Are Box-Office Fates of 'Star Trek,' 'Wolverine' Already Written?

Fox's 'X-Men' Marketing Strategy May Give It Twice the Numbers of Rival Paramount Film

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LOS ANGELES ( -- The first two blockbusters of the summer, Paramount Pictures' "Star Trek" and 20th Century Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," both involve massive marketing efforts by Hollywood studios desperate to re-energize venerable -- and valuable -- film franchises. Fox's three "X-Men" films have taken in more than $1.16 billion globally, while Paramount's 10 "Star Trek" features have beamed up three-quarters of a billion in domestic grosses alone.

With 'Wolverine,' Fox may have clawed its way to an early lead by not making a direct play to its comic-book-loving 'fanboy' base.
With 'Wolverine,' Fox may have clawed its way to an early lead by not making a direct play to its comic-book-loving 'fanboy' base.
But the two studios have so far taken markedly different approaches with their campaigns -- strategies that some in the industry indicate have already shaped the films' fates at the box office.

  • Closely held box-office-tracking data from Marketcast that was obtained by Ad Age from another source suggest that with just two weeks before its debut in theaters, "Wolverine" is headed for a massive $100 million opening weekend on May 1, while Paramount's "Star Trek" is on track to gross half that amount when it opens a week later.
  • According to data obtained by Ad Age "Wolverine" also enjoys a 20-percentage-point lead among women under 24: 38% expressed a "definite interest" in seeing Hugh Jackman on the big screen, while only 18% of young women expressed a "definite interest" in seeing "Star Trek."
  • According to Nielsen NRG data supplied to Ad Age, 24% of all moviegoers familiar with the Marvel Comics adaptation say "Wolverine" is their current "first choice" film to see -- a stunning number for a film you can't even buy a ticket for yet (though it already leaked online).

How did "Wolverine" claw its way to such a commanding early lead? By not making a direct play to its comic-book-loving "fanboy" base.

Fox was careful to introduce "Wolverine" to those unfamiliar with the character via a contiguous, three-part trailer that aired on highly rated Fox TV shows in February, then embarked on a broad-based promotion of its superhero and his iconic weapons -- retractable metallic claws -- to mainstream audiences.

"If you really want to become part of the culture and make people feel like this is a must-see event, it should be fun and clever," said Michelle Marks, Fox's senior VP-media promotions and theatrical marketing.

This weekend, for example, "Wolverine" will be promoted heavily on TNT's coverage of the NBA playoffs, with "Inside the NBA" commentator Charles Barkley sporting the claws in the studio this weekend. Meanwhile, on an April 13 episode of CBS's "How I Met Your Mother" the characters sparred with toy "Wolverine" claws, and in a custom promo for this week's episode of "The Real Housewives of New York City" (of all places), the women make inventive use of the phrase "The claws come out."

While Fox has also struck promotional partnerships with 7-Eleven, Schick, Papa John's pizza and the California Milk Processor Board's ubiquitous milk-moustache campaign, the in-programming push for "Wolverine" is just as crucial.

'Wolverine' milk-mustache ad
'Wolverine' milk-mustache ad
"That's what we've been striving for -- integration vs. interruption," Ms. Marks said. "It's always been our goal to make [our marketing] feel more like content."

Trekkies not enough
Paramount, by comparison, elected to focus its early efforts on re-energizing the older, core "Trekkie" fanbase before firing up a more mainstream effort aimed at convincing younger moviegoers that "This is not your father's 'Star Trek,'" as its current TV ad campaign says. It made substantial media buys in sci-fi-themed TV shows such as NBC's "Heroes" and ABC Family's "Kyle XY" in early March. Last week, the studio surprised geeks at Harry Knowles' Austin, Texas, film festival with a full screening of "Star Trek," a marketing coup that helped build largely positive online buzz.

But 43 years of Trekkies alone won't be enough to recoup on a $160 million CGI extravaganza, even as Paramount partners with Burger King, Lenovo, Kellogg, Nokia and Esurance to help it market the film.

"There's a core fan base that you have to cater to," said Katie Martin Kelley, a spokeswoman for Paramount. "But with a reboot, you have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean."

Still, the studio will quickly need to win a lot of hearts and change a lot of minds: According to data obtained by Ad Age, 63% of moviegoers surveyed were aware of "Star Trek" vs. 80% who claimed awareness of "Wolverine." Nearly half of those aware of "Wolverine" expressed "definite interest" in seeing the film vs. only 33% of those familiar with "Trek."

Connecting with teens
Ms. Martin Kelley said the studio knows it must connect with teens who are too young to remember the last "Star Trek" film in 2002 -- or who weren't even born when James Tiberius Kirk last commanded the USS Enterprise in 1991. (It's worth noting that the expected $50 million opening haul for "Star Trek" would be a lift from the total box office of the last film in the franchise, "Star Trek: Nemesis," which grossed only $43.1 million in 2002-2003.) Paramount is prepping a promo blitz across MTV Networks, the studio's corporate sibling under Viacom, to help give it access to the 16-to-34 crowd that populates networks such as MTV, Comedy Central and Spike.

"For the first time, it has characters that are totally relatable to the MTV audience," said John Shea, MTV's exec VP-integrated marketing. "Even though we've known the characters for so long, they're [now] basically young adults facing choices and the angst of growing up."

Paramount elected to focus its early efforts on re-energizing the 'Trekkie' fan base before firing up a more mainstream effort.
Paramount elected to focus its early efforts on re-energizing the 'Trekkie' fan base before firing up a more mainstream effort.
Paramount also teamed with the wildly popular video game "Rock Band" to introduce a daily 15-track giveaway for "Star Trek" to coincide with a "Battle of the Bands: Rock the Galaxy" contest that kicks off April 20.

The phaser-like focus on the MTV youth demo explains why Paramount is spending sparingly on the Sci-Fi Channel, where "they already have a loyal fan base in our audience," said VP-Marketing Blake Callaway.

International issue
But persuading young Americans to go to see "Star Trek" is only part of the problem.

Unlike Fox's "X-Men" films, which typically split their box office evenly between the U.S. market and the rest of the world, "Star Trek" doesn't transport well outside the States: Only 36% of the "Star Trek" films' grosses came from overseas between 1996 and 2002.

As one head of creative advertising at a rival studio put it, "The lack of international appeal on the franchise is something I would be peeing in my pants about if I were Paramount."

Instead, the young Enterprise crew is now being sent to boldly go where no "Star Trek" cast has been sent before: to early premieres in Sydney, Moscow, New Zealand, Madrid, Paris, Brussels and London to generate foreign press.

By taking over the end credits of MTV shows to incorporate exclusive footage of the cast at those international premieres, Paramount hopes it can convert a longtime "Trek" weakness overseas into a domestic marketing asset: The film will be made to seem long-beloved by foreign audiences, even though it's never been anything like that in its 30 years as a film franchise.

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