Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek grosses $79 million for the weekend. Mendelson's Memos weekend box office in review (05/10/09).

Here's something I bet you didn't know. Back in 1979 and 1982, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan broke the opening weekend record with $11.9 million and $14.3 million respectively. So, yes, for a brief period, the Star Trek franchise really was in the same kind of company as Batman and Jurassic Park. Along with Jaws, those three franchises are the only ones ever to have their first two pictures break the opening weekend record consecutively (Batman did it thrice in a row, a still un-bested mark). Indiana Jones did it with films two and three, while Spider-Man did it with films one and three (I'd argue that Spider-Man 2 only missed because Sony chose to open it over the long July 4th weekend). The re-release of Star Wars broke the record in 1978, and Return of the Jedi smashed through the $20 million barrier in the three-day portion of its Memorial Day weekend in 1983. Another neat fact? Every Which Way But Loose was the first film to break the $10 million barrier and Star Wars actually took the weekend box office record from Jaws in its 11th week of original release. So yes, Star Trek used to be very much at or near the top of the short-term box office heap. And, if history is any indication, it'll return again when Star Trek II: Attack of the Klingons is released in summer 2012.

The most shocking thing about Star Trek's weekend performance isn't the alleged $79.2 million in 3.5 days. That's a great number, a nearly three million more than the estimates. No, the shocking part is that, unlike nearly every live-action genre tent pole picture in recent memory, Star Trek's Saturday business actually increased by a token amount from it's opening Friday. The reboot's maiden voyage grossed $27.4 million on Saturday (the pure Friday numbers, including midnight showings, were $26.8 million, meaning it's now the third biggest Friday of 2009). That's an amazing accomplishment in this day and age. In the old days (think anytime before the last six years or so), a film opened on Friday, went up a bit on Saturday, then dipped a little below the Friday number on Saturday. Solid 3x multipliers were common and anything less was a sign of trouble. That's now a thing of the past for anything that is even remotely 'eagerly awaited', with the exception of family-centered animated films (Monsters Vs. Aliens) and/or explicitly grown up entertainment (like The Bourne Ultimatum). Today it's a front-loaded opening day, followed by a token fall on Saturday and Sunday. Long story short, plenty of non-geeks and grown ups decided to check out Star Trek after opening day, and everyone from Friday told their pals to see it. Iron Man was the most recent event picture to pull that off, and we all know how well it held up over the summer.

In 3.5 days, Star Trek has out grossed every single Star Trek picture except for Star Trek: The Motion Picture ($82 million), Star Trek: First Contact ($92 million), and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ($109 million). By today, it will be the third highest grossing Trek picture and it'll easily surpass the franchise record by Saturday at the absolute latest. Obviously inflation is not figured into these numbers. No real point complaining, but I'd argue that the Sunday total ($21 million) would probably be higher if not for the fact that today is Mother's Day. It sounds like the film is truly playing like an across-the-board, all-audiences smash hit. This is a big win for Paramount, especially if it plays like a mainstream reboot (Batman Begins, Casino Royale) and less like... well, a Star Trek film. As for final domestic take, I'm thinking $230 million at this point, maybe more if Terminator: Salvation underwhelms (in which case Star Trek has the genre field all to itself for a full month). As it is, solid word of mouth and positive press coverage now makes Star Trek the second choice for most movie goers for a good chunk of June, which is a very nice place to be. To Paramount's credit, they have publicly stated that they are in this for the long haul (which theoretically justifies the film's alleged $200 million+ final cost). They knew that had an audience-pleaser on their hands. Regardless of the final domestic gross, Paramount knew that the series would be in prime position to capitalize on the goodwill of this first picture. Like past 'better than I expected' first films (Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, X-Men, The Bourne Identity, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Batman Begins, and Casino Royale), the inevitable sequel could nearly double this film's opening weekend take. Right here, right now, I'm calling $100 million+ for the opening weekend of the second Star Trek 2.0 picture.

Wolverine plummeted 69% to $26.4 million ($129 million at ten days out). This is the second biggest drop for any film opening above $50 million (the 69.7% plunge for Ang Lee's Hulk is still tops). Although the film will still be long term profitable for Fox (the worldwide total is already $210 million), I still question the wisdom of the various green-lit spin offs. If Fox can keep X-Men Origins: Magneto or X-Men Origins: Deadpool under $100 million, then they should be OK. But since no studio seems to be able to control budgets these days, I'd be very nervous for the future of the X-Men franchise right now. There is no way in hell that any of these spin-offs is going to open anywhere close to the $85 million that Wolverine opened to, so if they spend the same kind of money, they are just asking for a world of financial hurt. I'd say Fox should just do the X-Men: First Class film, change the young mutants to present day ones, and just call it X-Men 4: First Class. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past dropped a decent 32%, bringing its ten day total to $30 million. Battle For Terra dropped 83%, which stinks for this surprising little gem. It's not perfect, but there are moments of visual poetry and the voice acting is superb (Brian Cox in particular turns in a chillingly low-key turn as a desperate, genocidal villain). More news next weekend as Angels & Demons tries desperately to avoid the 'Tomb Raider trap'. Well, Star Trek did just undo the 'second weekend of summer' death trap, so anything is possible.

Scott Mendelson

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