Man 3” and “The Great Gatsby.”

“Into Darkness,” from director J.J. Abrams, generated $70.2 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters, missing researcher BoxOffice.com’s $87 million estimate. The film, part of Hollywood’s annual summer crush, had to contend with two crowd-pleasers still in theaters: Walt Disney Co.’s “Iron Man,” in its third week, and Warner Bros.’ “Gatsby” in its second.

Paramount, owned by Sumner Redstone’s Viacom Inc., scored big with 2009’s “Star Trek,” which opened with $75.2 million as Abrams re-imagined the 1960s TV show and its successors on film and television, re-introducing Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick, Spock. The latest film’s weaker start underscores the risk studios take underwriting so-called tent-pole films that cost, in this case, $190 million to make.

“More was expected,” said Phil Contrino, chief analyst with BoxOffice.com in Beverly Hills, California. “The lesson here is that Hollywood needs to spread out movies more.”

Facing two strong titles and with more competition on the way, Los Angeles-based Paramount sought to make the best of its narrow window. It released the movie on May 16, a day earlier than originally planned, to capture Thursday crowds swollen by college students home for summer. The extra day lifted the four-day total to $84.1 million, researcher Hollywood.com Box Office said today.

Lower Forecast

That amount didn’t come close to meeting estimates that had already been lowered. Last month, BoxOffice.com was projecting $128 million for the opening weekend. As the release approached, and Paramount added the early day, BoxOffice.com lowered its prediction to $112 million over four days, then cut it again to $98.5 million as receipts started to roll in.

In an interview, Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, emphasized the film’s international prospects, and said he expects the movie to hold up well domestically against the coming releases “The Hangover Part III,” from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures’ “Fast & Furious 6,” which he said skew to older audiences. He acknowledged the “much more competitive environment this week.”

“I think we’re poised for a great run through the summer,” Moore said. “This franchise is now in great shape going forward.”

‘Iron Man’

The variety of choices in theaters drew in fans, marking the first weekly increase from the year-earlier period of the summer season, which runs from May to September. Last year’s totals were paced by the record-setting “Marvel’s The Avengers,” from Burbank, California-based Disney.

This week “Iron Man,” also from Marvel, generated $35.8 million at the domestic box office, enough for second place and a total of $337.7 million. Director Baz Luhrmann’s “Gatsby,” which has outperformed expectations with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mysterious self-made man, added $23.9 million and raised its total to $90.7 million, according to Hollywood.com.

Paramount’s movie studio lost $74 million in the six months ended March 31, versus an $84 million profit in the year-earlier period, as revenue declined 30 percent to $1.92 billion. Home-entertainment revenue slumped 38 percent in the second quarter, New York-based Viacom said on May 1.

Viacom fell 1 percent to $69.01 at the close in New York. The Class B shares have advanced 31 percent this year, almost double the S&P 500 Index’s 17 percent gain.

Overseas Market

Along with “Transformers,” “Star Trek” is one of Paramount’s biggest franchises. Some fans in Los Angeles arrived at theaters in “Star Trek” garb or Spock ears. The movie, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, met with 87 percent approval from critics and reached an 89 percent “fresh” from fans, according to the website Rotten Tomatoes.

“It’s important for Paramount to get this right,” said Paul Sweeney, director of North American research at Bloomberg Industries. “It’s very important for this film and films like it to do well. The big studios are depending more and more on their tent-pole franchises.”

The movie’s overseas results have shown promise. With about half the markets open, the film had generated about $80.5 million, or 82 percent more than the 2009 version at this point, for a total of $164.5 million worldwide, according to Paramount. The studio cited Russia and Taiwan, with China and South Korea yet to open.

Hollywood has focused on so-called franchise films in part because they have a better chance with audiences outside the U.S., where the number of movie theaters has increased rapidly, according to Sweeney. International receipts should help make “Star Trek” profitable overall for Paramount, he said.

Toys, Games

“You find a lot of films opening overseas first,” Sweeney said. “That is a testament to how important the overseas market has become.”

Another reason Hollywood has pushed into big-budget franchises is to develop ancillary revenue, such as from toys and games. While “Transformers” is among the biggest toy sellers on a par with Disney’s Marvel or Pixar characters, Paramount hasn’t been as active with “Star Trek.”

Historically, toys based on “Star Trek” haven’t sold as well as “Star Wars” or “Transformers,” said Sean McGowan, an analyst with Needham & Co. in New York. Sometimes retailers will balk at devoting a lot of shelf space, and some movies don’t translate well as toys, he said, citing “Avatar,” the biggest movie of all time.

Spock Bobblehead

“Making a bunch of Star Trek figures and having them sit on shelves could be a worse decision than not making them and missing out on those revenues,” McGowan said.

Paramount decided not to introduce a lot of merchandise tied to the current film, Moore said, because the studio wasn’t sure how well established the new stars were versus the TV show and films featuring William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Now, with global recognition, Paramount stands a better chance of signing licensing deals with top partners, he said.

“The real value is in the long-term development of the franchise internationally,” Moore said. “When you’re pulling out old characters you have issues.”

                  Rev.               Avg./    Pct.   Total
   Movie         (mln)    Theaters  Theater   Chg.   (mln)   Wks
 1 STAR TREK     $70.2     3,868   $18,140     --    $83.7    1
 2 IRON MAN 3     35.8     4,237     8,442    -51    337.7    3
 3 GREAT GATSBY   23.9     3,550     6,743    -52     90.7    2
 4 PAIN & GAIN     3.2     2,429     1,333    -35     46.7    4
 5 THE CROODS      3.0     2,373     1,275    -16    177.0    9
 6 42              2.8     2,380     1,182    -39     88.8    6
 7 OBLIVION        2.3     2,077     1,125    -43     85.6    5
 8 MUD             2.2       960     2,322    -12     11.7    4
 9 TYLER PERRY     2.2     2,041     1,058    -53      7.9    2
10 THE BIG WEDDING 1.2     1,443       839    -51     20.3    4
11 OZ              0.9       535     1,628    -19    231.4   11
12 G.I. JOE        0.6       409     1,419     -4    120.5    8

Top 12 Films Grosses

This Week Year Ago Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $148.3 $135.7 +9.3

Year-to-date Revenue

2013 2012 YTD YTD Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $3,554 $4,002 -11 Year-to-date Attendance: -11% Source: Hollywood.com Box-Office