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September 28, 2013

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Editorial: Star Trek Into Darkness Post-mortem

by Master Pillow

With the Summer movie season now in the history books it’s time to look back specifically at Star Trek Into Darkness to grade the movie’s box office performance and to see if we can ascertain any hints about the franchise’s future.  Let’s be honest shall we?  The past few weeks have seen Into Darkness’ reputation basically being dragged through the mud by the mainstream media but not without some degree of merit as news broke out of two Star Trek conventions that diehard Trekkies were not only mad but downright furious deciding to vote the film the worse Star Trek film ever in one poll while the other had it wallowing in 6th position.  Is it really the time for revisionist history to kick in?

Regular readers already know what I thought about Into Darkness as I gave the film 3 stars out of 4 in my review but this particular blog post is not going to debate the relative merits of the film but rather concentrate on something with much less subjectivity, mainly its box office performance.  In other words, it is not my intention to somehow convince those who loved or hated the film that their opinion is “wrong” since that is simply ridiculous.  Everyone’s opinion is valid and I’d love to hear from those on both sides of the fence.

Regardless, this post was originally going to be just about presenting the numbers but I do have one big exception and that is to basically educate those who say that the “majority” of moviegoers who saw Into Darkness did not like it as this is nothing but a fallacy based on the numbers.  Yes, many disliked the film but as you will soon see the majority of moviegoers actually thought it was pretty darn good.

To state it up front, before the summer movie season started nearly every box office prognosticator had Star Trek Into Darkness doing very well with most estimates being that it would at least make more than the 2009 Star Trek reboot.  Obviously, there were a few pundits who said it would totally underperform and not break $200 million domestic as well as those on the other side of the spectrum who proclaimed it would be the number one film of the summer in front of Iron Man 3.

When I made my Into Darkness prediction ($330 million Domestic + $300 million International) I basically poured over the numbers from other similar franchises that had universally loved first films and attempted to look at how their sequels performed.  In the majority of these cases the sequels not only made more money but a magnitude higher confirming true blockbuster status to these franchises.  Thus when I made my prediction that Into Darkness would make $110 million opening weekend I basically thought I was erring on the side of caution and not being totally flamboyant with my prediction.  At the very least I thought Into Darkness would “easily” top $100 million during its opening weekend.

It didn’t come close. Into Darkness “only” made $70 million in its opening weekend, a totally baffling figure considering it was approximately $5 million less than the 2009 reboot.  Paramount’s own internal figures showed that it had the potential to hit $90-$100 million thus they kept tinkering with the release date so that it opened one day early as they thought that they needed that extra day to build momentum.  Unfortunately, their efforts backfired. What the heck happened?

1.0 Revisionist History is For the Dogs
1.1 “Word of Mouth”
2.0 So What Do Critics & Moviegoers Really Think?
2.1 The Problem
3.0 Dat Opening Weekend
4.0 So Why Didn’t it Open higher?
5.0 There Are Always Possibilities
6.0 The Final Frontier…or not.

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1.0 Revisionist History is For the Dogs

First off, to those revisionist people out there, Into Darkness is hardly a box office failure but rather a failure in terms of expectations.  This is a movie which should have had an easy path to a final gross above the 2009 reboot but ended up just under $30 million behind.  Many pissed off fans will point to this fact alone that the entire “fanbase” rebelled against the movie but that is simply not true.  Granted, what they really mean is that some diehard Trekkies were pissed but that statement is also doing a disservice to new fans that were brought on board by the 2009 reboot.

1.1 “Word of Mouth”

Let’s begin this analysis first with some box office terminology.  Everybody talks about films having positive or negative “word of mouth” but what people don’t realize is that this is not as vague a concept as imagined.  Positive word of mouth means those viewers who have seen a movie love it enough to tell their friends to see it whereas negative word of mouth is the exact opposite where moviegoers rant to anyone they know that the film is a no go.  This phenomenon can actually be mathematically calculated and one of these metrics is called measuring a film’s “Multiplier.”

Simply put, a film’s Multiplier is calculated by taking its final gross and dividing by its opening weekend box office.  The higher the number the more prominent its positive word of mouth effect whereas the lower the more detrimental.  As Hollywood blockbusters have morphed into the beasts you see today the rule of thumb has become that any film over a 3 multiplier usually means above average word of mouth and anything below is merely average or lagging.

Another “word of mouth” measurement is called an “Internal Multiplier” which is a film’s opening weekend box office result divided by its Friday box office tally.  Once again this figure provides clues as to how well the movie is scoring with its first viewers.  Nowadays, films with good to excellent word of mouth receive scores equal to 3 or higher while the average is basically 2.5.  This figure is becoming harder to calculate just because many modern movies do not open on a Friday anymore but we still use it to figure out general word of mouth during opening weekend.

Let’s take a look at the top fifteen movies ranked by domestic box office this summer and calculate their Multipliers and Internal Multipliers now and compare the results (box office totals based on figures taken as of September 9 2013).

