By Mack Chico
Resistance proved futile: “Star Trek,” the Paramount Pictures prequel, sold an estimated $76.5 million in tickets at North American theaters in its first three and a half days of release, the top draw of the weekend.
The opening was propelled by a megawatt marketing campaign and unexpectedly strong critical notices. Going into the weekend, though, Paramount was a bit nervous about how the film, which cost $140 million, would perform.
Would the average moviegoer dismiss it as a geek flick? What about older women, an audience that has been tough for science fiction films to crack but is needed for a movie to reach blockbuster status? Historically “Star Trek” movies have performed poorly overseas. Would Paramount’s harder-than-usual sell in Europe pay off?
Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman, sounded giddy in an interview on Sunday morning. “A giant new audience came along for this ride,” he said. “It’s a great relaunch to this classic property.”
The studio, Mr. Moore said, thinks “Star Trek,” directed by J. J. Abrams and starring the newcomer Chris Pine as a young James T. Kirk, has “a real shot” to make more than $200 million domestically, a big number for a film with this size of opening weekend. Overseas, where sales information is slower to trickle in, Mr. Moore said “Star Trek” could sell more than $100 million in tickets, more than double the previous showing for the franchise.
Paramount executives said they had hoped the movie would perform like “Batman Begins,” the 2005 series reboot that opened to about $49 million in ticket sales. Helping “Star Trek” was the decision to start showing the movie in limited release on Thursday evening, a move meant to spur water-cooler talk in the office on Friday and give some padding to the weekend total.
Imax also helped boost results, selling an estimated $8.2 million of “Star Trek” tickets over the weekend, an Imax record. “We’ve never even been close to this kind of turnout before,” said Greg Foster, chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment.
In general the box office continues to sizzle. So far this year North American moviegoers have bought $3.44 billion in tickets, a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2008, according to Hollywood.com. Attendance is up 13 percent.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (20th Century Fox),which had the year’s biggest opening last weekend, taking in more than $85 million, was No. 2 this weekend, with an estimated $27 million for a cumulative total of $129.6 million (including weekday sales). “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” (Warner Brothers) earned an estimated $10.5 million for third place (and a new total of $30.2 million).
Rounding out the Top 5 were “Obsessed,” a low-budget thriller from Screen Gems, with $6.6 million ($56.2 million), and the Warner Brothers comedy “17 Again,” with $4.4 million ($54 million).