Expectations for J.J. Abrams's don't-call-it-a-reboot Star Trek couldn't be bigger. But let's be realistic: This is not a sure thing. The film is a blast — and we hope it's a hit. But it's a reboot of a franchise that's become little more than a punch line to anyone over the age of 25, and simply isn't a firsthand reference for anyone younger. The film has no bankable stars. And Wolverine opened just last weekend. But Nikki Finke is relaying Fandango's announcement that 81 percent of their online ticket sales are for Star Trek.
The problem? Finke reported very similar strong online numbers for Watchmen in March, correctly highlighting that the film was "upstaging 300" in online ticket sales. Watchmen, of course, underperformed estimates. It earned 15 million less than 300, and its competition was Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience — not Wolverine one week after the year's biggest opening weekend so far.
So, let's remember that the real reason Movietickets.com and Fandango leak these numbers is to advertise their service, exaggerate scarcity, and make it sound like You Must Go Online and Pay Us Two Dollars Right Now! They're not exactly audited. And why would a film like Watchmen or Star Trek track disproportionately well in online ticket sales? It's the geeks, stupid. The folks buying tickets online are the cult fans who absolutely must see a film first. Fandango says 10 percent of polled ticket buyers are planning to show up "in some kind of Star Trek costume." Ten percent of the audience in costumes? Well, there just aren't enough pointy ears in the world to make it a blockbuster hit.
Now, we're not saying we expect a Watchmen-like disappointment (Star Trek is PG-13, for starters). We hope Abrams lives long and prospers in his quest for global geek domination — and we expect Trek to do well. It's just worth remembering that this stuff isn't easy. Anything can happen. The fun of this big opening weekend is that mystery that Abrams loves to talk about. And that's why you can bet that Paramount will be nervous until people start buying tickets in person — and while wearing regular clothes.