So you know what movie is underperforming right now? Star Trek. You know what film also underperformed during its opening weekend? First Class. So I thought it might be interesting to look back and see how that did in retrospect. Turns out it did pretty well.
Waaaaay back in 2011 (I know, ancient history), Charlie Jane Anders wrote an article entitled "Why did X-Men: First Class underperform at the box office?" In essence she stated that, despite its high quality, the film was underperforming financially (based on its opening week), likely due to poor marketing and two widely disliked predecessors, among other possible factors. The comments sections quickly became filled with prophecies of doom, some focusing on the marketing campaign as CJA had and others decrying it for not being close enough to the original comics. Box Office Mojo made an analysis similar to CJA's.
At the time, I was a bit of a voice in the wilderness for claiming that the movie would find legs and that despite its underwhelming opening it would actually finish its box office run at a respectable number. Specifically, I made a comparison with the Batman films, stating that it was unfair to judge First Class without context because that the previous two films in the franchise had been major disappointments and that therefore First Class shouldn't be seen as the "fifth" X-Men film or the lowest opening of the franchise but rather as the first film of a reboot like Batman Begins, which had to reestablish the Batman brand as it were. I pointed out that, like First Class, Nolan's first Batman film had a weak opening and was decried at the time as a disappointment but that it then went onto become a surprise success before spawning its much more successful sequel(s).
Adjusting for inflation, I showed that Batman Begins made $56 million on its opening weekend. X-Men: First Class made $55 million, a remarkably close figure. And, like X:FC, Nolan's first Batman flick made less money during its opening weekend than the preceding film (Batman & Robin / X-Men Origins: Wolverine) had.
Looking back now, it turns out I was pretty on target. Not only did X-Men: First Class end up doing good business at the box office despite the portents of doom, but its final box office total ($386 million) is within reach of the total Batman Begins brought in at the ends of its run ($431 million). Ultimately, BB was $50 million more successful, which is nothing to cough at, but both films ended up having about the same profit margin since Batman Begins was slightly more expensive to make (BB was $170 million to X:FC's $150 million, in 2011 USD).
So, ha, I told you so!
Gloating aside, this does provoke the question: could Star Trek Into Darkness see a similar turnaround? From my perspective it's certainly possible, provided the word of mouth is good enough, but I don't think it's particularly likely. For one thing, the word of mouth isn't bad, but it isn't good either. Critics seem to love the film, but neither casual moviegoers nor Trek fans seem to be taking strongly to the film. X:FC and BB benefited to a large extent because the people who saw it were often willing to see it again, as well as to proselytize to friends and family. Given the kinds of things I'm hearing about STiD, I'm not sure if that's really going to be the case.
More importantly though, is that STiD lacks X:FC and BB's main excuse for an initially low return: a disappointing predecessor. Despite the grumblings of some Trek fans, ST09 did better business than Star Trek had done for decades (although to a certain extent its box office returns look less impressive when you consider how much more expensive it was than earlier Trek films). And, going by today's movie-making logic, the sequel to a successful film is expected to improve on the initial box office return of its predecessor, not to equal them or (horror of horrors), see a decrease (as it seems STiD might). The winds might eventually shift if word of mouth counteracts the reputation of the prior film but generally speaking, how successful a sequel's opening is should be a product of its predecessor's merits, not its own.
And yet, bizarrely, STiD is underperforming, not just as a summer blockbuster, but as a sequel to a generally well-liked and financially successful movie.
I'm open to being wrong here - many people were wrong when they said X:FC wouldn't find box office success - and I'm certain the film won't be an actual flop (as in, it doesn't pull a profit). But I think it's far less likely for it to recover than X:FC.