Rank Movie Multiplier Internal Multiplier
1 Iron Man 3 2.31 2.53
2 Despicable Me 2 4.26 2.74
3 Man of Steel 2.49 2.65
4 Monsters University 3.21 2.71
5 Fast & Furious 6 2.45 2.51
6 Star Trek Into Darkness 3.26 3.25
7 World War Z 3.03 2.64
8 The Heat 4.03 2.85
9 The Great Gatsby 2.89 2.58
10 The Conjuring 3.21 2.47
11 Grown Ups 2 3.14 2.54
12 The Wolverine 2.42 2.57
13 Now You See Me 3.99 2.91
14 We’re the Millers 4.39 3.10
15 The Hangover Part III 2.69 2.87

Let’s now re-arrange this list into the top 5 films with the highest Multipliers.

Rank Movie Multiplier Internal Multiplier
1 We’re the Millers 4.39 3.10
2 Despicable Me 2 4.26 2.74
3 The Heat 4.03 2.85
4 Now You See Me 3.99 2.91
5 Star Trek Into Darkness 3.26 3.25

Looking at the results we can see that the films with the top Multipliers are made up of three sleeper hits in We’re The Millers , The Heat and Now You See Me while Despicable Me 2’s 4.26 shows that general audiences really responded well to the sequel propelling it to the number two spot overall in terms of domestic box office.  This is no surprise as Despicable Me 2 had been tracking extremely well and was coming after a well-loved original which was itself a surprise sleeper hit.

And how did Into Darkness fare?  Its 3.26 places it 5th on this list showing strong word of mouth with repeat viewers.  At the same time its 3.25 Internal Multiplier was the best result of any film in the top 15 summer box office movies.  This implies that viewers who saw the movie on Friday overwhelmingly recommended it to others enabling the film to rise approximately 25% on Saturday.

Why is this phenomenon significant?  Let’s take a look at the top six summer films and look at their raw daily box office figures during their opening weekend to compare.

Rank Movie Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Iron Man 3 68,858,555 62,273,218 43,012,812
2 Despicable Me 2 30,477,125 29,377,950 23,662,240
3 Man of Steel 44,013,367 36,315,318 36,290,677
4 Monsters University 30,473,099 28,733,991 23,222,379
5 Fast & Furious 6 38,737,505 31,696,570 26,941,170
6 Star Trek Into Darkness 21,623,002 26,947,822 21,594,735

Notice any trends?  Most movies remain flat from Friday to Saturday but when they drop significantly it is usually attributed to either the “fanboy effect” where diehard fans propel the film to higher opening day grosses or because viewers are already giving negative word of mouth.  Another thing to notice is that Sunday is the worst day of the weekend no matter the film which is just the way it works.

How did Into Darkness do when compared to other films?  It is clear as day that it got a 25% boost from Friday to Saturday whereas the other films were either flat or fell.  In other words, anyone who tells you Into Darkness had bad general word of mouth during its opening weekend which is what caused the lower three day gross simply didn’t crunch the numbers.

So what about Into Darkness’ numbers when compared to other Star Trek movies?  Let’s take a look at that now but bear in mind that comparing modern Multipliers to older ones is an exercise in frustration as back in the 1980s it was still conceivable for films to rack up huge numbers since the industry had not totally transitioned into how Hollywood blockbusters now work.

Nowadays, the emphasis is on huge opening weekend numbers and a big drop thereafter but back before this phenomenon the rule of thumb was to have films open low and then stay forever in cinemas for a long period of time thus inflating Multipliers, in some cases, well above 10 being the norm for a massive hit.  Also, please excuse the large amount of blank space for many Trek films in terms of their Internal Multipliers since it is hard to locate daily grosses the further back in history you go.  These numbers are available from different sources but I just don’t have them readily at my fingertips.

Star Trek Franchise Multipliers and Internal Multipliers

Rank Movie Multiplier Internal Multiplier
1 Star Trek The Motion Picture 6.89
2 Star Trek IV The Voyage Home 6.50
3 Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan 5.50
4 Star Trek III The Search for Spock 4.59
5 Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country 4.12
6 Star Trek 2009 3.42 2.79
7 Star Trek Generations 3.27
8 Star Trek Into Darkness 3.26 3.25
9 Star Trek Insurrection 3.18 2.44
10 Star Trek V The Final Frontier 3.00
11 Star Trek First Contact 2.99
12 Star Trek Nemesis 2.33 2.39

If we basically break down the list into two eras, one being the Original Cast and the other being The Next Generation and the J.J. Abrams’ universe you can see that Abrams’ two films take first and third place in terms of Multipliers with Star Trek Generations splitting the two up.  At the bottom, surprising absolutely no one, is Star Trek Nemesis which had the worst Trek numbers of all time across the board.  Seriously, Nemesis’ performance was so bad it sticks out like a huge sore thumb as its numbers are nowhere close to the rest of the franchise.

Finally, let’s take a look at Into Darkness in comparison to a bunch of science fiction films released from the past few years plus Titanic.

