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May 12, 2009

Star Trek -- at the box office, on the charts

There were ten Star Trek films before the reboot. Two of them made over $90 million, two of them made less than $60 million, and the rest all made between $70 million and $80 million, roughly speaking.

As of Sunday night, the reboot had grossed $79.2 million in its first weekend alone -- which is better than all but three of the previous films did during their entire theatrical runs. But of course, they've been making these films for 30 years now, and ticket prices have gone up, up, up.

Perhaps, instead of looking at the raw, unadjusted dollar figures, we can get a sense of how well these films have done -- or haven't done, as the case may be -- by comparing the grosses for each film to those of other films that were released in the same year.

Alas, Box Office Mojo does not have a chart for 1979, the year The Motion Picture came out. (It also does not have yearly charts for the worldwide figures prior to the 1990s.) But that particular film earned $82.3 million in North America, which was better than the next two films did, so presumably it ranked about as high in its year as those two films did in theirs.

And then there is the rest of the series:
  1. 1982, June 4 -- The Wrath of Khan -- $78.9 million (domestic) -- #6 (domestic)
  2. 1984, June 1 -- The Search for Spock -- $76.5 million (domestic) -- #9 (domestic)
  3. 1986, November 26 -- The Voyage Home -- $109.7 million (domestic) -- #5 (domestic)
  4. 1989, June 9 -- The Final Frontier -- $52.2 million (domestic) -- #25 (domestic)
  5. 1991, December 6 -- The Undiscovered Country -- $74.9 million (domestic) -- #15 (domestic) -- $96.9 million (worldwide) -- #14 (worldwide)
  6. 1994, November 18 -- Generations -- $75.7 million (domestic) -- #15 (domestic) -- $118.1 million (worldwide) -- #20 (worldwide)
  7. 1996, November 22 -- First Contact -- $92 million (domestic) -- #17 (domestic) -- $146 million (worldwide) -- #22 (worldwide)
  8. 1998, December 11 -- Insurrection -- $70.2 million (domestic) -- #28 (domestic) -- $112.6 million (worldwide) -- #35 (worldwide)
  9. 2002, December 13 -- Nemesis -- $43.3 million (domestic) -- #54 (domestic) -- $67.3 million (worldwide) -- #66 (worldwide)
So while Nemesis often gets the blame for killing the franchise, the series had evidently been in gradual decline over the course of the preceding films anyway -- at least where its standing relative to other films of its time is concerned.

It's fascinating to think that the first four films all ranked in the Top 10 of their respective years, whereas none of the other films did. Presumably this is due, at least in part, to the fact that the first four films were the only films that did not have to compete with brand-new Star Trek episodes on TV. Given a choice between new movies and ten- or twenty-year-old re-runs, people chose the movies. But given a choice between new movies and a steady stream of new TV episodes...?

As it happens, the new film is the first Star Trek film since 1986's The Voyage Home that has not had to compete with an existing TV show. And that earlier film just happened to be the top-grossing movie in the franchise to date -- even after 23 years of movie-ticket price inflation -- at least until the reboot came along. So if a lack of small-screen competition is key to a Star Trek movie's cultural impact, it's no wonder the new movie is doing so well.

One last thought: If you want to compare actual ticket sales, rather than how each film ranks on an annual chart, we can turn to the average ticket price chart at Box Office Mojo and deduce the following -- with the films listed in order from those that sold the most tickets to those that sold the least:
  1. 1979 -- The Motion Picture -- $82,258,456 @ $2.51 per ticket = 32,772,293 tickets
  2. 1986 -- The Voyage Home -- $109,713,132 @ $3.71 per ticket = 29,572,272 tickets
  3. 1982 -- The Wrath of Khan -- $78,912,963 @ $2.94 per ticket = 26,841,143 tickets
  4. 1984 -- The Search for Spock -- $76,471,046 @ $3.36 per ticket = 22,759,239 tickets
  5. 1996 -- First Contact -- $92,027,888 @ $4.42 per ticket = 20,820,789 tickets
  6. 1994 -- Generations -- $75,671,125 @ $4.18 per ticket = 18,103,139 tickets
  7. 1991 -- The Undiscovered Country -- $74,888,996 @ $4.21 per ticket = 17,788,360 tickets
  8. 1998 -- Insurrection -- $70,187,658 @ $4.69 per ticket = 14,965,385 tickets
  9. 1989 -- The Final Frontier -- $52,210,049 @ $3.97 per ticket = 13,141,145 tickets
  10. 2002 -- Nemesis -- $43,254,409 @ $5.81 per ticket = 7,444,820 tickets
Box Office Mojo says the current average ticket price is $7.18, so if the J.J. Abrams movie sold, say, 20,000,000 tickets -- a feat managed by five of the ten previous films -- then the new movie would gross over $143 million, or a little less than double what it earned this weekend. And if the new film grossed at least $200 million, that would mean it had sold nearly 28 million tickets, a feat managed by only two of the previous films.

And if the new film were to sell as many tickets as The Motion Picture did -- thereby becoming the top ticket-seller of the entire franchise -- it would then have grossed a total of $235.3 million. And that would have been enough to make it the #4 movie of 2008, the #7 movie of 2007, the #4 movie of 2006, and so on.

Based on the insanely good word-of-mouth the new film is getting, I'd say that kind of box-office success seems do-able right now.

Related Tags: star trek


The new Star Trek film is TOO horrible. The food is ALL wrong!


I was surprised that they were able to make such a great comeback because Startrek attracts such an old audience.

Hey Justin - who you callin' old?

I think it has less to do with competing current Star Trek television, and has much more to do with the fact that they have gone back to what works...Kirk and Spock.
Those first 4 films were about the characters and relationships that work whether you are in the final frontier, or the wild west frontier. The original cast made the future seem human and familiar. The newest Movie, played those same charcters so well that it is striking a common nerve (or funny bone) and still makes the whole thing fresh again.

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what really put OG Star Trek on the map back in 1964 was the outer "space, the (final) frontier" paradigm, super-clever writing / directing and a winning, ensemble cast... (that, and the fact that its main competition with studio heads was "Lost In Space").

to return to all that ^, while staying away from cast members with monumental egos and the hoary stodginess many of the older fans brought to the ST franchise, and giving moviegoers a really fun story to watch on the big screen was what (i think) brought Star Trek back.

the Abrams reboot was awesome, and this is coming from one of STOS' original viewers.

Let's hope that the new Star Trek does not get OLD quickly...and that they write decent scripts!

Here is a satire of star trek from a christian satire