Star Trek Scores $72.5M Opening Wknd

Update (5/9): “Trek” took in an additional $26M on Saturday for a $72.5 million estimated Friday-Sunday weekend total – making it the second biggest film opening (behind only last week’s “Wolverine”) since “The Dark Knight” last July.

“Wolverine” also got a boost with $11.6M on Saturday for a $27M second weekend tally. Impressive, but still a rather steep second weekend drop of 68.3%. Summit’s little publicized “Next Day Air” did $4 million. Paramount also chopped $3 million off their initial ‘Trek’ Thursday night preview estimates of $7 million meaning Trek’s actual estimates are at $76.5M for Thursday night – Sunday. The figures below have been corrected.

Original (5/8): The critics swooned, the buzz built, and the Paramount marketing people worked their tails off to make sure the just released reboot of the “Star Trek” film franchise would get to shine – and it sure has.

“Star Trek” took in an estimated $4 million from Thursday night previews and $24 million from its first full day of business on Friday leading to a $28 million opening day tally. With word-of-mouth high, “Star Trek” looks set for an opening weekend somewhere in the $70 million range. That number is astonishing considering the previous best opening weekend of the film series was 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact” with $30.7 million.

‘Trek’ had huge hurdles to climb, after all there’s always been a huge nerd/geek stigma associated with this particular sci-fi franchise, far more than the fantasy-based likes of “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter”. Teens have little knowledge of the franchise in any form, women in general have very little interest in it – even those into the likes ‘Star Wars’, and outside the US the films and series are barely known aside from a handful of Western countries like Australia & the UK where that stigma of being a ‘Trekker’ is akin to leprosy.

Even the existing fanbase has been whittled down over the years by the increasingly tedious spin-off series like the often painful “Voyager” and “Enterprise”. Finally, only three or four of the previous ten films were considered good – the last two in particular generally seen as amongst the worst. That last film, 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis”, limped off the big screen with a mere $43.3 million total gross, leaving many to conclude that the franchise was dead and buried.

Cut to 2009 and the Abrams reboot. The model to follow here is 2005’s “Batman Begins” to which this ‘Trek’ bears some striking similarities. There was a film that came off two odious sequels in a film franchise never taken seriously beyond its fanboy base, and the franchise itself had seemingly died eight years beforehand with only one really solid film to its name (“Batman Returns”).

Put into the hands of an upcoming acclaimed director named Christopher Nolan, ‘Begins’ scored superb reviews with only minor quibbles about script issues and the inherent problems of ‘origin’ tales. The film had a solid but mid-range opening weekend of $48.7 million, but great word of mouth spread quickly leading to repeat business that nearly quadrupled its take to finish with $205 million.

To give you an idea of that kind of business, most comic book films only do around double their opening weekend tallies. Internationally it did $160 million or so, a solid amount but not earth-shattering by any means. In the ensuing three years though, a lot of people discovered ‘Begins’ on cable and DVD. The franchise brand gradually rebuilt its reputation, and the studio followed it up with a sequel that got even better reviews. By the time “The Dark Knight” opened, it nearly tripled its predecessor’s opening weekend.

It’ll be unlikely that a sequel to the new “Star Trek” would triple this one’s opening but certainly this is a film that will follow a similar path – a very good performer with long legs throughout the summer but certainly not ground-breaking grosses, superb critical reviews with a few caveats about script issues, a lot of people ‘discovering it’ after its theatrical run, and the reputation of the franchise being gradually restored so that if the filmmakers come up with a sequel that gets as good or better reviews, it’s certain to open and finish with notably bigger grosses than this will.

Just as important are the overseas numbers. Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that the film’s debut in the UK, Australia, and Germany made almost the same as Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in those territories last weekend. The franchise has never done $100M international before and this one looks set to beat that, but don’t expect too much beyond that as the ‘reboot’ angle of this film hasn’t been as effectively advertised in overseas market.

Forget the cash though, how good is it quality wise? The film has easily topped both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic as the best wide release of 2009 so far.

On RT it scored a 96% approval rating and a far more telling 8.1/10 average score. Only three limited releases (Damned United, Anvil!, In the Loop) scored higher T-meter rankings this year, more importantly though no single film this year has achieved higher than a 7.9/10 average score until ‘Trek’. Other films to score an 8.1/10 in recent years have all been Oscar nominees or winners such as “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Good Night and Good Luck”.

On MC it scored an 84/100 rank, easily the best wide release score above nearest rivals “Coraline” with 80, “Adventureland” with 76, “Gran Torino” with 72 and “I Love You, Man” with 70. Only four limited releases – “Tulpan,” “Goodbye Solo,” “Gomorrah” and “Forbidden Lie$” sit higher at present. Compared with other films on MC, the new “Star Trek” had a score equal to the likes of “Children of Men,” “Milk,” “Mystic River,” “Volver” and “The Insider”.

With a comparatively bigger fanbase appeal of comic lovers and women of all ages, last week’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” understandably had a bigger opening than ‘Trek’ will. Bad word-of-mouth however is sinking that puppy fast. The “X-Men” spin-off pulled in $8.2 million on its second Friday, however it should end the weekend above the $200M global tally mark. The other opener of last week, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, looks set to fall a modest 30-35% to around a $10 million weekend total – helped along by being a good Mother’s Day film option.