Movie Multiplier Internal Multiplier
Titanic 23 3.31
Avatar 9.87 2.89
Inception 4.65 2.88
Transformers 3 Dark of the Moon 3.60 2.97
Rise of the Planets of the Apes 3.22 2.80
District 9 3.10 2.64
Marvel’s The Avengers 3.00 2.57
The Dark Knight Rises 2.78 2.12
Pacific Rim 2.69 2.56
Prometheus 2.48 2.37
Oblivion 2.40 2.78
Chronicles of Riddick 2.37 2.45
Total Recall (2012) 2.30 2.81

If this chart proves anything it is that Titanic was and still is the beast to beat over the past few decades with numbers that Avatar couldn’t even come close to.  Besides that, Into Darkness compares very well with all the other sci-fi films and is basically on par with the sleeper hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Another thing to look at is The Dark Knight Rises which has a miserable 2.12 Internal Multiplier showing a massive drop in gross between Friday and Saturday which translates into a big fanboy effect driving opening day sales and a subsequent meltdown as the weekend progressed.

Also take a look at Transformers 3.  Many people, including myself, like to rag on Michael Bay but he really has the last laugh in terms of Transformers as the general public has a generally very favorable view of the franchise.

At the same time look at Pacific Rim with a 2.69.  Much has been made about Pacific Rim’s failure to catch on at this summer’s box office even though diehard fan support was overwhelmingly positive.  In the end it could only muster a meager 2.69 as general audiences just couldn’t care less.

This is incredibly apt to bring up because Into Darkness, if recent fan reports are to be taken at face value, has seen a huge negative reaction from diehard Trek fans who voted it the worst Trek film of all time yet the film’s still big box office take strongly implies that its repeat business actually came in large part from non-diehard fans.  Now this presents a problem which many other people have pointed out whereby long time Trek fans now feel disenfranchised while the new fans who came onboard with the 2009 reboot are overwhelmingly still content with the direction of the new show.  This is a potential recipe for disaster as it might lead to a violent split in the fanbase but that’s a topic for a latter discussion.

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2.0 So What Do Critics & Moviegoers Really Think?

Let’s turn our sights to some review aggregate sites such as Rottentomatoes and Metacritic to check how Into Darkness was rated by critics as well as users.  We’re going to continue to look at the top 15 box office hits except this time rank them by the average of scores taken from Rottentomatoes, Metacritic and IMDB.

Rank Movie RT Critics RT Users Metacritic Critics Metacritic Users IMDB Users Average
1 Star Trek Into Darkness 87 91 72 79 80 81.8
2 The Conjuring 87 85 68 77 77 78.8
3 Monsters University 78 84 65 78 76 76.2
4 Despicable Me 2 76 85 62 76 78 75.4
5 Iron Man 3 78 82 62 65 75 72.4
6 Fast 6 69 84 61 70 73 71.4
7 The Heat 65 85 60 68 69 69.4
8 World War Z 67 75 63 69 72 69.2
9 Man Of Steel 56 76 55 78 76 68.2
10 Wolverine 69 73 60 69 71 67.8
11 Great Gatsby 49 70 55 73 74 64.2
12 Now You See Me 49 72 50 70 73 63.2
13 We’re The Millers 47 77 44 68 72 61.6
14 Hangover 3 19 46 30 56 60 42.2
15 Grown Ups 2 7 59 19 29 52 33.2

It’s as obvious as the nose on your face that Into Darkness wins this competition hands down as it is the only summer movie to break the 80% barrier.  Even a snarky moviegoer who doesn’t care about critics and only wants user scores will see that Into Darkness still wins that battle as well.

As a side note, if you look at this chart the real “big winner” outside of Into Darkness is The Conjuring, one of the summer’s sleeper hits.  The horror film scored equally well with both critics and moviegoers alike propelling its director, James Wan, into the spotlight.  Wan has now successfully launched three horror franchises in Saw, Insidious and now The Conjuring.

James Wan should be feeling on top of the world as he has now taken over the Fast & Furious franchise from Justin Lin who declined to come back for Part 7.  One final note to all my Malaysian readers: Did you know James Wan was born in Kuching?

Nevertheless, back to Into Darkness and the results speak for themselves.  The film scored well with both critics and fans and judging from our Multiplier analysis had above-average “word of mouth” as well.  So this finally brings us to the question: Why is the film suddenly getting knocked around in the press by fans and foes alike?

2.1 The Problem

I’ve already mentioned the problem earlier as the reason is actually very simple.  If we are to believe the news that broke out of those recent Star Trek conventions that saw diehard Trekkies vehemently ribbing the film and voting it the worse Trek film of all time and compare it to the “word of mouth” analysis and aggregate critic and user scores we can surmise that Paramount has a bit of a problem going forward.  What is that problem?  That modern Trek is going through a schism where new fans that have been brought onboard by Abrams’ 2009 reboot generally like the direction of the new series whereas long-time fans are having the opposite reaction by hating it with a passion.

