As readers of this site know, Star Trek Into Darkness opened domestically and internationally late Spring and has earned over $443 million dollars. This is a success for Paramount, albeit a modest one. It’s not a flop, by any measure… but it’s not a home run, either. It’s a solid double or triple, but Paramount (like all studios do with summer blockbusters) was swinging for the fences. So, what’s next? Well, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, there are some “known knowns” and “known unknowns.” Let’s cover what we know, and spend some time theorizing what comes next.
“Modest?” You may be thinking, “How is $443 million a ‘modest’ success?”
It’s a modest success for several reasons. First, it cost almost $190 million to make, and Paramount spent a considerable amount of money on advertising above and beyond the production cost (at least $50 million, by one estimate). Second, not all of that $443 million goes to Paramount – a significant percentage goes to the theaters that show the film (1/3rd to 1/2, depending on what is negotiated and how long the film runs). Finally, while it exceeded the International ticket sales of the first film, it did not have the 2X multiplier against domestic box office that other summer films (like Iron Man 3 or Fast and Furious 6) achieved.
Add to that the demographics of the people who paid to see Star Trek Into Darkness (only 25% were under 25, much less than the 35% that the first film attracted according to The Wrap), and you can definitely see that things were not as hoped.
The 50th Anniversary
2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek, and releasing a new Star Trek film that year is a no-brainer – Like Skyfall showed last year, there’s a lot of benefit that can be gained from releasing a film that ties into an anniversary year. Will it happen? Paramount has not yet officially stated that there will be a third Star Trek film, which is surprising – they announced a sequel to Star Trek shortly after that film opened. However, co-writer Damon Lindelof has stated in interviews the film is going ahead. Paramount is rumored to be looking for a new director to replace JJ Abrams (who is committed to directing the next Star Wars film). Names of directors that are purportedly being have been Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Matt Reaves (Cloverfield). Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men). Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9, was also a rumored name on Paramount’s short list, but he recently stated in an interview he is not interested in directing Star Trek or any other franchise film.
They [Paramount] are firm about having a movie out by the 50th anniversary [in 2016] and we are all trying to see if we can all make it work together. — Orci and Kurtzman in an interview with TrekMovie.com
TrekMovie spoke with Trek writers Orci and Kurtzman who’d like to see a 2016/50th anniversary film happen
At this point, it looks like Bad Robot will continue to be involved in any potential sequel to Into Darkness, and the writers of the film have discussed wanting to bring Klingons back as the main villains of any third film. Since Bad Robot is JJ Abram’s production company, he will presumably have some input into the story and creative decisions even with his commitment to Star Wars Episode VII.
Above and beyond that, the ongoing Star Trek comic book (supervised by Trek movie writer Bob Orci) will continue to tell new stories set after Into Darkness and adapt classic TOS episodes. As the comic laid hints as to what would happen Into Darkness, it may be worth keeping an eye on for “clues” as to what will take place in the third film.
A lower-budget sequel?
How will Paramount respond to the modest success of Star Trek Into Darkness? Possibly by reducing the budget of the third film. This could be a good thing, in that a reduced budget could increase focus on telling a tight story and on character moments. A Star Trek sequel with a reduced budget wouldn’t be anything new – Paramount cut the budget for the first Trek sequel, and in return we got The Wrath of Khan. Less money doesn’t mean reduced quality – sometimes budgetary constraints can produce creative solutions and better ideas.
A return to television?
Star Trek started on television, and many fans think that Star Trek is better suited to episodic TV than to films (former Star Trek writer and show runner Ronald D. Moore has also said as much in interviews). Writer/producer Bryan Fuller, who is currently working on the series Hannibal, has repeatedly said he would love to helm a new Star Trek series.
Will it happen? Maybe, but don’t count on it.
Thanks to a large splitting up of Viacom properties in 2005, two different companies effectively own the Star Trek franchise: CBS Studios now owns Star Trek as a television property and Paramount Pictures owns the film properties. While they have a relationship where the “Star Trek” name and characters are cross licensed to one another, there are two different managements that exist and these managements would have to work together to make a new Star Trek series. This won’t be easy, because corporations are… interesting places (think Dilbert). Doing Star Trek on TV again would require a significant investment in sets and special effects before a single episode is filmed, and it would take a big commitment for any network or cable channel to green-light such a production.
An animated series has been rumored for some time, and such a series would cost less than a live-action series… but there are challenges there as well. What is the target audience? Will it be a “dumbed-down” version of Trek for younger viewers? Or will it be a more intelligent series, like the recent Star Wars: Clone Wars show? When would it be set, and would it attempt to bring in recognized voice actors (like Patrick Stewart) to appeal to fans?
A lot of moving parts have to come together to make a successful Star Trek series. Is it worth trying? Absolutely. But, as noted above, there are challenges.
Continued merchandising, video releases and tie-ins
There are multiple companies producing Star Trek merchandise: Diamond Select, Simon and Schuster, Round 2 Models, Her Universe and more. New games, posters, collectibles and clothing items will continue to be made, all intended to separate fans from their hard-earned Latinum… err, dollars. CBS is busy remastering all the Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons, and have recently started releasing Enterprise on Blu-ray. A high definition remastering of Deep Space Nine may also occur, depending on how the Blu-ray sets of ST:TNG and Enterprise sell.
However, things aren’t all rosy when it comes to merchandising. Star Trek the Video Game released to tie-in with the new film flopped, with tepid sales and horrible reviews. Hasbro released Star Trek building sets (through its Kre-O line) to tie-in with the new Star Trek film, though soft sales may halt the creation of additional sets. Finally, the soft economy (along with on-line streaming services) has reduced “catalog” sales on all home video titles, and this has impacted the sales of season and movie sets.
While there’s a lot of fan-centered merchandise on the market for the various franchises, there are also a whole lot of Star Trek fans out there… and many of them will continue to purchase Trek-related products to line their shelves and display cabinets for the foreseeable future.
Ongoing fan productions
While it may be at least three years since we get new Trek on the big screen, there IS new Trek being made. In edition to the Star Trek: Phase II production, Star Trek Continues recently premiered to much praise. While both productions have some shot-comings (due to it’s low budget) both are entertaining original takes on the original series, telling new stories with the involvement of some of the creative team from the original series (such as DC Fontana and David Gerrold). This is in addition to other “one-off” fan efforts and older shows that have ceased production. So check out these interesting takes on the Star Trek universe.
Star Trek lives!
Star Trek is still a viable franchise, with fans around the world excited to share their love of the series with their fellow Trekkers (or Trekkies, depending on your preference). While some fans were frustrated with some of the creative decisions in the latest film, many others enjoyed the film. The reason for such strong reactions, both pro and con, is simple: People LOVE Star Trek, and it holds a special place in people’s hearts. And as long as it provokes such a passionate reaction, Star Trek will never die.
Stay tuned to TrekMovie for the latest news about the potential third film and all things Trek.
Joseph Dickerson will be speaking about this topic and Treknology at the upcoming official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. He writes about technology design and pop culture at http://www.josephdickerson.com