Star Trek Beyond Lukewarm at the Box Office

Star Trek Beyond has largely exited theatres domestically and now heads to home video release, first debuting on digital downloads (iTunes/VUDU/etc.) tomorrow (Oct. 4) and on disc in a few more weeks (Nov. 1). In our estimation, the film underperformed at the box office globally to the point where it looks to be unprofitable for Paramount Pictures, at least for now. This article examines the near-final numbers for Beyond, seeks to answer the question why this happened, and analyzes what this could mean for the future of the Kelvin Timeline on the big screen.

The Numbers

(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.)

After over 70-days in theatres, Star Trek Beyond is now being shown on less than 300 screens domestically. While the film is still in theatres internationally and has yet to be released in Japan, we estimate the film’s remaining international business will only add $10-15 million to its overall haul. Star Trek Into Darkness grossed $10.8 million in Japan.

Current Numbers

Domestic Gross: $158,428,433
Foreign Gross: $178,328,110
Total Gross: $336,756,543

Production Budget: $185,000,000
Marketing Budget: $120,000,000

Our Predictions

When we analyzed Beyond’s box office performance after being in release for a month, we predicted a final global gross of $332 million. We predicted a domestic haul of $164 million, which the film fell short of by roughly $6 million dollars. It is doubtful it will make that much money in its remaining stint in theatres.

The overseas market was better than domestic for Star Trek again, as Beyond has made 53% of its money internationally compared to Into Darkness’ 51.1% (although Beyond’s foreign total is tracking to be tens of millions of dollars shy of that of Into Darkness.). In making our predictions for the film’s international gross, we used Into Darkness‘s foreign numbers as a bellwether.

As Japan (debuting October 21st) is expected to add at least $10 million to Beyond’s overall gross (based on Into Darkness’s numbers), the film will likely earn 54.3% of its gross in the international market, roughly 3% more than Into Darkness. While the overseas percentage of overall box office is slightly better, the number is far from it. Into Darkness earned $238,602,808 at the box office internationally, a number we do not estimate Beyond will come near.

We estimate a final box office haul in the $346-360 range.

Is Beyond is in the Red? Most Likely

Calculating whether a studio made a profit off of a film at the box office can be a difficult task for a number of reasons that we will cover, but the simplest indicator is how much money the film took in against its budget.

Beyond had a budget of $185 million, with an additional $120 million spent on marketing the film. That alone would bring the money spent on production and marketing to $305 million. With an estimated final haul of just over $346 million, it would seem that Beyond is $41 million in the black.

However, this is a simple expenses-vs-earnings calculation and, when it comes to large Hollywood productions, there are a number of other factors a studio must take into account, namely interest payments to their partners in making the film, and the actual amount of money the film brings in from each country.

In certain international markets, films only make a fraction of their earnings. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hollywood earnings in China can vary between $0.25 to $0.50 on the dollar. Based on Beyond’s $65.8 million Chinese haul, the amount Paramount takes home may vary from $16.4 to $32.9 million, enough to nearly erase Beyond’s perceived profitability. Many other countries, including Russia, operate the same way to protect their local film industries. The point to take home is that the total international earnings for a film do not represent what Paramount actually receives.

Additionally, When Paramount partners with a company like Skydance Media (formerly Skydance Productions), Paramount is accepting a percentage of the production and marketing budget from a company that exists to finance film and television. Skydance, and similar companies, raise funds and partner with the big studios to co-produce and co-finance productions. However, that money is not a free loan. Paramount will owe Skydance interest on what the company advanced, in addition to any money owed in a profit-sharing agreement that it almost certainly written into Skydance’s contract with Paramount. Unfortunately, the amount of money that Skydance invested, the interest rate, and the share of the profits taken cannot be known to us. The simple fact is that these agreements are not made public.

In addition to Skydance, IMDbPro indicates that Paramount had six additional partners in producing Beyond: Hong Kong’s Alibaba Pictures Group, China’s Huahua Media & Culture, and Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark, and Perfect Storm Entertainment in the United States. Additionally, Paramount had eight partners helping to distribute the film internationally. All of these companies are likely involved in a profit-share agreement with Paramount, and will be owed money.

Why Didn’t Beyond Do Better?

As we hypothesized in our summary of Beyond’s performance in an analysis of its numbers after two months of being in the box office, we pointed to poor audience word-of-mouth, inflated expectations, subpar marketing, and difficult competition as reasons for the film’s struggles. These were quantifiable metrics, rather than conjecture. Was Beyond only deserving of one visit to the cinema? Why didn’t audiences spread the word? Why did the film’s marketing seem so lackluster and slow? Did general audiences decided to see other films over Star Trek? These questions can be debated ad nauseam.

The point is this: Beyond was not able to replicate the box office success of its two predecessors from the Kelvin Timeline. This is a problem for Paramount, whose future is in question as its parent company Viacom has had nothing but troubles recently, to consider when thinking about Star Trek 4. Does the studio go bigger in an attempt to capture the audiences of the first two films, or will Beyond‘s lesser showing and Paramount’s internal turmoil necessitate a smaller film?

In our opinion, a smaller film would be better for the Star Trek feature franchise.

The Course Ahead

As Nicholas Meyer stated regarding the development and production of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country:

“I think there’s something to be said for making movies faster, rather than slower. I think that the years that are now consumed in obtaining a green light and the funding for a movie, and the amount of rewriting that scripts undergo, overcooks them to the point where a lot of times spontaneousness and a sort-of short-order cooking is lost. Something happens that robs them of a certain spontaneity, and when we were writing at breakneck speed, and turning things around really fast there is a kind of energy and enthusiasm that I think is sometimes lost when you have too much time. Art thrives on restrictions, and it’s not just money that can be restricted to good effect, it’s also sometimes time and the fact that we didn’t have enough time to second-guess ourselves may have worked to the film’s advantage.”

Into Darkness and Beyond took four and three years, respectively, to release after the films that preceded them. Star Trek needs to be kept in the minds of moviegoers, especially among the general audience. If too much time elapses between films, Paramount risks audiences losing their anticipation for a sequel.

Meyer demonstrated that Star Trek thrives on limitations. The two debatably finest films in the franchise were made with low production budgets and a target release date that could not be moved, lest Paramount lose money. Assuming Star Trek 4 is made by Paramount and Bad Robot, we recommend the following.

  1. Schedule Star Trek 4 for a late 2018 release date, and disavow yourselves of the notion that Star Trek is a Summer tentpole franchise that needs a $150 million-plus budget to draw an audience.
  2. Produce the film for $100-120 million. Some of the most enjoyable moments in Beyond were the interplay between our crew. Star Trek has always been about characters, not action set pieces.
  3. Give the job of writing the film to experienced screenwriters who thrive under tight deadlines. With all due respect to Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, neither have a released film to their name. If the Kelvin Timeline is to continue past a fourth film, more seasoned writers will be needed to minimize rewrites and ensure the script is delivered on time.
  4. Hire a director who will prioritize story and drama over Star Trek. Some of the best films in the franchise have been made when writers and directors come up with interesting story ideas, and then use Star Trek to tell them. The beauty of Star Trek, and the science fiction genre, is that it can be used to tell nearly any story one can imagine.
  5. Be daring. The cast, now with three films under their belt, will think they know how their characters would act in every situation. Do not allow their hubris to interfere with telling a good story.
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