When news broke that Into Darkness was not “doing as well as expected” during its opening weekend there were armchair pundits everywhere that wrote about why this was happening.  I too wrote a blog post and listed a ton of reasons why the grosses seemed to be flagging, including bad marketing or being in the shadow of Iron Man 3.  However, now that the entire summer movie season has passed and we can look back at the film, though its final gross is somewhat disappointing its multiplier is actually very good and certainly in the top tier of films meaning it had much repeat business.

After the film’s relatively weak opening weekend there were many pundits who suddenly thought that the film would tank far below $200 million and they all ended up being wrong as the film kept going.  Granted, not at the pace of the 2009 reboot but still very well when measured against this summer’s competition.

Here are the near final numbers comparing the 2009 reboot to Into Darkness which is surprisingly still playing even though we are now in mid- September.

Star Trek 2009 Versus Star Trek Into Darkness

Rank Movie Domestic Gross Unadjusted Domestic Gross Adjusted (2013) Margin
1 Star Trek 2009 257,730,019 281,911,800
2 Star Trek Into Darkness 228,759,000 228,759,000 -53,152,800

If we adjust the 2009 Star Trek reboot’s gross into 2013 dollars and compare to Into Darkness we see that the sequel made approximately $53 million less which is about 19-20% behind.  That isn’t exactly a good sign no matter how great its “word of mouth” multiplier was but it could very well have been worse as well.  If diehard Trekkies really did abandon Into Darkness that means its gross was bolstered by those new fans from the 2009 reboot.  Or, it could very well be that some segment of diehard fans is suddenly becoming even more vocal about their displeasure, flooding the Internet with their views and making it look like the fanbase is splitting violently.

However, even if diehard fans soured on the film it just does not explain the film’s relatively weak opening weekend.  In the majority of cases where the first film was so loved, especially to the height that the 2009 reboot was, the sequel almost always opens much higher.  Into Darkness should have been a shoo in to at least beat the 2009 Reboot’s opening weekend so when it ended up $5 million in arrears something simply smells and it is a serious question that Paramount Pictures needs to answer post haste.

Insiders have pointed out that Paramount Execs thought they had something “special” with Into Darkness and had high hopes that it would truly break out and become a behemoth blockbuster.  That doesn’t mean $1 billion global gross but $600 million seemed in reach as they figured they could easily make $300 million + in Canada/USA and hoped that the overseas grosses held up.  Well, they were certainly half right.

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3.0 Dat Opening Weekend

Modern Hollywood blockbusters work with a very simple principle: They open to huge numbers and then fall off the proverbial cliff in a heartbeat.  Every single Hollywood exec, producer, director or actor understands that this is the way the industry works nowadays a fact that both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have recently cautioned as a phenomenon which cannot sustain itself.  This is a topic for further analysis but as it pertains to Into Darkness the fact remains that something went awry causing its opening weekend to lag.

This chart should really pound home the importance of opening weekends.  Even if Into Darkness equaled the 2009 reboot’s opening weekend without adjusting for inflation it would have ended up behind by a measly $13 million which is an insignificant amount.

2009 Reboot Versus Into Darkness Opening Weekend

Rank Movie Opening Weekend Opening Weekend Adjusted Margin
1 2009 Star Trek 75,204,289 82,261,000
2 Into Darkness 70,165,559 70,165,559 -12,095,441

In other words, Into Darkness only managed to make approximate 85% of what the 2009 reboot accomplished in its opening weekend.  What happened?  There are a plethora of reasons why but its low opening weekend was the kiss of death as per any Hollywood film the only way to go is down.  Granted, Into Darkness had good word of mouth that propelled it to keep playing across the entire summer movie season but the low opening weekend meant there was no chance it would ever equal the 2009 film.

What did Into Darkness need to earn to equal the 2009 reboot’s adjusted gross?  Now here’s a chart detailing what Into Darkness “could” have made assuming it kept its 3.26 overall multiplier.

Projected Into Darkness Final Gross Based on Differing Opening Weekends

If Into Darkness Made “X” Opening Weekend Into Darkness Final Gross Margin to 2009 Reboot’s Final Gross Margin to 2009 Reboot’s Final Gross (Adjusted)
$75,000,000 $244,500,000 – 13,230,019 – 37,411,800
$80,000,000 $260,800,000 + 3,069,981 – 21,111,800
$85,000,000 $277,100,000 + 19,369,981 – 4,811,800
$90,000,000 $293,400,000 + 35,669,981 + 11,488,200
$95,000,000 $309,700,000 + 51,969,981 +27,788,200

As this chart details, if Into Darkness made about $86,000,000 during its opening weekend based on its 3.26 multiplier it would have beaten the 2009 reboot’s final adjusted gross.  If it had only made $79,000,000 it would have beaten the 2009 reboot’s actual gross without adjusting for inflation.

In other words if Into Darkness made between $79-$86 million during its opening weekend we’d probably be having a much different conversion than we are today as we wonder just why exactly the fans decided to stay at home instead of coming out to see this highly anticipated film.

4.0 So Why Didn’t it Open higher?

This is the big question now and it is a topic that can easily go on for many pages but for now I’ll summarize in point form some of the more salient issues.  However, it is impossible to definitively ascertain the primary cause of the lower opening weekend but I’d venture a guess that a combination of all of them caused the grosses to come in well below expectations.

