Do Star Trek fans support the films just because they are Star Trek? Are more recent outings like “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and the upcoming “Star Trek: Beyond” getting a pass simply because they contain our favorite characters?
That has been the question Trekkies have been asking for at least the past seven years since director J.J. Abrams released “Star Trek.” We see the hundreds of millions of dollars that film and “Into Darkness” have generated, but is it above the past films, like “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”? Is it even on par?
Finding the right comparison can be difficult, because even the box office has up and down years. And some movies draw much larger audiences than others.
Using the great data at The Numbers, 1701News analyzed how each Star Trek film since 1979 compared against the top-grossing film of the year. Since this is a comparison in the same year, we didn’t adjust for inflation, but we did have interesting results.
Of course, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” fared the best. It finished No. 4 in 1979, just $11 million behind the box office champ that year, “Superman,” which pulled in $93.3 million.
Three years later, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was just a few million dollars behind its predecessor. However, the Nicholas Meyer film lived in a box office world dominated by Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” which earned just under $322 million that year, and would spend years as the highest-grossing film of all time.
In fact, “Star Trek: Insurrection” had similar problems in 1998, coming out in a year dominated by “Titanic,” which earned $443.3 million domestically. “Insurrection’s” paltry $58.6 million in box office receipts that year ranked 35th among all movies, and accounted for a little more than 13 percent of wha “Titanic” earned.
The top films in 2009 and 2013 — “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Iron Man 3” — earned more than $400 million each, but the J.J. Abrams-directed Trek movies held their own. In fact, “Star Trek” earned a little more than 64 percent of “Revenge of the Fallen’s” box office, putting it second only to “The Motion Picture.” “Star Trek: Into Darkness” was not far behind four years later, earning just under 56 percent of “Iron Man 3’s” $409 million haul.
Our first chart is calculated providing the box office rank for the film in the year it was released, and then comparing the non-inflated box office performance of the film with the non-inflated top-grossing film of the year.
Star Trek vs. Box Office Kings, Domestic (rank, %top-grossing film)
|1.||Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)||No. 4||88.2%|
|2.||Star Trek (2009)||No. 7||64.1%|
|3.||Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)||No. 11||55.8%|
|4.||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)||No. 6||48.2%|
|5.||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)||No. 15||35.0%|
|6.||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)||No. 9||32.3%|
|7.||Star Trek: First Contact (1996)||No. 14||29.1%|
|8.||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)||No. 7||24.4%|
|9.||Star Trek: Generations (1994)||No. 16||23.7%|
|10.||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)||No. 19||20.3%|
|11.||Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)||No. 35||13.2%|
|12.||Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)||No. 65||9.8%|
But money isn’t the only measure of how well a film does. One way to really make true comparisons, especially throughout different years without having to adjust for inflation, is through ticket sales.
Even then, however, there are some legitimate arguments that more people are around in 2013 to buy tickets, for example, than there were in 1979. The population of the United States was 225.1 million when “The Motion Picture” premiered, while the potential number of Americans who could have seen “Into Darkness” a few years ago topped 316 million.
So once again, using The Numbers, 1701News looked not only at the number of tickets sold for each Star Trek film, but then compared it to the total number of tickets sold by the top five highest-grossing films of that year.
The 2009 “Star Trek” easily wins in overall ticket sales, with 34.7 million. But compared to the more than 218 million tickets sold by the top five movies that year, it’s percentage — 15.9 percent — is lower than “The Motion Picture,” which had sales of just over 19 percent of the top five in 1979, despite selling just under 33 million tickets.
By this comparison, “The Wrath of Khan” does far better than it did when looking at just box office compared to the top-grossing film. Here, “Star Trek II” sold 26.7 million tickets, a little more than 10 percent of the 263 million sold by the top five in 1982. That moves “Wrath of Khan” from eighth place in our first list, to fifth in this one.
This chart compares the number of tickets sold to each Star Trek film compared to the number of tickets sold for the top five films of the year, according to non-adjusted box office.
Star Trek vs. Ticket Sales, Domestic – (# tickets, %top 5 movies)
|1.||Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)||32.8 million||19.2%|
|2.||Star Trek (2009)||34.7 million||15.9%|
|3.||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)||21.9 million||14.2%|
|4.||Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)||28.1 million||12.9%|
|5.||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)||26.7 million||10.1%|
|6.||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)||16.8 million||9.8%|
|7.||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)||21.2 million||9.7%|
|8.||Star Trek: First Contact (1996)||20.2 million||9.0%|
|9.||Star Trek: Generations (1994)||17.5 million||7.1%|
|10.||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)||12.7 million||6.0%|
|11.||Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)||12.5 million||5.1%|
|12.||Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)||6.8 million||2.7%|
And, of course, we can’t look at lists like this without at least comparing how each Star Trek film rates after we adjust worldwide box office for inflation. That’s something we last did in January 2014.
The profit margin in this last chart compares the worldwide box office to the reported budget for the film, according to IMDb. Both figures were adjusted for inflation, using 2016 dollars.
Most Profitable Star Trek Films, Worldwide – Adjusted For Inflation (revenue, profit margin)
|1.||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)||$240.3 million||88.4%|
|2.||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)||$282.2 million||80.8%|
|3.||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)||$191.0 million||79.2%|
|4.||Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)||$485.6 million||74.8%|
|5.||Star Trek Generations (1994)||$194.3 million||70.8%|
|6.||Star Trek: First Contact (1996)||$231.0 million||70.0%|
|7.||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)||$171.3 million||69.1%|
|8.||Star Trek (2009)||$433.9 million||63.7%|
|9.||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)||$134.5 million||59.4%|
|10.||Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)||$481.1 million||59.3%|
|11.||Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)||$172.7 million||50.8%|
|12.||Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)||$90.0 million||10.8%|
So while profit margins are indeed a bit lower for films like “Star Trek” and “Into Darkness,” they still continue to be moneymakers for Paramount, especially compared to the final two outings from the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew in “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: Nemesis.” If nothing else, Abrams and his team turned the franchise around, and brought it more on par with the Trek movies of the 1980s, even if “Into Darkness” slipped a little in terms of ticket sales compared to its 2009 predecessor.
As long as Paramount continues to see such strength in the film franchise, we expect it to be around for quite a while. But with marketing so far limited on “Star Trek: Beyond,” we’re curious to where the third installment from the so-called “J.J.-verse” will end up on our list.
We’ll know soon enough. “Beyond” premieres July 22.