‘Star Trek Beyond’ Must Score With Foreign Crowds to Justify Sequels

Star Trek Beyond
Courtesy of Paramount

For five decades, the Starship Enterprise has boldly gone where no one has gone before, exploring distant worlds and bringing a message of peace and inclusion to the distant reaches of the universe.

Despite the onscreen planet hopping, the “Star Trek” films have remained stubbornly parochial in their appeal, at least until J.J. Abrams rebooted the series in 2009 with a younger cast and an emphasis on action sequences and space battles. Now Paramount, the studio behind the science-fiction series, is banking that the franchise’s newly globalized appeal will continue with “Star Trek Beyond.”

“We’re showing that ‘Star Trek’ is a brand that is strong around the world,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman.

He believes that the film could do as well or even improve upon the performance of the previous film in the series, 2012’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” in Latin America and in Asia. That’s particularly important because the latest film did substantially worse than its predecessors when it debuted in the United States this weekend. “Star Trek Beyond’s” $59.6 million haul was down 15% from “Into Darkness'” $70.2 million debut and off 20.7% from the $75.2 million debut of 2009’s “Star Trek.” With a hefty $185 million price tag, “Star Trek Beyond” will need to perform well overseas if it wants to make it into the black. Domestically, it will be lucky to top out at $200 million.

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It’s a familiar predicament, one that isn’t limited to the “Star Trek” films. “When you look at the United States this summer, you get the sense that the market is a lot softer for live-action sequels and remakes than it was last summer,” said Moore.

It’s nearly impossible to produce a major Hollywood blockbuster for less than $140 million and to market it globally for less than $100 million and change. Consequently, the only way to make back that kind of investment is to resonate with crowds overseas, particularly in countries like China and Brazil where the box office continues to grow.

In some cases, these markets are enough to compensate for weak domestic performances. Films like “Warcraft,” “Ice Age: Collision Course” and last summer’s “Terminator: Genisys” have turned a profit or at the very least been rescued from steep write-downs because they’ve played well overseas. Others, such as “Ghostbusters,” remain question marks — the ongoing viability of their franchises remain in question until foreign returns start to trickle in. And, an unhappy few, the “Legend of Tarzans” and “Alice Through the Looking Glasses” of the world, couldn’t find salvation regardless of what time zone they ventured into.

Industry observers praise Paramount and Abrams for figuring out ways to extend “Star Trek’s” horizons beyond the 50 states. They note that the studio made a big push for “Star Trek Beyond” at this year’s CineEurope, a gathering of international exhibitors, bringing out Simon Pegg, who co-stars as the engineer Scotty and the film’s co-writer, to debut exclusive footage.

Even more important, Paramount brought on Alibaba to invest in “Star Trek Beyond,” just as it did on “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” The Chinese e-commerce giant will help cover the merchandising and promotional costs, and is also serving as a brand ambassador of sorts to the Middle Kingdom. The association worked well in the case of the latest “Mission: Impossible” sequel, which grossed $135.7 million in China, an impressive 25% jump on the previous film in the franchise.

It wasn’t that long ago that a “Star Trek” film was lucky to do 30% of its business from foreign markets. Even 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot, despite hitting $257.7 million domestically, couldn’t even hit $130 million overseas. That changed with “Into Darkness,” which racked up more than half of its $467.4 million global gross from abroad. It was a shift in thinking that had to happen, particularly with the domestic box office remaining flat.

“Part of it is a wiring thing,” said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment. “You have to re-wire your efforts so you’re not just thinking domestically.”

Despite the hard work, the results internationally are mixed, signaling that “Star Trek Beyond” may face some headwinds on its path to profitability. The film opened in first place in 16 of the 37 markets where it launched, grossing a respectable $30 million. However, that was 14% below what “Star Trek Into Darkness” did in the same geographic spread, and the film appears to have been hit hard by the heat wave in Europe. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the opening grosses were 15% below “Star Trek” and 37% below “Into Darkness.” In Germany, they were down 29% from “Into Darkness.” And in Italy they were 8% below “Star Trek” and trailed “Into Darkness” by 5%.

“The franchise is drifting,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “The momentum has slowed overseas.”

The story could still change. There are still several major markets left to open, including South Korea on Aug. 18, Brazil on Sept. 1 and China and Mexico on Sept. 2. That’s why many analysts expect that the Enterprise won’t be hauled into dry dock any time soon. After all, Paramount has already announced a fourth film in its rebooted series and the studio is about to embark on a new television series.