  • Four year wait between movies was too long considering most Hollywood sequels arrive in around 2 years
  • Marketing campaign was not on point as it made the film’s premise and villain appear generic
  • Overexposed with too many trailers and the 10 minute preview before The Hobbit showing the opening scenes from London and Nibiru.
  • After spending years where everyone involved denied that the villain was Khan it ended up that the antagonist was Khan anyways.  If you vehemently deny everything and it ends up being true many will feel deceived/disappointed.
  • Having all relevant spoilers leak, first through its premiere in Sydney and then having the film launch in select countries before it opened in Canada/USA.  News quickly spread through the Internet about some of the film’s more “canon” breaking or “cheesy” elements that made diehard fans upset.
  • May 2013 was too competitive with Iron Man 3 sucking the air out of the box office much like The Avengers did the year before.  Add in the fact that The Great Gatsby became a sleeper hit the following weekend and Into Darkness had to contend with two powerful adversaries that pulled away many potential viewers.
  • Into Darkness skewed heavily male with an opening weekend ratio of 64%-36% which showed that the film was not “catching fire” with women.  With The Great Gatsby skewing heavily female it sucked audience away from Into Darkness.
  • Absolute confusion caused by Paramount which kept changing the damned release date until it got to a point that nearly no one realized that it had opened a day early.
  • Although this new cast really showed some great chemistry in the 2009 reboot basically none of them have since proven in the last four years that they can open a movie by themselves to any degree of box office power.

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5.0 There Are Always Possibilities

Let’s turn to one huge positive that cannot be argued over no matter if you are a diehard fan or a newcomer to the franchise and it is this: For the first time ever a Star Trek movie has made more money overseas than in its “home” country of Canada/USA.

Even though Paramount should be worried that Into Darkness failed to equal its predecessor in Canada and USA there is a big silver lining although it also portends to a future that Star Trek has never had to worry about till now.

“The Foreign Market is what saved Into Darkness’ bacon.”

Paramount Execs have always hoped that handing the franchise reins to J.J. Abrams would lead to a healthier foreign gross and that is exactly what has happened.  As long time readers of this blog are well aware of, Into Darkness marks the first Star Trek film where the foreign box office gross has surpassed its domestic takings.  To pound home that point even further let’s take a look at the top Star Trek movies ranked by their foreign grosses and you’ll quickly see that no matter whether you like Abrams’ films that they have truly taken Trek where it has never gone before.

Rank Movie International Gross Domestic Gross Total Gross
1 Star Trek Into Darkness 234,000,000 228,759,000 462,759,000
2 Star Trek 2009 127,950,427 257,730,019 385,680,446
3 Star Trek First Contact 54,000,000 92,027,888 146,027,888
4 Star Trek Generations 42,400,000 75,671,125 118,071,125
5 Star Trek Insurrection 42,400,000 70,187,658 112,587,658
6 Star Trek Nemesis 24,058,417 43,254,409 67,312,826
7 Star Trek VI: Undiscovered Country 22,000,000 74,888,996 96,888,996

It is not even close as Into Darkness has finally achieved what Star Trek fans have been dying to hear for decades that the franchise has truly begun to expand aggressively into foreign markets thus growing the fanbase by leaps and bounds.

However, and here’s the caveat, these are “new” fans who have flocked to Abrams’ take on Trek and as yet there is no real analysis taken if they in turn have taken the time to dig backwards into Trek’s past to watch previous Trek films and TV shows.  Only Paramount really knows the statistics if there was any significant uptick in rentals or sales of previous Trek series after the 2009 reboot was released and if so, how much?

Star Trek Into Darkness Top Foreign Countries

Now let’s see which specific countries drove Into Darkness’ foreign gross sky high and ascertain if we can recognize any trends.

Rank Country Into Darkness Box Office Percentage of International Gross
1 China 56,910,000 24.3%
2 United Kingdom 39,356,029 16.8%
3 Germany 20,606,804 8.8%
4 Australia 14,866,428 6.3%
5 South Korea 11,427,281 4.9%
6 Russia 10,510,544 4.5%
7 France 7,878,281 3.4%
8 Japan* 7,457,155 3.2%
9 Mexico 6,775,180 2.9%
10 Brazil 5,219,023 2.2%

Surprise! We’ve got a new #2 country for Star Trek and that is mainland China.  The UK usually takes this spot but, like Hollywood in general, there is no stopping the rise of the Chinese film market and all signs point to it growing exponentially over the next decade until it equals and even surpasses Canada/USA. Also, take note that roughly 25% of Into Darkness’ foreign gross comes solely from China which has got to figure in to Paramount’s strategy going forward for the next film.

Next let’s check out how much better Into Darkness performed overseas in relation to the 2009 reboot and more so than the previous chart this one really shows how the Trek brand has made serious inroads into many International markets.

