| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES The big-screen return of "Star Trek" launched into warp drive as it grossed an estimated $7 million from advance screenings in North American theaters, Daily Variety reported on Friday.
That tally, generated from Thursday night showings in most of the 3,800-plus U.S. and Canadian theaters where the film officially opens on Friday, puts "Star Trek" on track to rival or exceed the $85 million debut of the comic book adventure "X-Men Origins: Wolverine last weekend.
"Star Trek" ranks among the best reviewed movies of the year. The big question is whether it can bridge the generation gap between aging "Trekkie" fans of the 43-year-old franchise and legions of younger moviegoers on whom the film's financial success depends.
There was no immediate word from the film's distributor, Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures studio, on its early returns.
But the $7 million Variety estimated in preview business from Thursday's 7 p.m. and midnight screenings bodes well for the movie, the 11th feature-length title in the "Star Trek" canon.
"That's a very solid start. That means people really went out of their way to see the movie," said Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com Box Office, who credited the film's eye-catching trailer for spurring early interest in the picture.
"It's rare that there's a convergence of critical raves and box-office strength," he added.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, the latest film is intended as a "reboot" of the original 1960s TV series, with updated special effects and a story line that explains how the crew of the galaxy-hopping Starship Enterprise, including Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan first officer, Spock, first met.
Like "Star Trek," Paramount launched its Marvel comic book drama "Iron Man" on a Thursday night in May 2008 and grossed over $4 million from those advance evening and midnight runs en route to more than $102 million through its first weekend.
Last week's top film, "Wolverine," released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp, collected nearly $5 million from midnight-only previews last Thursday.
Opening weekend estimates for "Star Trek" have been all over the map. Dergarabedian predicted the movie could make between $80 million and $100 million in its first Friday-through-Sunday stretch. A source at Paramount has said the studio is guiding toward just over $50 million.
The film's biggest competition this weekend will come from "Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman, but box office watchers expect that film, which has received much-less glowing reviews, to play second to "Star Trek" in theaters.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)