“These characters resonate no matter who you are or what part of the world you are living in,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “Even if it’s subtitled or dubbed, this series is still a global phenomenon.”

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  1. David Knowles says:

    The tv franchise is own by CBS, not Paramount. Hopefully one day they will be reunited.

  2. Fred Archer says:

    here is the prolem. LAtin America were supposed to get it 2 weeks ago, they all bootleged it because they were pissed, its expecting a soft openning in china and a soft openning in russia.
    The Simple fact is we are tired of watching shit and paramount ant produce a quality movie for a billion bucks these days.

  3. No brent. They don’t. There will be a Star Trek 4. Just like there will be a Ghostbusters 2. For better or worse, they will happen. And hell yeah the Beastie Boys can save the Universe! That gag was totally something the OG series would’ve done. Star Trek has also always been fun, did you miss that part of the show, JT?

  4. James Terminiello says:

    Tis strange that it was the original Star Trek that begot all that global interest. The one with the dated effects, cheezy sets, long scenes where people just talk, and damn good stories. Well, clearly this formula can’t work anymore says Paramount. So we get a break-neck paced, hyperventilated, mass market mind-number whose message is the Beastie Boys can save the universe and it is OK to borrow an ending from a box office loser… Mars Attacks.

  5. victorhugobrazil says:

    “Star Trek” was aired here in Brazil non stop since the 60´s. but it was aired under a translated title in portuguese: “Jornada nas Estrelas”, every grandpa knows “Jornada nas Estrelas.

    Since George Lucas refused to translate “Star Wars” to portuguese (Guerra nas Estrelas), as to make it a brand, Paramount went to the same route and stopped translating “Star Trek” either, which is kinda rude. For us, “Jornada nas Estrelas” sounds good to our ears, as much as the Alexander Courage theme music.

    See the Marvel heroes, all of them have portuguese translations “Iron Man” is “Homem de Ferro”, and “Captain America” is “Capitao America”, there´s no rejection at all.

    BUT Paramount is losing millions when it thinks it saves change money not translating movie POSTERS

    • ed says:

      Really? Star Trek Beyond’s poster marketing was actually a thing of beauty. It would be a shame if they didn’t translate and roll them out across all markets.

  6. While I understand the need to cover your expense…It is a rather simple concept to understand…the unfortunate circumstance is that with ticket prices and snack prices the US market has priced itself out of the reach of most reasonable adult purchases. We wait until movies are available on disk or digital format and watch in the comfort of our own home.

    • adam says:

      Domestic attendance hasn’t dropped because of ticket prices or concession prices (which have always been inflated). It’s dropped because of the final reason you mentioned. The advent of pay per view, Netflix and online streaming has become the preferred alternative over going to a movie theater. The teenage demographic drives most of the market now. Why? Because going to see a movie at the theater I still a popular social event for them.

  7. CJ Brown says:

    Well Paramount Viacom CBS you managed to anger a Star Trek fan base with your legal & vocal choices to condemn, then decided to take complete control of, all fan made Star Trek media (a stable of Star Trek conventions)!!

    Then you created further anger from the Star Trek fan base by choosing to give the rest of the world access to Star Trek Discovery via Netflix – but want to force CBS All Access onto North America – as the only way to watch this new Trek series!!

    If Star Trek Beyond fails at the North American box office? That’s your own damn fault for angering your fan base!! Next time, think of a better PR Stunt that doesn’t piss people off AND stop trying to shove your own on demand service (epic fail)!

    • adam says:

      The CBS strategy of forcing US viewers to watch the show on their proprietary streaming service is a huge mistake so no disagreement there. As for the diminishing box office returns on the rebooted Trek franchise, that has nothing to do with the CBS lawsuit or with the CBS decision on the streaming service. Star Trek has always had a rather finite audience and I believe the current franchise has already topped out domestically. Internationally there may still be room for growth though but so far “Beyond” is trailing what “Into Darkness” made overseas.

  8. adam says:

    It’s too bad “Beyond” didn’t have Alice Eve in her underwear. That would have improved the box office numbers.

  9. Richard says:

    Having been a big fan of the original TV Trek but by no means a Trekie I have enjoyed this reboot thoroughly. Yes they are as SWTFA was beholden to story blueprints from the originals but filtered with some twists and for those of us not steeped and breathing lore from them, well they are terrific, well made, big screen entertainment.

