As pessimistic as I am about folks flocking to a loose Transformers reboot, I will note (on this night when we celebrate the premiere of Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago) that Steven Caple Jr.’s Creed II was much better than it had to be, so hope springs eternal at least in terms of artistic value. Unless something “big” moves into the June 24 slot (John Wick: Chapter 4 or Top Gun: Maverick could avoid the year’s stupidest showdown by moving back a month), this just means that Jurassic World: Dominion (June 10) will be that much bigger of an all-consuming summer tentpole.
However, Paramount also moved Star Trek 4 (or whatever it ends up being called) from June 9, 2023 to… December 22, 2023. Now, look, this is obviously predicated partially on the notion that the production of Patty Jenkins’ Star Wars: Rogue Squadron has been indifferently delayed and that the film will surely be moved off the release date schedule soon enough.
All due respect to Rocky IV and “The Burning Heart,” Paramount isn’t trying to create a Star Wars vs. Star Trek showdown on Christmas weekend 2023. If by some miracle Rogue Squadron makes its current release date, is replaced by another Star Wars movie or gets replaced by James Cameron’s Avatar 2 being pushed back one more time, I’m guessing Star Trek 4 will beam out accordingly. However, for the moment, the date change is a measured bet that Star Wars won’t stick around and Star Trek will be the official year-end fantasy blockbuster of 2023.
Paramount originally slated J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for Christmas 2008 before choosing (after believing the film good enough to thrive in summer) instead to launch it in May 2009. Five years later, it was J.J. Abrams successfully convincing Disney to delay Star Wars: The Force Awakens from May 2015 to December 2015 that was instrumental in turning that film into the biggest domestic earner (and biggest single-market grosser) of all time. Star Wars VII was always going to be huge, but the film got to have its cake (a record-breaking $248 million debut) and eat it too (strong holiday legs for a 3.78x multiplier and $937 million finish).
It continued the two-decade reign (six Peter Jackson/Middle Earth epics, four Star Wars movies, King Kong, Avatar, Aquaman, etc.) of potentially top-tier fantasy blockbuster franchises over-performing during the holiday season. In a non-Covid world, Warner Bros. had slotted Dune to do the deed in Christmas 2020, and it might have worked. Big movies released in mid-to-late December can leg out well beyond summer expectations due to kids being out of school and many adults being off work for the two-week holiday break, turning those two weeks into weekdays that play like weekends.
From mega-bucks tentpoles (Aquaman was the leggiest big-budget live-action comic book superhero movie since Tim Burton’s Batman) to unexpected family sleepers (no way The Greatest Showman legs out to $174 million from a $13.5 million Wed-Sun debut in the middle of the summer) to small-scale flicks (Sisters earned 6.2 times its $13.5 million opening on the same day as The Force Awakens), the holiday season is usually wide open for a variety of long-legged crowd-pleasers. It’s a time when The Last Jedi can gross $1.333 billion right alongside Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle earning $962 million, a feat that (on a Covid curve) Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Matrix: Resurrections hopes to repeat next month.
The best chance that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune part One had at becoming a full-on blockbuster (as opposed to a Covid curve “disappointment in relation to cost but still embraced as a situational winner” performer) was when Warner Bros. moved it from November 2020 to December 2020, intending to position it as that year’s official Avatar/Fellowship of the Ring franchise-starter. If Star Trek 4 doesn’t happen and December 23, 2023 remains barren, I’d seriously consider moving Dune part Two to Christmas 2023. But for now, that’s what Star Trek 4 wants to be, a halfway decent opener with long holiday legs as the court-appointed year-end fantasy blockbuster.
The optimistic scenario is that Star Trek 4 positions itself as the Christmas event movie of 2023 and proves to be crowdpleasing enough to allow holiday legs to give the struggling franchise a kick in the butt after a disappointing third installment. That’s what happened with Paramount’s own Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in December 2011 after J.J. Abrams’ underwhelming Mission: Impossible III 5.5 years earlier. That Brad Bird gem opened with $80 million in the first ten days (counting the $13.5 million IMAX-only debut) and legged out to $209 million domestic and $692 million worldwide.
That’s a long shot. The industry has changed since 2011, it’ll have been 7.5 years since Star Trek Beyond and the Matt Shakman-directed sci-fi actioner will still be opening in the same year as Fast & Furious 10, Dune part Two and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. But Paramount positioning Star Trek 4 in the lucrative mid-December slot is the best choice they could make. We’ll see if Star Wars’ loss becomes Star Trek’s gain.