This week marks a month since Star Trek: Beyond’s release on July 22nd. While the film has been praised by general audiences, fans, and critics alike, it has failed to replicate the box office success of the previous two films of the Kelvin Timeline, only earning $146.8 million domestically and $84.2 million internationally for a total gross of $231 million. This article seeks to examine why the film, seemingly so enjoyed by millions, did not do better at the box office.
Beyond has been out for 31 days as of Sunday, August 21st. While fans have informally rated the film higher than Star Trek Into Darkness, Beyond’s box office haul is nowhere near its predecessor. We believe that the following factors have influenced Beyond’s performance at the box office: poor audience word-of-mouth, inflated expectations, subpar marketing, and difficult competition.
A Positive Reception
As fans and general audiences reacted positively to the film, many expected Beyond to generate a significant word-of-mouth factor that would have seen the film continue to do well at the box office in the weeks following its initial release. This did not happen.
We will examine how studios determine a film’s audience appeal later in this article, but let us first focus on critical and audience reviews. Beyond was mostly praised by the Star Trek fanbase, as a return-to-form for the franchise. However, based on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, Beyond was not reviewed as well as its two Kelvin Timeline predecessors.
Over at Rotten Tomatoes, Beyond has been certified fresh and has received positive reviews from 83% of critics. Audience reviews have been on par with the critical response, with 83% of moviegoers reporting to Rotten Tomatoes that they liked the film. Beyond received an average score of four out of five from respondents. At Metacritic, the film received a metascore of 68. Out of 516 audience respondents, the average score out of ten was 6.8.
By way of comparison, Star Trek (2009) is certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes with 95% of critics giving it positive marks while 91% of moviegoers said they liked the film. At Metacritic, Star Trek has a metascore of 82 and a user score of 8.0.
Into Darkness is certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes with 86% of critics giving it positive reviews, and 90% of viewers responding that they liked it. At Metacritic, it has a metascore of 72 with an average rating of 7.8 from nearly 1,500 viewers.
Domestic Box Office
(For the purpose of this article, all of our data has been taken from Box Office Mojo, and some figures have been calculated based on their data.)
Domestically, Beyond has earned $146.8 million after 31 days. Comparatively, Into Darkness grossed $211 million and Star Trek $222.7 million after the same amount of time in release. Beyond has earned 31% less than Into Darkness and 34.1% less than Star Trek.
While this is not the final number for the film’s domestic gross, Beyond has been removed from 50% of screens it debuted on. Beyond debuted on 3,928 screens across the United States and remained on that many until August 5th, when it slowly began to be removed from cinemas. As of August 21st, Beyond is only on 1,966 screens across the country. Additionally, when Suicide Squad was released on August 5th, Beyond was removed from most of the IMAX 3D screens. The loss of the IMAX 3D higher ticket price factored into lower box office revenues.
We can only use the examples of the previous two Kelvin Timeline films to forecast the longevity of Beyond’s stay at the box office. Star Trek closed 17 weeks after its theatrical debut, and Into Darkness closed after 21 weeks. Operating on the assumption that Beyond will close sometime between those two timeframes, it will leave theatres between November 6th and December 11th.
After their first 31 days in theatres, Star Trek only earned roughly an additional $26.9 million, while Into Darkness earned $39.4 million. Based on these numbers, we can speculate that Beyond will earn an additional 12% to 18.6% of what it has made to date domestically. If we simply average those numbers, we can project Beyond to make an additional 15.3% (roughly $22.2 million) of what it has made to date for a final domestic box office haul of around $169 million.
This projection would solidify Beyond as the lowest grossing Kelvin Timeline film of the three, as well as the first that has failed to break $200 million domestically. Significantly, it could also fall short of achieving what its predecessors did in earning back its $185 million budget in the United States alone.
International Box Office
Historically, a film’s international box office take is difficult to keep track of on a weekly basis or project, as sites such as Box Office Mojo fail to receive weekly earnings from every foreign market where a film is released. Complicating matters further is the fact that Beyond has yet to be released in 13 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Israel, Japan, Portugal, Turkey, and the lucrative behemoth of China).
Unlike domestic numbers, it is difficult to use Star Trek and Into Darkness as bellwethers of Beyond’s projected international performance as there is quite a disparity between how the two films fared in the foreign box office. For instance, only 33.2% of Star Trek’s gross came internationally, while Into Darkness did much better and earned a whopping 51.1% of its total gross overseas.