  10. adam says:

    This is a simple case of the rebooted Star Trek franchise “topping out” its audience. There is only so much demand for Star Trek regardless of how you dress it up. The budget also needs to be brought under control. 150 mil should be the max.

  11. tony says:

    benedict cumberbatch helped sell ‘into darkness’ worldwide because of the ‘sherlock’ brand.

    will mr elba’s cache as ‘luther’ help beyond overseas?

  12. Trekfanatic says:

    What this article doesn’t take into account is when the different films were released. The previous 2 films were released the first week of May when school is still in session, weather is still chilly, and before outdoor festivals and summer vacations etc start. This week is the biggest tourism week here in Orlando for vacationers during the summer. According to Box Office MOJO this movie ranked 26th for gross sales for all July weekend releases. July is a crappy month to release a movie.

  13. Cynthia Foxe says:

    replace the entire cast
    yesterday!

  14. A says:

    “Franchise’s newly globalized appeal.” Translation: Prepare to kiss something else goodbye north America because every movie coming out of Hollywood will be brain dead shit full of fight scenes and explosions so central China will understand it. I literally wait years already between Hollywood movies that interest me. Might as well take movies and music away, I’ve already lost my job to globalization.

  15. DougW says:

    Whether it wants to or not, Hollywood is going to have to make more movies that are originals. “Deadpool” is one of the biggest movies of the year, and it looks like “Suicide Squad” is going to do very well, too. As for sequels, it might help to put more time between films, which works for the Bond franchise.

  16. loco73 says:

    “Star Trek Faster And Furiouser” at the hands of uberhack Justin Lin? No thank you…

  17. James Jones says:

    This new incarnation has all the right pieces in place to kick this franchise up into high gear but the consistently poor scriptwriting, terrible villains and industrial-modern art direction leave general audiences cold. Craft a script that has genuine stakes for the characters, soften the art direction so that it looks more human, and introduce a new threat worthy of our heroes and people will flock to the theaters.

    • Mike says:

      The actors don’t even own the roles they play. They are doing SNL carticure of performances of the original cast. Paramount continues to force “corporate thinking and cynicism” into the writing of the screenplays: more boobs, more explosions, more gravity defying motorcycling jumping, and rap music, instead of genuine stakes and intelligent thought provoking themes. They seem to think Star Trek is Star Wars or in case of this latest film, Star Trek: So Fast, So Furious, So Pointless. If you take an existence film property and try to force it to be something it’s not, eventually you will get diminishing returns. Simon Pegg said the last script was cancelled because it was “too Star Trek” and the execs wanted a more mainstream film that could make over a billion dollars. No Star Trek film will ever make that kind of money. Lower the budget by half and concentrate on making a decent film instead of a massive four quadrant hit.

      • James Jones says:

        I have no problem with the actors or their interpretations of these iconic characters. Each actor brings his or her unique approach to every role. The first actor to play Hamlet after Richard Burbage probably heard similar complaints as those you’ve leveled here. I’m sorry but Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley no longer portray Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Times change and great character portrayals change with them. If you’re unhappy with the current round, wait a decade or two and they’ll be new actors in the roles.

  18. millerfilm says:

    I was really hoping that the critics were right and that this would bring some “Trek” back to “Star Trek.” There were a few moments like that. But, the movie is just a muddled mess. A villain that makes next to no sense, and a movie that’s basically a two-hour string of random action sequences. Saying that I am disappointed is putting it mildly.

    • ” Simon Pegg said the last script was cancelled because it was “too Star Trek” and the execs wanted a more mainstream film that could make over a billion dollars. No Star Trek film will ever make that kind of money. Lower the budget by half and concentrate on making a decent film instead of a massive four quadrant hit.”

      Exactly! ‘Star Trek’ has not been around so long because it appealed to the lowest common denominator of the 7 billion humans on this planet. Lower the budget, make thoughtful films with fewer expensive action sequences, expect less short term financial gain and it will go on for 50 more years.

  19. Rudy Mario says:

    Global appeal. Hardly.
    At best west EUROPEAN countries, but that too is weak. The problem is that all the CG in all films be it Inpendence Day or whatever, all look the same…

  20. justaned says:

    I wonder how many fans stayed away because of the Axanar lawsuit; and the fan film guidelines put out about a week ago? it’s part of why I won’t go. That, and the fact the first was, to me, just so-so, and the second was a blatant rip-off of “The Wrath of Khan”.

