Why it’s hard to make a Star Trek movie with so many Trek shows around

Noah Hawley has been trying to get a Star Trek movie off the ground for a while now. Why has there been no movement for so long?

Did you know that there are seven Star Trek shows either on the air right now or coming to the air? Let’s count them off. There’s Star Trek: Discovery — the third season of that premieres tonight. There’s Star Trek: Lower Decks, which just wrapped up its premiere year. Star Trek: Picard brings Patrick Stewart back to his iconic role. We also have Short Treks, a series of Star Trek short films that’s still ongoing. And down the line, we have Discovery spinoff Strange New Worlds, animated show Star Trek: Prodigy, and a show about intelligence agency Section 31.

It’s a lot. And we have a whole movie franchise to worry about. There hasn’t been a new Star Trek movie since 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. That movie underperformed, but Paramount still wanted to move forward with another film, but stars Chris Pine (Captain Kirk) and Chris Hemsworth (Kirk’s dad) wouldn’t agree to pay cuts. Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley eventually proposed a new movie with a fresh cast, which would have kept down costs, but that’s on hold as well as the studio rethinks things in the age of COVID-19.

And really, even if Hawley could make a new Star Trek movie, would we even want one with so many shows on the air? Hawley talked about the challenges of getting a new Trek movie off the ground to Collider:

One of the biggest challenges that anybody has right now is, what is the feature film business? Certainly, we are at a moment when the movie theater experience is dormant, at least for a year or two. And the only way to make your money back on a $100 million-plus movie is box office. If you can’t rely on that, how do you run that business unless you have a really strong streaming play, which Disney tried with Mulan by charging $30 for it. You can make your money that way, but it’s yet to be proven out that people will spend $30 for a home viewing experience. I think that is one of the biggest challenges out of making a film out of a brand that people who are already getting a taste of. It’s making sure that it is going to justify the expense of it.

So basically, if there was ever hope of a new Star Trek film, it’s not happening while studios try to figure out a way to make money from movies when no one is going to theaters. And even when that passes, Hawley and other filmmakers will still be dealing with a business model that prioritizes big loud mega-budget features over smaller ones, even if they’re reliably profitable:

[W]hat you get into with the film companies that don’t have a strong streaming play, is they are not in the business of making a little bit of money. The only business they can be in is the making a lot of money business. It’s the tentpole business. So if you were to offer them a $20 million Star Trek movie that could at best earn $80, $90, or $100 million, it might not even be worth the price of admission for them, if that makes sense. I’m sure you could go to CBS All Access and say, “Let me make a 2-hour Star Trek movie for streaming.” That might be worth it.

It’s always depressing to hear this sort of talk, even if it’s true. There’s definitely more flexibility to do something smaller and more creative on a streaming service than at the movies, although I wonder why more studios don’t try their hand at the mid-budget kind of fare Hawley is talking about. Making $80 million on a $20 million still means you earned $60 million in profit; keep getting those kinds of returns and you’ve got a solid business going.

We’ll see if anything develops. In the meantime, Trek fans have approximately three hundred new shows to enjoy.

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