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‘Star Trek’ expected to hurtle to top of weekend box office

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(AP)
This undated publicity film image released by Paramount Pictures shows, Zachary Quinto (left), as Spock and Chris Pine as Kirk in a scene in the movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

LOS ANGELES – The “Star Trek” movie series has lived long at the box office. But is it time for Capt. Kirk and Spock to really prosper?

“Star Trek Into Darkness,” the second J.J. Abrams-directed installment in the science-fiction franchise, debuted in a handful of theaters late Wednesday and has since collected $3.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The movie launched at 8 p.m. in 336 Imax locations, because 30 minutes of the film were shot on Imax cameras.

The picture was expected to rake in about $20 million by the end of Thursday. By Sunday, those who have seen pre-release audience surveys say, “Into Darkness” is likely to have grossed a healthy sum of about $100 million.

That means that after two weeks at No. 1, “Iron Man 3” will drop to the runner-up position. No other new films are hitting multiplexes, though “The Great Gatsby” is likely to have legs during its second weekend of release. Fortunately for Paramount, “Into Darkness” is attracting the most interest among older male moviegoers – not the most popular demographic for “Gatsby.”

It will prove difficult to compare the opening of “Into Darkness” with the launch of Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek,” because the latter debuted at 7 p.m. on a Thursday. By weekend’s end – including those additional evening showings Thursday – the movie had sold $79.2 million worth of tickets. If projections are correct, the sequel will make slightly more than that during the same time period.

But Paramount has more at stake with “Into Darkness.” The studio and co-financier Skydance Productions spent $190 million to make the new film, which is at least $40 million more than was spent on the last one. The movie’s budget was so much higher because unlike the 2009 film, “Into Darkness” was converted to 3-D in post-production.

Because the original made only 33 percent of its $385.7 million global gross overseas, Paramount is also paying more to promote “Into Darkness” abroad. The studio has said it increased the sequel’s international marketing budget 35 percent from the first film, and rolled out the red carpet for the movie in seven countries.

Early international returns indicate that those efforts may be paying off. Last weekend, Paramount opened its latest “Trek” in seven foreign markets, including Britain, Mexico and Germany. In those countries, the sequel made about 70 percent more than the previous version did four years ago.

As of Wednesday, the current movie’s international gross stood at $40 million. This weekend, the film will debut in an additional 33 new markets – the biggest being Russia.

“Into Darkness” has Chris Pine reprising his role as Kirk, who has lost command of the Enterprise after disobeying orders yet again. Along with Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), he tries to prevent an invincible soldier (Benedict Cumberbatch) from helping start an intergalactic war.

Abrams’ first “Trek” received almost unanimously positive response from critics, notching a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The sequel has also been well received, but on Thursday lagged behind the first, with an 87 percent score.

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