Rank Country Into Darkness Box Office Star Trek 2009 Box Office Percentage Increase
1 China 56,910,000 8,556,951 565%
2 United Kingdom 39,356,029 35,392,062 11.2%
3 Germany 20,606,804 12,798,139 61%
4 Australia 14,866,428 12,650,526 17.5%
5 South Korea 11,427,281 5,686,001 101%
6 Russia 10,510,544 4,122,486 155%
7 France 7,878,281 6,976,214 13%
8 Japan* 7,457,155 5,822,930 28%
9 Mexico 6,775,180 3,415,764 98%
10 Brazil 5,219,023 1,907,913 174%

Wow.  This chart really shows just where Trek is making massive gains and once again the astounding figure is from China which saw a nearly unfathomable 565% increase in box office gross between the 2009 reboot and Into Darkness.  While there is no chance that the next Trek film replicates that feat the fact remains that there are now millions of new Trek fans in China which bodes well for the future.

At the same time this chart shows that nearly all the growth comes from developing countries or regions which have traditionally been ones where Trek is weak.  Mexico, Brazil and South Korea have never really embraced Trek but Abrams’ vision seems to be catching fire there.

The UK, Germany, Australia and perhaps France have always been the backbone of Trek’s International grosses but aside from Germany there really isn’t much room left to expand.  This means that Trek has basically reached its peak in these regions.  You can even argue that in France and the UK the 13% and 11.2% respective increases are rather dubious considering ticket price inflation and the reliance on 3D surcharges meaning that the gross is flat or even slightly declining.

Will this affect the next Star Trek movie?  Of course it will although by how much is a different question.  If Paramount suspects that International grosses will keep expanding it allows them to still provide Trek with a huge budget even though domestic numbers were mildly disappointing.

Some people might not realize but Into Darkness was an incredibly expensive film to produce (estimates from $190-$200 million) and that is not even taking into account its P&A costs.  If Into Darkness did not have any significant International gross it would have been a disaster as a $228 million take in Canada/USA is far below what the film needs to break even on such a high budget.

At the same time it brings up the age old question if Paramount is going to force the next film to try and pander more to overseas markets instead of just North America. This is obviously a double-edged sword depending on what it entails.  At the very least it will mean that the next Trek film still be made available in 3D as the format is a huge moneymaker abroad and it especially is a must since it is one criteria that any Hollywood film requires when attempting to gain approval to be shown in China.

If you are looking at specific examples of how International markets can influence domestic films look no further than Iron Man 3 or the upcoming Transformers 4 which have significant Chinese content in them in the form of some location shooting as well as hiring local famous actors and actresses.  By doing so it basically assures that the Chinese government will allow the films to be shown in Chinese cinemas.  Like I mentioned in a previous blog post it doesn’t necessarily mean the next Trek film will suddenly have a sequence taking place in Hong Kong or have a new Chinese crewmember but there is also no doubt that big Hollywood studios like Paramount are more than aware of global needs.  Remember, Transformers 4 is a Paramount property and we know how that is working out.

If you want an even higher profile example think Pacific Rim.  Here is a film that has been called out as being a major box office disappointment in Canada/USA and was basically pronounced as the next big flop based on its tepid domestic gross.  However, flash-forward to the end of summer and today the film is sitting on a global gross in excess of $400 million and it all has to do with one little country called China.  Pacific Rim made $100 million in Canada/USA but it made $111 million in China. Considering that the Chinese market is still on a magnitude smaller than Canada/USA it makes the $111 million gross all the more impressive.

If there is indeed a Pacific Rim sequel there is no doubt global fans are going to have to thank all those Chinese moviegoers for pushing the film’s gross higher.  This was a film that laymen might think would be huge in Japan but not so as it basically bombed there with a miserable $14 million gross making only roughly 12% what it did in China.

Long story short, International grosses are now equally as important or even more so for Hollywood blockbusters especially since budgets have entered the land of the “stupids.”  Seriously, this is what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have been alluding to for a while now that the current Hollywood model is inherently broken as film after film keeps upping the ante in terms of its budget and as they rise the global market becomes all the more important to the bottom line.

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6.0 The Final Frontier…or not.

The next time someone wants to rant to you that everyone hated Into Darkness you can easily rebut them by pointing out many of the stats and calculations done in this post.  Now, it doesn’t mean that I think everyone liked this film but that lately many people have jumped on the hate bandwagon merely because word leaked that Trekkies voted the film the worst in the series.  While that is true the numbers clearly show that Into Darkness played well with general audiences in Canada/USA and even better overseas where it certainly beat expectations in virtually every region.

However, as mentioned before, it does bring up the point that what actually is happening is that we are finally seeing a more “violent” schism between new fans and those who have been with the series for a long time.  I have read many articles proclaiming that Trek is “broken” and they do have a point although there really is no consensus as to how to fix this apparent divide between both fan groups.  If Paramount swung the next film only to appeal to diehard Trekkers they stand a chance of losing new fans and vice versa which basically means whoever takes the reins of the next film better have a damned good idea how to safely navigate a middle path that appeals to both groups.

