"Star Trek" successfully conquered older audiences at the box office this weekend as those familiar of the sci-fi series propelled it to a solid opening in the U.S., if not abroad.
Now the movie's studio, Paramount, is preparing to send "Star Trek" on a new, more difficult mission: To capture younger filmgoers and win over foreign audiences, who have thus far proved largely indifferent to the movies, which originated with a 1960s TV series and haven't been on the big screen since the 2002 flop "Nemesis."
A $72.5-million opening weekend in North America -- $76.5 million including Thursday evening shows -- demonstrates director J.J. Abrams rekindled viewer interest in the futuristic tale without alienating core older fans who provide the backbone of support.
But Paramount and financing partner Spyglass Entertainment spent $140 million on the film, along with an estimated $150 million on marketing and distribution. That means it doesn't just have to beat "Star Trek" records, as it's on track to do handily, but perform on par with the top summer event movies.
To get there, the movie will need to stay strong domestically, as it's off to a not-so-hot start overseas, where it grossed $35.5 million in 54 countries. Foreign audiences have never been friendly to the "Star Trek" movies, with their lack of big-name stars and "genre" format. Given those obstacles, Paramount executives said they were pleased with its performance.
Compared with most event films, however, $35.5 million is a soft launch. "Wolverine" grossed $73 million overseas last weekend, for instance, and "Iron Man" topped $90 million last year.
Although "Star Trek" played in fewer foreign theaters -- more than 5,000 versus 9,000-plus for "Wolverine" -- it was in almost all the same big countries that generate most overseas ticket sales.
There are signs, however, that "Star Trek" could live long and prosper at home. It garnered an "A" average in audience exit polling and slightly increased its box-office performance from Friday to Saturday, a relative rarity for action movies that usually signals good buzz.
A strong run for "Star Trek" will depend on expanding its audience, which was 60% male and 65% older than 25. .
"We knew going in our core audience was men between 30 and 49, and we decided to embrace that group first," Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said.
The executive, who oversees distribution and marketing for the studio, said he expected many adults would return with older children to the PG-13 film. But he's also planning to re-orient some marketing to go after a heavy moviegoing group that was initially skeptical of the 43-year-old franchise.
"With the word of mouth, teenagers and people in their 20s will be much more receptive to our message, and we're really going to be reaching out," he said.
If "Star Trek" manages to drop no more than about 50% next weekend against "Angels & Demons," which is tracking best with women over age 25, it could be on its way to a $200-million-plus domestic box office. That would boost the chances of Paramount going ahead with the sequel it already has in development but hasn't yet greenlighted.
"Now we can say from a commercial and audience-reaction standpoint that there's no question it would be an exciting opportunity," Moore said of sequel prospects.
A $200-million-plus benchmark in domestic ticket sales is looking unlikely for "Wolverine," despite its big $85-million opening.
Fox's "X-Men" spinoff dropped a sizable 68%, indicating that weak word of mouth and little repeat viewing were hampering the movie on its second weekend in theaters. Total domestic ticket sales stand at $129.6 million.
By contrast, the second "X-Men" film, which opened to $85 million on the same weekend in 2003, grossed $147.7 million in its first 10 days.
"Wolverine" is proving stronger overseas, however, where it dropped 59% to $29.7 million on its second weekend and outgrossed the opening of "Star Trek" in France, Brazil and throughout Latin America. The film's worldwide total is now $253.3 million.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 Star Trek $72.5 $76.5* 1 -- (Paramount) 2 X-Men Origins: Wolverine 27.0 129.6 2 -- (Fox) 3 Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 10.5 30.2 2 -- (Warner Bros.) 4 Obsessed 6.6 56.2 3 -- (Sony) 5 17 Again 4.4 54.2 4 -- (Warner Bros.) 6 Next Day Air 4.0 4.0 1 -- (Summit) 7 The Soloist 3.6 23.5 3 -- (Paramount) 8 Monsters vs. Aliens 3.4 186.9 7 -- (Paramount) 9 Earth 2.5 26.1 3 -- (Disney) 10 Hanna Montana: The Movie 2.4 74.1 5 -- (Disney) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $152.0 +21.7% $3.4 +16.1% *--*
* Includes $4.0 million in Thursday night showings
Source: Hollywood.com Box Office