By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Star Trek Beyond" debuted to a solid $59.6 million this weekend, signaling that after six television series, 13 movies and 50 years in the pop culture conversation, there's still life left in one of Hollywood's most durable franchises.
And there are more intergalactic missions to come. As boon to Trekkies, Paramount took the unusual step of announcing yet another sequel was in the works even before this latest USS Enterprise adventure sailed into theaters. The studio has lined up Chris Hemsworth to reprise his role as Capt. Kirk's father despite the fact that he was incinerated in a spaceship disaster in a previous film. In science-fiction, it seems, death is merely a temporary predicament.
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"You can count on one hand the brands that have this kind of longevity and viability over time," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "These characters are so clearly defined and people just respond to their sense of camaraderie."
The latest chapter in the "Star Trek" saga performed respectably, but its opening is down from the two previous films in the series. "Star Trek Beyond" couldn't match the $70.2 million launch of 2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness" nor could it top the $75.2 million bow of 2009's "Star Trek." Moreover, with a price tag of $185 million, plus tens of millions in promotional spending, the film needs to perform well overseas if it's going to make a profit.
That's not a problem for one of the weekend's other new releases, Fox's "Ice Age: Collision Course." Its issues are coming closer to home. The fifth film in the animated series brings back a band of Paleolithic creatures. It racked up $21 million from 3,992 locations. That would be a worrisome, even disastrous result for a film that carries a $105 million budget. However, the "Ice Age" films have always been received more warmly overseas than they are stateside.
"The movie is going to make money," said Chris Aronson, Fox's domestic distribution chief. "If you go back and look at past 'Ice Ages,' the share of international has always been weighted very heavily."
The most recent installment, 2012's "Continental Drift," did 81.6% of its $877.2 million global total overseas, while its predecessor, 2009's "Dawn of the Dinosaur," picked up 77.8% of its $886.7 million worldwide haul in foreign markets. "Collision Course" has already grossed over $140 million internationally in 60 markets, so even though its domestic results are disappointing, there might be more "Ice Age" films to come.
In a triumph of profit margins, New Line Cinema's "Lights Out" racked up $21.6 million in its debut. That's a healthy return on its $5 million budget. Though its parent studio, Warner Bros., has struggled of late, fielding duds such as "The Legend of Tarzan" and "The Nice Guys," New Line is enjoying a hot hand at the multiplexes. Earlier this summer, the label scored with the action comedy "Central Intelligence," the romantic drama "Me Before You," and the horror sequel "The Conjuring 2." "Lights Out" centers on a family that is haunted by an evil spirit and was developed by director David F. Sandberg from a 2013 short film.
"It's always nice when you quadruple what you spent to make a movie in a single weekend," said Jeff Goldstein, distribution executive vice president at Warner Bros. "New Line always does a great job with horror movies. It's just a genre they understand."
"Star Trek Beyond" represented a passing of the baton. J.J. Abrams, the director who revitalized the series by arming it with a youthful cast and sprinkling in lens flares, departed "Star Trek" to make "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." That left Justin Lin, who made his bones on the "Fast & Furious" series, manning the Enterprise. He brought back cast members Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban and mixed in a new villain, played by Idris Elba. In North America, the film got a lift from Imax screenings, earning $8.4 million from 387 locations.
On Sunday, Paramount brass argued that under Abrams, the "Star Trek" series has broadened its international appeal. The film's emphasis on action and the studio's decision to partner with the likes of Alibaba have strengthened its connection to foreign audiences, they said.
"This is a big global franchise now," said Rob Moore, Paramount's vice chairman. "It was a series that traditionally did well domestically or with English-speaking audiences. But since J.J. took over, the franchise has become much more accessible globally."
Among holdovers, Illumination Entertainment and Universal's "The Secret Life of Pets" continues to be one of the year's biggest hits, adding $29.3 million to its $260.7 million haul for a second place finish.
In its second weekend of release, Sony's "Ghostbusters" is neck-and-neck with "Lights Out" with $21.6 million and tied for third place. The paranormal comedy has earned $86.9 million, but it needs to do well overseas in order to make back its $144 million budget.
In its fifth weekend of release, "Independence Day: Resurgence" crawled over the $100 million mark, earning less than $1 million for the weekend. The $165 million production has gotten a little assistance overseas, earning nearly $250 million, but it may be the end of the line for the alien invasion series.
A week after debuting in a handful of theaters, "Hillary's America" expanded to 1,217 locations, picking up $3.7 million. The controversial documentary alleges that the Democratic Party has covered up its historical support of slavery and racism. It's the latest work from Dinesh D'Souza, the director of "2016: Obama's America," and is pitched firmly towards conservative moviegoers for whom a Hillary Clinton presidency is tantamount to the apocalypse.
Woody Allen's "Cafe Society" also did well in its expansion, moving from five theaters to 50, and picking up $875,000 in the process. The nostalgic look at old Hollywood has earned $1.4 million. Amazon is releasing the film through a distribution partnership with Lionsgate.
Among limited releases, Fox Searchlight debuted "Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie" in 313 theaters where the big screen version of the cult series about two hard-partying best friends earned $1.9 million.
The Film Arcade's "Don't Think Twice" bowed to $90,126 in a single location, representing the year's highest per-screen average. Mike Birbiglia ("Sleepwalk With Me") directs the look at the members of an improv group, as they face career crossroads.
The summer box office has been a roller coaster ride with a fair share of steep drops. Although animated fare like "Finding Dory" and "The Secret Life of Pets" have resonated, several high-profile, live-action sequels, such as "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Independence Day: Resurgence," have faltered.
But year-over-year this weekend was an improvement. Receipts were up nearly 30% from the same period in 2015. As victories go, this one comes with a caveat. It was a weekend that saw "Pixels" debut to an anemic $24 million. Still, some executives are hopeful that "Star Trek Beyond's" relative success coupled with upcoming releases such as "Jason Bourne" and "Suicide Squad" will galvanize the domestic marketplace.
"We're starting to see some momentum," said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment. "We're heading back in a positive direction."