Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Star Trek's Box Office Performance

The widely anticipated success of J.J. Abrams's recent reboot of Star Trek has of course impressed many observers (like the "Box Office Guru"), who have frequently noted that it has left its predecessors in the dust in terms of box office receipts. (Following its $75 million opening weekend, it has enjoyed relatively good legs for a highly publicized, wide-opening summer release to rack up $148 million in just ten days.)

After all, the thinking goes, the series has rarely been in that first rank of blockbusters, only the fourth Star Trek film even breaking the $100 million barrier at the domestic box office.

However, adjusted for inflation (pegged to yesteryear's ticket prices, courtesy of Box Office Mojo), Star Trek IV's $109 million translates to a much more impressive $212 million.

Even so, it is still a lower gross than that of the first Star Trek movie, which pulled in $82 million in 1979, so that after adjustment for inflation, it may be said to have taken in a still heftier $235 million. (Admittedly, this was regarded as a disappointment at the time, but solely because of the giant production budget, and of course, the expectations of studio executives who, displaying their typically poor grip on reality, believed that making a space-themed film automatically entitled their studio to Star Wars-like success.)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn earned $78 million in 1982, or $193 million in today's terms, while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock brought in $76 million, equal to $163 million today, two years after that. Star Trek: First Contact fell just short of the $100 million mark with $92 million in 1996, but this is equal to $150 million now, and even the ninth Star Trek movie, Insurrection, with its comparatively underwhelming performance, is a $100 million grosser in current terms.

In fact, of the first ten movies, after adjustment for inflation, all but Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis grossed over $100 million-and V actually came close, its $52 million in 1989 equaling $94 million today.

Of course, $100 million just isn't what it used to be-theatrically or otherwise. Nonetheless, it is also worth noting that each of the four early, high-grossing films made its respective year's list of top ten earners (with numbers one and four making the top five).

That being the case, the trajectory the current film seems to be tracing (toward the territory of $250 million domestic, according to the Guru) is a return to that earlier form, rather than an unprecedented event in the history of the series-another implausible case of the 1980s all over again, much like the Batman and Indiana Jones franchises (out of which came the two biggest movies of 1989) producing the two biggest movies of 2008.

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