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‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Eyes $100M Box-Office Opening

Paramount rolls outs J.J. Abrams' space epic sequel in Imax theaters Wednesday and goes nationwide on Thursday

Projections for "Star Trek Into Darkness" have surged in the past week, putting J.J. Abrams' space epic sequel on track to take in more than $100 million at the box office over its extended debut weekend.

Paramount Pictures will dock "Star Trek Into Darkness” in 336 Imax 3D theaters Wednesday, one day ahead of its nationwide rollout in more than 3,800 locations.

The sci-fi adventure should easily knock Disney’s Marvel superhero sequel “Iron Man 3,” which is coming off a $72 million second week, out of the weekend's top box-office spot. Other studios are steering clear: there are no other wide releases this week.

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Expectations have risen since Paramount last week announced Imax sellouts for Wednesday's shows in New York, L.A., San Francisco and several other major markets, and moved the wide release date up a day, from Friday to Thursday.

On Tuesday, tickets for "Star Trek Into Darkness" accounted for 71 percent of online ticket broker Fandango's sales, and rival Movietickets.com reports more than 300 sellouts. The reviews have been very strong; it has an 88 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Paramount and director Abrams successfully re-launched the franchise with “Star Trek” in 2009 by broadening its appeal well beyond its Trekkie base, running up more than $255 million domestically in the process. The sequel is expected to do even better, and that’s good news for producers Paramount, Skydance Pictures and Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, since the production budget was $190 million and there’s been a major marketing push behind the film.

Chris Pine returns as Capt. Kirk, and is rejoined by Zach Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Lt. Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov) and Simon Pegg (Scotty). British actor Benedict Cumberbatch comes aboard as the baddie Khan. Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with Damon Lindelof, wrote the screenplay.

"The anticipation for this film has been strong and steady for months,” BoxOffice.com Editor-in-Chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap. The film's hardcore fans have are energized, and January's announcement that Abrams would be directing Disney's "Star Wars VII" further stoked their anticipation.

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Contrino agrees that the film’s base is expanding, but thinks "Into Darkness" also will get a boost from some older fans.

“The buzz around the last film was so strong that I think this one will be bring in a lot of the fans of the older films,” he said. The 11 previous movies in the series have grossed more than $1.8 billion globally since  “Star Trek: The Motion Picture" launched the franchise in 1979.

Those movies hewed closed to the mythology (“Beam me up, Scotty”) of the culturally iconic 1960s TV show created by Gene Rodenberry. The last film and “Into Darkness” both make nods to the classic series, but forsake overt references for more action.

Some of that is Abrams’ putting his stamp on the franchise, but some of the focus and the marketing has been tweaked to make the movie more appealing to foreign audiences. For all of its success domestically, the series has not been a moneymaker overseas.

Also read: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Opens at Warp Speed at Overseas Box Office

Determined to reverse that trend and turn “Into Darkness” into a global hit, Paramount hosted focus groups in foreign markets, who told the studios they were more interested in the action than “Trekkie stuff,” and the studio adjusted the film and the marketing. They also sent the filmmakers and cast members on a number of trips abroad to build anticipation, and added British stars Cumberbatch and Alice Eve to the cast to pique interest in that market.

The strategy worked, at least last weekend. “Star Trek Into Darkness” brought in $31.7 million from seven territories, led by the more than $13 million from the U.K., in its foreign debut.