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‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Embarks on Potential $100 Million-Plus Bow

Paramount sequel kickstarts in Imax at 8 p.m., a day before its nationwide release

“Live long and prosper.” Indeed.

Paramount’s highly-anticipated “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the second installment in the revamped franchise from J.J. Abrams, bows Wednesday night exclusively in Imax, kickstarting what should be a $100 million-plus opening gross domestically. In three days, Par expects the film to gross $80 million, though other box office observers say the number could be slightly higher.

“Into Darkness” expands to 33 overseas markets this weekend for a total 40 territories (or 50% of the international market). The film launched last weekend in seven countries, totaling $31.7 million, which is nearly 70% better than its predecessor.

The $190 million sequel, from Skydance Productions and Bad Robot, has been generating stellar buzz driven by early positive reviews. Advanced ticket sales also have been strong, with hundreds of sold-out screenings, according to online ticketing sites Fandango and Movietickets.com.

The first Abrams-helmed “Star Trek” scored a $79.2 million domestic opening in 2009, including $4 million from late-night Thursday screenings.

This time, Par decided to release the film exclusively on 336 Imax screens starting Wednesday at 8 p.m. The studio then moved up the nationwide release a day to capitalize on the buzz generated in Imax. Pic’s domestic spread totals approximately 3,800 locations.

Paramount has a lot riding on the tentpole, expecting it to significantly outperform the original, especially overseas. Its ambitions aren’t unreasonable, however, given how the 3D film played out last weekend: In its three largest-grossing markets alone — Australia, Germany and the U.K. — “Into Darkness” outgrossed the 2009 film by 56% (though that pic was released in 2D only).

The sequel’s opening domestic prospects certainly look stronger than its predecessor’s, though fanboy turnout will dictate just how greatly the film overperforms. Unlike superhero fare, including box office giant “Iron Man 3,” family support for “Star Trek” films tend to be less. The PG-13-rated “Into Darkness” should see galactic-sized teenage turnout, however.

“Into Darkness” has the weekend to itself among wide releases. But holdovers “Iron Man 3” and “The Great Gatsby” have been playing steadily during mid-weeks.

In less than a week, Warner Bros.’ “Great Gatsby” has reached nearly $60 million Stateside, rivaling “Iron Man” for No. 1 rankings on Monday and Tuesday. The 3D adaptation begins rolling out this weekend internationally, bowing in 49 markets including France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and South Korea.

Meanwhile, “Iron Man 3” is expected to cross $1 billion before Friday, having already reached $980 million worldwide. Pic’s cumed $685.6 million internationally, with almost $300 million Stateside.

At the specialty box office, IFC Films bows Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white comedy “Frances Ha” at four locations.

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