"Star Trek Into Darkness" roared out of the gate at the international box office, taking in $31.7 million from just seven targeted markets, ahead of its U.S. debut this week.
Maximizing the foreign box office is a top priority for distributor Paramount and partner Skydance Productions, because the 'Star Trek" films have traditionally not performed well abroad. "Into Darkness" opens domestically on 336 Imax locations on Wednesday, and wide on Thursday in the U.S.
"Into Darkness" took in $13.3 million in the U.K. over the weekend, 50 percent better than the opening weekend of "Star Trek" in 2009. It easily outstripped the previous film in Germany ($7.6 million), Australia ($5.5 million) and Mexico ($3 million), too. The markets in which "Into Darkness" opened were the seven regions in "Star Trek" performed most strongly.
Prior to rolling out the film overseas, the studio intensively polled international audiences to get a handle on what they liked and didn't about the franchise.
"I guess less Trekkie, more action might be the short story," Paramount's head of international distribution Anthony Marcoly told TheWrap prior to the film's foreign debut. "But since I arrived here 18 months ago, a primary part of my mission has been to make sure this movie succeeds at the overseas box office the way it will domestically, and our team has done a great deal to make sure that happens."
Extensive research, marketing tailored to individual markets, casting designed to resonate with international audiences and extensive ground campaigns by the movie's creators and talent like Chris Pine all preceded the international debut. Over the past couple of months, director J.J. Abrams and producer Bryan Burk have barnstormed through Asia, Europe and Latin America, screening extensive clips.
"Basically, it was more action, more of the adventure elements and less of the real Trekkie stuff," Marcoly said. Of course, that "stuff" is part of what turned the 1960s TV show into a cultural phenomenon in America and launched the film franchise.
Since "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" launched the film franchise back in 1979, the 11 movies in the series have taken in more than $1.8 billion, but just $312 million from abroad. "Star Trek" easily became the franchise's biggest box office hit by taking in $387 million worldwide four years ago, but didn't make much of a dent in the overseas market with just $128 million.
The worldwide premiere of the "Into Darkness" was held in London and popular British actor Benedict Cumberbatch is the villain in the film. Marcoly said he expects the U.K. to be the most lucrative foreign market for the film.
Warner Bros. faced the same sort of challenge last year with "Dark Knight Rises," since the similarly all-American Batman franchise had never been able to match its domestic popularity at the foreign box office.
The studio went out of its way to reverse that trend, but may have benefited most from the explosive growth in the number foreign theaters and the emergence of markets like China, Russia and Mexico. "Dark Knight Rises" was the first Batman movie to make more abroad than in the U.S. ($636 million to $448 million) on its way to $1.08 billion globally.