Currently, Beyond has earned $84.2 million internationally, 36.4% of its total gross. We can expect that number to rise as the film has only recently been released in markets such as South Korea, France, and Spain. Additionally, audiences in most of Latin America and China have yet to see it. Most of the countries listed above failed to return more than $1 million during Into Darkness’s impressive international run, except for Brazil which brought in $5.2 million. China proved to be the international juggernaut for Into Darkness, grossing roughly $57 million. South Korea and Japan, where Beyond was just released and is pending release, respectively, generated roughly $22.2 for Into Darkness.
If Beyond is able to replicate Into Darkness’s success in East Asia, it would add roughly $80 million to its worldwide gross. If Beyond’s international numbers are similar to Into Darkness, we can estimate it will earn a total of roughly $163 million overseas, or 49% of the film’s worldwide gross. Into Darkness’s foreign gross made up 51.1% of the film’s worldwide haul, while Star Trek only took in 33.2% of its earnings overseas.
This would give Beyond a final worldwide gross of roughly $332 million. In this best-case scenario, Beyond would fall short of Star Trek’s $385.6 million gross and well short of Into Darkness’s $467.3 million take.
The Word (Isn’t) Given
Edward Jay Epsen, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, states that studios look at three factors to determine the audience appeal of a film, which can indicate how word-of-mouth affects a film’s earnings: the per-screen average, the drop-off from Friday to Sunday, and the percentage drop from the first week to the second. Let’s examine each of those metrics closely:
Per-screen Average: Beyond opened on July 22nd on 3,928 screens across the country, generating $5,666 per screen. That number did nothing but decline. By July 24th, Beyond, on average, was making $4,159 per screen, a drop-off of 26.6%. At the end of its second weekend in release, the film was only generating, on average, $2,072 per screen, a drop-off of 63.4%. The per-screen average only worsened during August, with Beyond being reduced to only 1,966 screens and a per-screen average of only $585.
Friday-to-Sunday Drop-off: As stated above, Beyond‘s average per-screen revenue dropped off 26.6% from July 22nd through July 24th.
First-to-Second Week Drop-off: As we have previously reported, Beyond saw a drop-off of 58.2% from an opening weekend of $59.2 million to a second weekend take of $24.7 million.
We can conclude that, based on these three factors, Beyond did not enjoy strong word-of-mouth, despite positive reviews and a glowing reception from fans. It is our assessment that positive word-of-mouth failed to materialize within the general audience, many of whom may have turned up for Star Trek and Into Darkness, but not Beyond.
Bigger Budgets, Bigger Expectations
The budget for Hollywood summer tentpole films, of which Paramount considers Star Trek to be one, has significantly inflated in the 21st century. All three Kelvin Timeline films were released in the prime summer release season of May-August, and they carried budgets of $150 million, $190 million, and $185 million, respectively.
Let us start by comparing Beyond’s $185 million budget to this summer’s other tentpoles: Independence Day: Resurgence ($165 million), The Legend of Tarzan ($180 million) Ghostbusters ($144 million), Jason Bourne ($120 million), and Suicide Squad ($175 million). By comparison, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy had an overall budget of roughly $281 million, averaging $93.6 million per film.
Absent from these budget figures are how much studios pay for advertising, distribution, and interest fees paid to any partners who helped finance the film. As you noticed from the film’s opening, Beyond was financed by four main studios: Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions, Alibaba Pictures Group, and Huahua Film & Media Culture. Three other production companies (Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark, and Perfect Storm Entertainment) were also involved.
The metric for a film’s profitability lies in Paramount’s balance sheet for Beyond. From a journalistic perspective, it is incredibly difficult to know how much funding Paramount put forth themselves, nor how much they received from their three partners. We also do not know the exact number Beyond has to surpass in order to be viewed as a profitable success. Simply earning back a $180 million does not mean that every cent past that is profit.
To illustrate this point, let us examine Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which grossed $939.8 million dollars worldwide. Despite Harry Potter being one of the most profitable films of the 21st century, Slashfilm reported that a leaked balance sheet from Warner Bros. saw the studio actually come away with a $167.2 million loss. The film’s distribution, advertising, print costs, and payments to Warner’s partners in funding the production added up to roughly $350 million on top of its $150 million budget.
Further complicating matters, The Atlantic reported that studios typically set up a separate “corporation” for each film they produce. Like any company, it calculates profits by subtracting expenses from revenues. For accounting purposes, the movie is a money “loser” if there are no profits to distribute. This is why, to this day, a small $37 million production called Return of the Jedi, which grossed $475 million, has technically not made a profit because of how George Lucas funded the film.
It is unknown how much Beyond ultimately cost Paramount, but the sooner Beyond debuts on television and is released on home video, the better. As Slate reported, television distribution rights are often always more lucrative than box office revenue because it only costs the studio residual payments. Both Star Trek and Into Darkness were first acquired by Epix, a premium channel, for an unspecified sum to show the films months after their release. Shortly after Star Trek’s release in 2009, FX and Paramount agreed to a four-year deal worth $24 million for the exclusive rights to broadcast the film beginning in 2011. FX also acquired the rights to exclusively air Into Darkness for an unspecified sum, first airing the sequel in 2015.
