As "Star Trek" becomes the first 2009 film to cross the $200 million mark at the domestic box office, it’s worth remembering that just a few years ago, nobody wanted anything to do with the franchise.
And that Sam Raimi was once offered the gig to become its potential savior.
The film with the best summer legs so far — it’s now the top release of 2009 and only dropped 46 percent percent in its third week — offers up a good ol’ Hollywood lesson in patience, worry … and corporate luck.
In 2005, Sumner Redstone announced his plans to split his conglomerate into two parts: Viacom, where Paramount would still reside, and CBS, to be run by Les Moonves and a unit that would eventually have its own film division.
The lawyers then came in and had to divvy up the assets. As expected, "Star Trek" landed at CBS, which had fathered the iconic series and seemed like the perfect place for it to land. (It still owns the TV and merchandising rights.)
Problem was, nobody there wanted to do anything new with it. UPN’s "Star Trek: Enterprise" was, at the time, about to be canceled, and the most recent film version — "Nemesis" — had made a weak $43 million at the domestic box office.
In fact, all the movies seemed to have hit a peak. Throughout the ’90s, the brand performed relatively consistently: "Star Trek: Generations" hit $118 million worldwide in 1994; "Star Trek: First Contact" reached $146 million in 1996; and two years later, "Star Trek: Insurrection’s" tally was $112.5 million. Basically, domestic numbers were only so-so, and international was a non-factor.
So having established itself as one of the best brands in entertainment over the decades thanks to merchandising, multiple TV series and earlier film hits, "Star Trek" was going the wrong way. Moonves then became a team player, loaning "Star Trek" to Paramount and then president Gail Berman with one caveat: He gave them 18 months to make it.
Enter J.J. Abrams.
Berman started to think about the right person for the job. Abrams had signed an overall deal at the studio in July 2006; "Mission: Impossible III" was, surprisingly, a critical hit and still a moneymaker (though it led to the Redstone-Tom Cruise flap); "Lost" had become a major success for ABC; and people were talking about Abrams — as they still are — about becoming his generation’s Steven Spielberg.
But when approached about "Star Trek," he first came on only to produce and supervise the screenplay, but never committed to direct. And he wasn’t even that big of a fan: In a recent online interview with bild.com, Abrams admitted, "I don’t know why, but I never got into it. I never accepted it the way friends of mine did. I always felt a little bit on the outside. But ‘Star Wars’ — in 1977, I was 11 years old, and it just blew my head open. So, for me, ‘Star Wars’ was redefining and ‘Star Trek’ was a disconnect."
Abrams wasn’t the only one with doubts. While his William Morris agent David Lonner steered him in the right direction, there were, according to multiple people in the Abrams camp, many at WMA that didn’t want him anywhere near a stale property since he had become one of the hottest names in town.
What’s more, there was — like with any movie — a wish list of possible directors. And at some point, Sam Raimi was actually offered the director’s job, two other individuals close to the early Abrams negotiations said.
Raimi had breathed profitable life into Sony’s "Spider-Man" franchise and knew how to bring a cultural relevance to his movies. But, the sources say, when the Abrams train built up a head of steam, the talks with Raimi officially ended.
Raimi’s CAA representatives declined to comment.