In some ways it reminds me of when The Next Generation first premiered and how the fanbase broke in half with many flocking to the new show while others proclaimed it to be some sort of bastardization of the original series.

I’m not going to give my own opinion as to how to “fix” this issue as many others out there have already written some compelling articles on how to do so.  However, I do have to point out that in the end the way in which The Next Generation finally came into its own was through much better character development and a heck of a lot of better scripts.  At the same time all this came to pass because the series was a TV show and accorded something just about no other fledgling TV show ever gets, namely a second and third chance.

When new Fall shows premiere on network television they are all navigating an extremely thin line between becoming a hit or outright cancellation.  It isn’t inconceivable for new shows to be canned in only a few miserable showings with poor ratings yet Trek from The Next Generation to the end of Voyager was given entire seasons to “right the ship” and allow the shows to find their footing.  That is just not possible for feature films.  Yes, it begs the question whether or not Trek should belong primarily in the cinemas or back on the small screen but clearly Paramount is going to try and keep this new Trek film series going for at least one more installment.

Perhaps after its premiere Paramount will begin to consider bringing Trek back to TV but if I know Hollywood execs the fact remains that if the next film hits it out of the park in terms of box office those in charge will want to keep it there.  As for myself, I’d love to see Trek running in both mediums as it is possible to successfully do both.

The next Trek film will be the final part of the new trilogy and although J.J. Abrams won’t be back I just hope they get someone to take his place that understands what makes Trek great.  However, that is a loaded statement as everyone has a different idea what makes Trek great anyways.

If I were a betting man I’d wager Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman are going to continue developing the next film in exactly the same way they worked on the first two and that fact alone is going to make many fans happy and others furious at the same time.   Nevertheless, in terms of just box office statistics, there is no doubting that the last two films tower far above any other entry in the series especially since Trek’s International standing is growing exponentially.

So the next time you read some snarky critic, online analyst or infuriated fan rant that Star Trek at the moment is about on par in terms of box office with something as “degrading” as G.I. Joe Retaliation (which made $249 million overseas) you now can retort that this is a far better position to be in than at any time in Trek’s history where global audiences could not have cared less about the franchise.  There has never been a better time to see Trek’s influence expand across the globe than the past few years and if trends continue you can expect even further growth from the developing world when the next Trek film probably lands sometime in 2016.

Granted that does not mean that everyone will or should like the new films but clearly they have resonated with new and old fans alike, driving sales to heights that no Trek movie dared dream of before.  I can certainly understand how some long-time fans might not agree with this new vision of Trek and that is a valid position yet calling these new films failures in terms of box office gross cannot be more incorrect.

© 2013 The Galactic Pillow

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lainey
    Sep 28 2013

    It is very difficult to satisfy fans because they have a preconceived idea of what they want “their” Star Trek to be. When it falls short of their ideals, they will complain that it is a bad film. Moreover, every fan has his/her own version of Star Trek in his/her minds. So, it becomes damn difficult to satiate every fan’s fantasy.

    Furthermore, I think that the fanbase is shrinking because they are getting old, or older than the average age of cinema-goers. The original TV series was premiered in 1966, with many years of reruns. The original fans must be in their 50s or 60s by now. The fans who watched the reruns are probably younger by a decade. Are there any statistics of teenagers or people in their 20s and 30s who watches the Star Trek original series? Is there a poll on the average age of Star Trek original series fans?

    Age is a relevant issue here because I doubt older people will go to the cinema as enthusiastically as younger people. When I went to see the movie, I only saw a handful of mature people in the theatre. Movies are meant for teenagers and young adults because it is a form of entertainment. Teenagers have so much time on their hands, they don’t know what to do with it, so they go watch movies. They probably think that what they see in the cinema is real. As for those lukewarm Star Trek fans, who are older than the average age of movie-goers, they probably don’t have time for the movies anymore. They will probably wait for the DVD box-set. These older fans can afford to buy and keep them for sentimental value.

    The reason that I think why Star Trek does well in China is because the Chinese are in the space race, so they are eager to know what outer-space is like, they want to know how “outer space” is portrayed in the movies. I don’t think their local films make big budget sci-fi movies.

    The Chinese also get very few Hollywood movies per year, so their options are limited. The teenagers and young people had to go watch Star Trek if they want to watch a Hollywood movie. That is why it did so well in China but I honestly do not know if they identify with the story or if they catch on to the Star Trek vibe. I can’t read Chinese so I don’t know what their reviews are like. If they actually don’t like Into Darkness, I doubt the third instalment would do as well.

    When I watch a good movie, I’ll emerge from it thinking, “Ahh, yes! I love this character so much, he’s so good; or the story is so uplifting; or it’s so sad etc..”. But for Into Darkness, it didn’t have any of those memorable moment. I didn’t care too much about any of the characters. I don’t feel the friendship between the Captain Kirk and Spock because Spock kept up with his stoic appearances a bit too well. There’s nary a tender moment between Spork and Uhura, there weren’t any chemistry at all. And Khan put on his menacing face all throughout the film, it didn’t come on as too threatening towards the end. :-/

    Furthermore, none of the scenes pulled at my heart-string because I’ve seen that “supposedly climatic” scene so many times already, played by different actors. It couldn’t be more stale than last week’s bread.