Home video sales, while not as profitable as television rights, are valuable as roughly two-thirds of home video earnings are gross profits after production costs are subtracted.
Beyond can still be profitable for Paramount, but there should be no expectation that Star Trek can be a summer box office tentpole, drawing in box office revenue similar to what Marvel films rake in.
Marketing Blitz Thin and Late
Quite simply, Paramount’s marketing campaign for Beyond was meager and dilatory, especially compared to its predecessors.
Beyond’s much-maligned first trailer, which was released in December 2015, came out 221 days before the film’s release date. As we previously reported in a comparison of the marketing timelines of Beyond and Into Darkness, promotion for the film slowly resumed in March 2016 with the release of two major interviews, 10 photos, and two behind-the-scenes videos.
Marketing for Beyond ramped up in late April and throughout May as Paramount released a slew of photos from the film, magazines printed features and interviews, and official signage appeared at the Cannes International Film Festival. Promotion for the film switched into high gear after the debut of the film’s first full trailer on the Paramount lot on May 20th.
Shortly thereafter, posters began to appear in theatres and from late June until July 22nd, Paramount released a series of television spots with new footage. Featurettes and interviews appeared in the July editions of various magazines, and a final trailer was released only three days before the film’s release.
The lull between the first trailer and the second left this website disappointed with the efforts Paramount had exerted in promoting Beyond. We believe the general audience was not aware that a new Star Trek film was coming out in 2016. In contrast, when Paramount was building up anticipation for Star Trek and Into Darkness, they went where no Star Trek film had gone before: the Super Bowl. Advertising during the NFL’s championship game is so expensive because of the sheer number of viewers who tune in, many of whom we would consider to be the general audience who could be intrigued by a Star Trek movie.
For Super Bowl 50, taking place in the franchise’s 50th anniversary year and five months before Beyond’s release, an advertisement for the movie was conspicuously absent. Some may argue that Star Trek and Into Darkness were featured during the Super Bowl because their release was a short three months away. However, Super Bowl 50 featured ads for Independence Day: Resurgence and Jason Bourne, films that were released in late June and late July, respectively. While it is impossible to quantify how this affected the general audience’s interest in Beyond, such a prominent and widely-seen advertisement could only have helped the film at the box office.
Steamrolled by the Competition
Summer 2016 was a relatively weak season at the box office due to the lack of major tentpole films. Major comic book movies, such as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men: Apocalypse were released between March and May. While all three enjoyed long runs in theatres, none threatened Beyond at the time of its release. Other blockbusters released weeks before Beyond, such as Independence Day: Resurgence and Ghostbusters, disappointed at the box office. As a result, many felt that Hollywood was experiencing the weakest summer at the box office in years.
Beyond changed that with its $59.2 million opening weekend. However, the film only had a week without major competition to claim the number one spot at the box office before Jason Bourne was released and subsequently dethroned it. While occupying different genres, Beyond and Bourne were marketed as action films to the general audience. When Jason Bourne was release on July 29th, Beyond’s box office numbers plummeted 50.2% over the course of the weekend.
Beyond had little time to recover, as the first weekend in August saw the release of the highly-anticipated Suicide Squad. Beyond’s revenue dropped 61.6% from the $24.7 million it earned during its second week in release, grossing only $10 million. The decline continued as Suicide Squad, although panned by critics and audiences, has occupied the number one spot for all four weekends it has been in release.
In our opinion, Paramount needs to realize that Star Trek is not a summer tentpole franchise that can go toe-to-toe with comic book films and action franchises. The franchise would be better off releasing films later in the year when there is less competition.
There Is Hope
Numerous entertainment and media commentators have suggested that, although there are only three films in the Kelvin Timeline, Star Trek is suffering from “franchise fatigue.” However, reports of Star Trek’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
While Beyond disappointed at the box office, it did not bomb. Paramount can possibly make up for any projected revenue that it failed to make through television distribution rights and home video sales. Star Trek 4 is certain to move forward, but may be given a significantly lower budget. As we have pointed out in numerous articles, Star Trek tends to do best with limited means.
We believe that Star Trek is entering another golden age. Despite Beyond’s allegedly disappointing box office numbers, it was a brilliant film. Paramount and partners Skydance and Bad Robot are moving ahead with a fourth film, and Star Trek is only five months away from returning to television after 11 years, with Star Trek: Discovery about to enter production.
Star Trek lives.