‘Star Trek’ likely to beam up audiences

Paramount pic opens in U.S., overseas Thursday

Foreign box office for “Star Trek,” which Paramount begins beaming into theaters around the world Thursday, will be every bit as important as the domestic performance.

In the U.S., “Star Trek” rolls out Thursday at 7 p.m. in 3,800 theaters. It’s opening day and date be in virtually every major territory, save for Japan and Mexico.

Par has come under intense scrutiny for trying to relaunch the classic sci-fi franchise, which has spawned 10 films, the last of which — “Star Trek: Nemesis” — was released in 2002.

It’s a formidable challenge. Younger moviegoers in the U.S. aren’t generally familiar with the franchise, while foreign audiences have never been big fans of “Star Trek” films.

In addition to a huge domestic push, Paramount has launched perhaps the biggest international publicity campaign in its history for “Star Trek,” directed by J.J. Abrams and toplining Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Script was penned by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Par has held premieres for “Star Trek” in Australia, London, Germany and the U.S. There was to have been a premiere in Mexico this week, but it was called off because of the flu outbreak. Next week, there will be a premiere in Japan.

There also have been a number of junkets and pre-release screening, including Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Holland and Madrid. Also, Abrams traveled to Kuwait to host a screening for U.S. troops.

Cast members, or some combination thereof, have attended the premieres and many of the junkets.

“The publicity campaign is the most sustained and the most in-depth that I can ever remember,” Paramount prexy of international distribution Andrew Cripps said. “We’ve had incredibly supportive filmmakers who understand that they need to get the word out,” Cripps said.

The international campaign stretches back to February, when Abrams went overseas with 20 minutes of footage. His itinerary included Germany, Korea, Japan, London and France.

It’s nearly impossible to pin down exactly why “Star Trek” never caught on overseas the way other American properties have. Some say it’s because the “Star Trek” television series was never widely syndicated, except for in the U.K. and Australia, where the franchise has seen solid business, along with Germany.

Studios rely heavily on foreign grosses when it comes to their franchises. It’s not uncommon for the international box office to match, or exceed, domestic returns.

A successful reboot of the “Star Trek” will require at least a solid showing on the international side — at least $100 million. In other words, the days are gone when studios could rely solely on domestic properties.

The last four “Star Trek” films, based on the spinoff TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” saw better international grosses than the first six films, but those revenues still fell far short of domestic receipts. In other words, the days are gone when studios could rely solely on domestic properties.

“Star Trek Nemesis,” the last pic, grossed $43.3 million domestically and $24.1 million overseas (film’s overall poor showing led the shelving of the franchise). “Star Trek: Insurrection,” the film before that, grossed $70.2 million domestically, and $47.6 overseas.

The original six films had a far more difficult time. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” grossed $109.7 million domestically– the best gross in North America of any of the 10 films. “Voyage’s” international cume was $23.3 million.

In terms of “Star Trek’s” opening weekend gross, Par insiders are predicting $50 million to $60 million domestically. Rivals agree. Tracking shows younger demos less interested than adults, although the numbers are picking up for the under 18 crowd.

Advance ticket sales for domestic runs surged Tuesday, with 87 Imax shows alone selling out. Like several other recent films, “Star Trek” could outperform tracking.

Par’s task has been to convince a younger generation that this isn’t the “Star Trek” of old, but a new, pumped-up version with a young cast and state-of-the-art special effects.

With 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” opening last weekend to $85 million domestically and $73 million internationally, Par could find itself under pressure to match those numbers. But the studio said they are entirely different properties, and that “Wolverine” had the advantage of being part of a modern-day hit franchise.

“Star Trek” and “Wolverine” cost around $130 million to produce. Spyglass co-financed “Star Trek.”

Restarting a franchise is tricky. Successful reboots include Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” which was followed by worldwide blockbuster “The Dark Knight” and the “Bourne” series.

Paramount has a good track record in terms of it worldwide marketing campaigns. Two summer ago, “Transformers” earned north of $319.2 million domestically and $389 million domestically.