No. 1 Star Trek Averts Darkness but Doesn’t Exactly Shine

Flight Two of the new Enterprise finished below expectations, while 'Iron Man 3' broke the billion-dollar worldwide threshold

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Zade Rosenthal / Paramount Pictrures

A sequel that’s not yet an equal, Star Trek Into Darkness won the weekend at the North American box office with $70.6 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. Opening on IMAX screens Wednesday evening, and in all other theaters the next day, STID pulled $84.1 million through Sunday. Iron Man 3 dropped to second place, with $35.2 million, after two weeks at No. 1, and The Great Gatsby was third, amassing $23.2 million in its second frame.

STID, the second chapter in director J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the venerable TV series, rang up the year’s third highest opening weekend, after IM3’s $174.1 million and Oz the Great and Powerful’s $79.1 million. That, and a pearly A rating from the CinemaScore survey of early attendees, should be stoking cheers of “Beam us up, J.J.!” at Paramount Pictures. But the Viacom subsidiary may need a little Viagra: the Paramounties were hoping out loud for a $100 million five-day launch.

(MORE: Corliss Reviews Star Trek Into Darkness)

The 2009 picture, called plain old Star Trek, took in $75.2 million for the weekend, $79.2 million for four days (including Thursday-midnight shows) and $86.7 million through its fifth day (Monday). So STID lags behind its predecessor in domestic revenue and, because of higher prices and 3-D and IMAX surcharges, far below it in tickets sold. Given the $190 million budget, Paramount needs a jolt of cash from somewhere to make a profit on its latest Enterprise.

(MORE: Is Star Trek Into Darkness Too Dark?)

That somewhere could — we say could — be the foreign market. Almost uniquely among big Hollywood action-film franchises, Star Trek hasn’t seduced viewers abroad. The most successful movies tend to make about two-thirds of their worldwide take overseas. Yet dating back to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991, none of the films spawned by Gene Roddenberry’s ’60s TV series has earned as much as 40% of its global gross in foreign theaters. Abrams’ first Star Trek cruised at warp speed through U.S. and Canadian theaters, with a $257.7 million payload, but it crash-landed elsewhere, with just $128 million, or 33% of the $385.7 million worldwide total.

(MORE: Q&A With Star Trek’s Simon Pegg)

Will STID be able to alter that costly course? Last weekend, after a campaign targeting European and Asian audiences, the movie pulled in a very promising $31 million in seven foreign markets. This weekend it added $40 million in 41 territories. The overseas tally so far is about $80.5 million, nearly half of the $164.2 million worldwide gross, with such large markets as China, Russia and much of Western Europe and South America still to open. That’s a good sign that the international booster rockets are firing full force.

(MORE: 47 Years of Star Trek Starship Designs)

At home, STID’s reign at the top of the pops will be brief. Three big pictures — (Fast &) Furious 6, The Hangover Part III and the Blue Sky animated feature Epic — open this Memorial Day weekend. Any or all of them could finish ahead of Kirk and Spock. And abroad, Abrams’ film is already facing stiff challenges. That $40 million foreign take was a shade less than the $40.2 million earned by IM3, which passed the billion-dollar worldwide threshold today (its 24th day of international release) and earned 67.5% of that abroad — the way a blockbuster should.

(MORE: How Iron Man 3 Conquered the World)

Gatsby, whose opening-night slot at the Cannes Film Festival garnered it a continent’s worth of free publicity, scored an even bigger weekend: $42.1 million in 50 foreign markets. Director Baz Luhrmann’s films typically do 70% or more of their business outside North America; and Leonardo DiCaprio is a marquee star in any language. The Gatsby gamble may have as good a chance as STID of breaking through the darkness and into the black.

(MORE: Corliss Reviews The Great Gatsby)

Among specialty films, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, starring and co-written by indie darling Greta Gerwig, opened in four theaters to a ha-mungous $134,000, or $33,500 per screen. Derek Cianfrance’s indie-ish The Place Beyond the Pines, with ex-aequo hunks Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, passed the $20 million mark in its seventh week; and Jeff Nichols’ Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, made the top 10 for its third week in a row. It has now earned $11.6 million without yet landing in as many as 1,000 theaters. That’s not exactly Iron Man, but it ain’t mud either.

(MORE: Mary Pols’ Review of Frances Ha)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Star Trek Into Darkness, $70.6 million, first weekend; $84.1 million, first five days
2. Iron Man 3, $35.2 million; $337.1 million, third week
3. The Great Gatsby, $23.4 million; $90.2 million, second week
4. Pain & Gain, $3.1 million; $46.6 million, fourth week
5. The Croods, $2.75 million; $176.75 million, ninth week
6. 42, $2.73 million; $88.7 million, sixth week
7. Oblivion, $2.22 million; $85.5 million, fifth week
8. Mud, $2.16 million; $11.6 million, fourth week
9. Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, $2.15 million; $7.9 million, second week
10. The Big Wedding, $1.1 million; $20.2 million, fourth week