    Anyway, that’s my personal view of the Into Darkness Star Trek film.

    Reply
    • Master Pillow
      Oct 1 2013

      You’ve brought up many relevant points none more so than stating that every fan has a preconceived idea what they want Star Trek to be. However, I don’t think Star Trek fans can be talked about as one homogenous whole as they clearly are not as they are incredibly splintered into different factions each of which primarily like different shows. Thus, you’ve got fans who only love the original 1960s series or those who swear by The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and even Enterprise. Nowadays you’ve got another group being those who love the J.J. Abrams movies as well. Although there are surely fans that have seen every single Star Trek show and movie ever made I do have a feeling that the majority stick solely to one or two shows.

      When Abrams’ movie was announced I bet there were a ton of Star Trek fans who could not have cared less since their primary love was any other Trek show but in terms of public awareness there is also no doubting why Paramount went down the reboot route as “Kirk and Spock” are easily part of the fabric of American Pop culture moreso than Picard, Sisco, Janeway or Archer. Fans can argue all they want but if you were to grab a microphone and randomly stop anyone in the middle of a major American city and ask them to name one character from Star Trek chances are “Kirk” and “Spock” will top that list with ease.

      Because of this there’s really no way of knowing what the average age of a Star Trek fan is nowadays as the series spans the entire spectrum. However, we do have certain metrics that we can use to at least provide a much better picture such as the various stats that studios collect during a film’s opening weekend. If you look at Star Trek Into Darkness’ opening weekend we can see a clear as day split as the film skewed heavily male 64% – 36%. Also, the film skewed heavily older than anticipated with 73% of all viewers being over the age of 25.

      For box office the general rule of thumb is that the older you get the lower the chance of you going to the cinema on opening day. That makes a lot of sense especially for seniors who really do not want the hassle of competing with rabid fans half their age during the first few weeks. In fact this is a possible reason that led to a lower opening weekend gross as well with the audience skewing older indicating many might have wanted to see the film yet were more than happy to go in following weekends.

      Trek has always skewed heavily male and unfortunately Abrams’ 2009 movie and Into Darkness haven’t really succeeded in pulling in more women at all which has to be slightly disappointing for Paramount to consider. I don’t think they expected something like Twilight which skews heavily female but for a film to truly break out it really helps if there is a much closer gender split.

      As for the Chinese market it really is the “Wild Wild West” right now over there as it really is next to impossible to guess how the public there will react to certain films. Although you are right to point out that viewers there might have limited options it really has no impact on box office performance. Big budget films that made it to screens there this year such as Tom Cruise in Oblivion or James Franco in Oz The Great and Powerful outright bombed meaning the public just did not care less for the subject matter. This bodes well for Trek as audiences there propelled it to big numbers.

      Let’s take a look at some notable Hollywood films that have been released in China this year and see how they stack up to Into Darkness:

      Movie Mainland China Gross (To date) Canada/USA Gross (To Date)
      Iron Man 3 121,200,000 409,013,994
      Pacific Rim 113,000,000 101,624,602
      Fast & Furious 6 66,500,000 238,679,850
      Man of Steel 63,440,000 291,045,518
      Star Trek Into Darkness 56,910,000 228,778,661
      Jurassic Park 3D 55,890,000 45,385,935
      After Earth 34,480,000 60,522,097
      Monsters University 33,720,000 266,068,492
      White House Down 28,470,000 73,103,784
      Oz The Great & Powerful 25,910,000 234,911,825
      Elysium 24,400,000 91,851,060
      Oblivion 23,860,000 89,107,235
      The Great Gatsby 13,400,000 144,840,419

      As you can see the Chinese have much different taste than Americans/Canadians with some glaring differences the most obvious here being the massive success of Pacific Rim and the relative flopping of Monsters University, Oblivion and Oz The Great and Powerful. Chinese audiences could not have cared less for the sleeper hit The Great Gatsby yet loved Jurassic Park 3D.

      As for your last point about China and the space race they are proceeding with a measured pace and still have plans to get to the moon which should really be encouraged by all no matter their nationality. I’m one of those people who think that human beings better get their act together and start exploring space as our chances of long-term survival stuck on this rock is rather tenuous.

      Whether or not the nation’s highly publicized space race is working in Star Trek’s favour is an argument that is hard to quantify since if it were true you’d think science fiction films would all do well there which is not the case as Elysium and Oblivion were bombs. After Earth did do better than expected but one can chalk that up to Will Smith’s still formidable box office clout. If anything the summer’s Chinese box office proves that they want more giant robot action! Better get cracking on that Gundam live-action film! Or even better, hurry up and make a proper Neon Genesis Evangelion!

      Reply
      • Lainey
        Oct 1 2013

        I like Gundam and Evangelion. 🙂

        Anyway, I hope the last film of the Star Trek trilogy will be a good one!

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