  21. Yet the new Ghostbusters movie wasn’t shown in China yet will probably see a sequel.

  22. annie burdeos says:

    Why isn’t Variety affording Star Trek Beyond the same wait and see attitude it applied last week to the female reboot of Ghostbusters? With Ghostbusters comedic appeal limited overseas and without China to boast its box office, it will struggle to recoup its cost and earn a profit. While Beyond doesn’t quite match the Wrath of Khan, it fulfilled its intent with Elba making a rather sympathetic villain.

    • nobody important says:

      The article literally mentioned that Ghostbusters is in the air. I swear, people want Ghostbusters to fail, because then they can feel comfortable hating it again.

      • ed says:

        Ghostbusters failed. And their startegy of alienating their own audience was to blame. Star Trek Beyond causes none of that hate that GB had around it and was a fun movie to boot, so hopefully China Box Office will give it the boost it needs.

      • The thing is though it did fail

  23. Moose says:

    Worst one ever. Terrible.

  24. This film was particularly enjoyable with the added characters and it’s humorous moments. But the fact remains that to keep this series alive we as audience should go out and watch it on the big screen. It truly deserves a big screen viewing of course with it’s top notch visual effects. When pathetic films are getting sequels after sequels I don’t understand why making a great sequel should be justified. I think it’s more about reaching out to more audiences in more countries with each film than before. This film and the cast of this series deserve more movies for their fantastic onscreen chemistry and the way they fit the part so well. If Paramount stops making these films they’ll create another vacuum like the FireFly series and the fans like me will look back and say: They done f@#$ed it up.

    I think in terms of quality of films in the franchise this trilogy is way up on my list. Three consecutively good Star Trek films is a good thing. This film deserves more audience.

  25. This movie didn’t do as well because the last one was such a storyline flop. This is the 21st Century. Sure, these characters will always ‘resonate’ with us – but, when you screw things up to the point that most people are wincing throughout the movie; they are less likely to fork out the bucks for another big screen flop. This is because we like to watch our favorite characters doing cool, well-imagined stuff, not just thrown into a bunch of special affects and call it good. True ST fans have higher standards – the creators of just about every single ST reboot always take us for a bunch of ‘oooo, shiney!’ sci-fi dorks. Anybody can put on great special effects – but, Star Trek became famous because it had really good storylines. They need to figure out how to do both things at once if they want a real success.

    • Jonathan says:

      Except the last movie was hugely and universally acclaimed by moviegoers and critics. Only the Trek nuts didn’t like it. As a Star Wars fan, it was the best Trek movie ever and one of the few that didn’t suck. I’m sorry the 5,000 Trek fans didn’t like it but that’s exactly the problem – not enough fans to make any difference. A weak franchise if there ever was one. And the new entry looks awful which is why financial success doesn’t await lol.

    • Bill says:

      There was nothing wrong with the last one; it was a great twist on the story we know, had a good plot line and was exciting to everyone but core Trekkers ticked off at the changes in timeline.

  26. EricJ says:

    Wait, sequels now have to be “justified”? Like you need the audience’s “permission” to make one, and like Sony’s “Ghostbusters haters”, we’re being Mean to you if we DON’T let you make one?

    Here’s an idea, which would have saved us all a lot of trouble in 2016:
    How about only making one movie at a time, and just seeing how it goes from there?

    • The Devil Made Me Say It says:

      I’d settle for if they just started to actively try to make the best movie that they possibly can, each time at bat, rather than trying to pander to the dumbest guy in any given audience, while believing that making a film that is merely ‘okay’ is somehow good enough and represents a job well done. Stop second guessing audience expectations, don’t pre-plan for sequels, or an entire ‘connected cinematic universe’, before doing the job and completing the film they are currently working on. Stop giving us safe, engineered product, take a few risks, make sure the script is fully polished and worth shooting before you shoot it, and just give us better films. Regardless of genre, or budget.

    • T0rchwood says:

      Agreed. They had already approved a sequel to Fantastic Flop before the reboot opened and landed right where it belonged. But having seen this flick, I can see why the fourth film was greenlit. While not great to this lifelong trekker, it has it’s moments that will bring some fans close to tears, mostly it’s tributes to NImoy.

    • Timothy Paul says:

      So long term planning is always bad?

      • EricJ says:

        Yes. Because Anything Can Happen, and then stubborn studios try to pretend it didn’t.
        (See related article on Warner’s Justice League movie.)

      • T0rchwood says:

        The studios already know when a movie will suck. If they don’t offer it for review before opening, they know there won’t be a (another) sequel.

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