Is Star Trek 3… even going to happen?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and we started talking about the next Star Trek movie. “Well, they HAVE to release a Star Trek movie in 2016, it’s the 50th anniversary!” my friend said, as if it was a fait de complete.

Do they? Will they? The more I think about it the more I’m thinking it’s not going to happen. We’ll see another Star Trek movie… but in my opinion, it’ll be a while.

Why? I’ll explain:

The director problem

The only real news that has come out about the potential Trek sequel has been that new writers were hired to work with Bob Orci. That’s it. As many of you know, JJ Abrams is no longer attached to the move (though his Bad Robot company is producing it) and they have yet to sign a director to replace him and make the film. Paramount was apparently very close to signing Joe Cornish to direct, but he backed out of the project for unspecified reasons. If Paramount is serious about getting a Trek movie out in 2016, they need to sign up a director very soon. Every month that passes without an announcement makes that 2016 date less and less likely.

The conventional wisdom has shifted

A few years ago, a big-budget summer blockbuster came out that was critically acclaimed and made over $200 million dollars. And yet, six months after it came out pundits online and off were talking about how bad and wrong-headed the movie was. That film was Superman Returns, and it took over six years for another Superman film to be made and released.

In my opinion, the same thing is happening with Star Trek Into Darkness – it got great reviews, made over $200 million dollars in the US… and people are now talking about how bad a movie it was. And it’s not just on fan sites – Hollywood sites such as Variety and Deadline Hollywood Daily has had articles and comments that belittle and slam the film. So I think the conventional wisdom is now that it wasn’t a good movie, and that it underperformed because of it. Does Paramount think this as well?

The box office was good, not great

I’ve gotten some harsh criticism of previous statements I’ve made that STID underperformed, and that I was plain wrong and a “hater.” Well I guess that makes Brad Grey, the CEO of Paramount a “hater” too, because in an earnings call about the studio’s performance he said exactly that. “We expected profits to be higher.”

Hollywood doesn’t spend $230 million dollars and another $90+ in marketing (some rumors are it was over $120 million) to make only $450 million – they do it to make $600+ million. And Paramount only gets a (negotiated) cut of the total ticket sales – the theatres get the rest. Paramount, and every other studio making movies, have seen many sequels making twice what the original made, and I’m pretty sure they were hoping that would be the case for STID. It wasn’t, and they now know that Star Trek is not a guaranteed money maker. That has to be a consideration.

Even with cuts, the budget will still be high

You can’t do a “cheap” Star Trek movie – it’s a summer blockbuster and audiences around the world are expecting spectacle and a big “bang” for their box office dollars. Star Trek Into Darkness brought a LOT of visual effects, and those cost a lot of money. Any Trek film will have to “top” the previous one to attract moviegoers. Is Paramount ready to invest another $200 million in Trek?

Chris Pine isn’t a movie star

Chris Pine has been the lead in three high-profile movies the past two years – the Trek film, This Means War, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The two non-Trek movies opened to very soft box-office, and in the case of Jack Ryan film it bombed. As talented as Pine is, he is not capable of “opening” a film on his own, and since Jack Ryan is a Paramount film as well… that has to give the studio heads pause.

The Star Wars problem

Another SF movie franchise is returning, and it’s going to suck a lot of the oxygen and attention away from Star Trek in the next few years. That franchise is, of course, Star Wars, now owned by Disney. Will Paramount want to compete with George Lucas’ juggernaut? Or will the studio table Trek for a while because (in their mind) they can’t compete and are chasing the same audience.

“Risk is our business…” but is it Paramount’s?

I love Trek… but I also want Trek to be good. Paramount (and the other movie studios) is in an interesting place right now… Trek has made them a lot of money over the years, but at the same time the total number of movie tickets sold are declining. 3D and IMAX is no longer attracting many theatregoers, and so the premium tickets aren’t being bought in the same numbers as before. And home video sales have declined significantly over the past seven years.

In this environment, the studios are risk-averse, and making easy decisions on sure things. Is Trek a “sure thing” to Paramount? Or are they looking at other franchises such as G.I.Joe and Transformers as being more secure and “money in the bank”? Only the Paramount board room knows for sure, but there are a lot of signs that Trek is no longer a guaranteed box-office winner. So… we’ll see what happens.

There are, after all, always possibilities…