Before J.J. Abrams took over the film franchise, conversations surrounding what were the best-performing Star Trek movies of all time at the box office typically centered around either “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” or “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
Both are strong candidates. When adjusting for inflation, “The Motion Picture” picked up $264.6 million domestically and $446.9 million worldwide, while “The Voyage Home” earned $144.8 million in North America and $283.6 million globally.
But when it comes to the bottom line at Paramount, it doesn’t matter how much a movie grosses — it’s what was the most profitable. And while “The Motion Picture” may have earned $265 million, it also cost $112.5 million to make, so those profit margins are much thinner.
So what is the most profitable Star Trek film of all time? Will we find it in the Abrams area, where the films have grossed $888 million worldwide, adjusting for inflation? Or will we find it in a different era?
The 1701News researchers decided to find out. They looked only at what would be apples-to-apples comparisons, and didn’t factor in any expenses other than the film’s overall budget. Of course, marketing, distribution and other costs also play factors, but this is a straight profit margin based on box office gross and the film’s reported budget.
For “The Motion Picture,” the $264.6 million domestic total created a 135 percent profit margin. On the worldwide scale, that profit margin jumps to just less than 300 percent — both very strong outings. “The Voyage Home” boasted even better profit margins — 172 percent domestically and 432 percent worldwide.
Yet, among all the Star Trek movies, “The Motion Picture” is ranked fifth domestically and fourth worldwide. “The Voyage Home” did a little better, but didn’t quite earn the crown — third domestically and second globally.
Then we jump to the Abrams films. When adjusted for inflation, the 2009 “Star Trek” earned $280.7 million domestically, and $420.2 million worldwide. However, “Star Trek” had a budget of $152.5 million, meaning it made just 84 percent over budget in North America, and 176 percent over budget worldwide. That ranked “Star Trek” ninth and eighth among all Star Trek movies.
Last year’s “Star Trek: Into Darkness” actually had one of the smallest profit margins both in North American and domestically. It earned $228.8 million in North America, but the film cost $190 million to make, leaving a profit margin of just 20 percent. That’s slightly worse than the 21 percent profit margin of 1998’s “Star Trek: Insurrection,” and better only than “Star Trek: Nemesis” in 2002, which actually finished 28 percent in the red.
Worldwide, “Into Darkness” did get a lot better. It’s $467.4 million haul provided Paramount a profit margin of 146 percent, but again that was only better than “Insurrection” (105 percent) and “Nemesis” (12 percent).
Who is the winner? “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” When adjusted for inflation, the 1982 film made $190.3 million domestically and $234.9 million worldwide. This fell considerably short of what “The Motion Picture” made three years before. However, “Wrath of Khan” also had the smallest budget of any Star Trek film. Even adjusted for inflation, it cost just $26.6 million to produce. Paramount kicked up the budget a bit for “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” (to $38.4 million), but then the budget would hover in the $50 million range until “Star Trek: First Contact” in 1996, which had a budget of $67.1 million after adjustment.
This gave “Wrath of Khan” a whopping 615 percent profit margin, just in North America. When the rest of the world was factored in, the final tally put Paramount 783 percent in the black — the difference between the nearly $27 million budget and the $235 million total haul.
The only other film to come close to those numbers, and this might really surprise you, was “Search for Spock.” Its $152 million domestic take created a nearly 300 percent profit margin.
Sure, the money in the actual box office may not be what it used to be, but rest assured Paramount is still making a lot of money off Star Trek. Back in the early 1980s, the life of a film would typically go from the box office to premium cable channels like HBO and then possibly a network broadcast on places like ABC. Home videos didn’t start to gain popularity until about the time “The Voyage Home” was released.
Today, the secondary market is so big, it can sometimes be counted as the primary market for a lot of films. From DVDs to Blu-rays, to digital downloads on places like Apple’s iTunes Store, and elsewhere, the money for Star Trek films does not stop rolling in once the movies leave the theater.
Many studios like Paramount also have their eye on a different market more than ever: the overseas one. Getting into countries like China, for example, could boost that bottom line considerably. And even a film that may not have done well domestically could be considered a success if Europeans and Asians flocked to it.
“Into Darkness” might not have done well when it comes to profit margins, but even adjusting for inflation, it’s still the highest-grossing Star Trek film of all time worldwide despite being beaten domestically by both “The Motion Picture” and “Star Trek.” That’s because the margin between “Into Darkness'” domestic and worldwide numbers are just more than 104 percent — better than any other Trek movie, including the 2009 outing that improved its worldwide numbers by less than 50 percent.
And only one other film even comes close to that particular margin — “The Voyage Home,” which improved its worldwide by just under 96 percent. And many industry observers still consider “The Voyage Home” the ultimate benchmark for Star Trek films to reach.
Most Profitable Star Trek Films, Domestic – Adjusted For Inflation (revenue, profit margin)
|1.||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)||$190.3 million||615%|
|2.||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)||$152.0 million||296%|
|3.||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)||$144.8 million||172%|
|4.||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)||$128.5 million||150%|
|5.||Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)||$264.6 million||135%|
|6.||Star Trek Generations (1994)||$119.4 million||116%|
|7.||Star Trek: First Contact (1996)||$137.1 million||104%|
|8.||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)||$98.5 million||88%|
|9.||Star Trek (2009)||$280.7 million||84%|
|10.||Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)||$100.6 million||21%|
|11.||Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)||$228.8 million||20%|
|12.||Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)||$56.0 million||(-28%)|
Most Profitable Star Trek Films, Worldwide – Adjusted For Inflation (revenue, profit over budget)
|1.||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)||$234.9 million||783%|
|2.||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)||$283.6 million||432%|
|3.||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)||$195.9 million||411%|
|4.||Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)||$446.9 million||297%|
|5.||Star Trek Generations (1994)||$189.3 million||243%|
|6.||Star Trek: First Contact (1996)||$223.5 million||233%|
|7.||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)||$161.2 million||213%|
|8.||Star Trek (2009)||$420.2 million||176%|
|9.||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)||$132.5 million||152%|
|10.||Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)||$467.4 million||146%|
|11.||Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)||$170.7 million||105%|
|12.||Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)||$87.5 million||12%|