By the end of the 20th century, the fanbase was literally dying off. Even The Next Generation era, which introduced the franchise to a younger audience, wasn't enough to keep the films going. These three new films attracted a broader audience but it remains to be seen if those audiences care about the characters and not just the spectacle.
I have to wonder how Gravity, Interstellar, or The Martian might have performed with a suffix like "A Star Trek Story" attached to the title. Would they have attracted fewer moviegoers because it's Trek? Or more because it's not Matt Damon trying to survive a hostile planet but Simon Pegg's Scotty? Or Karl Urban's McCoy floating around in space instead of Sandra Bullock? Would Arrival have performed better with Zoe Saldana's Uhura making first contact instead of Amy Adams?
Is there a large enough audience for intimate, modestly budgeted, character-driven Trek films?
Yeah I think there is a large enough audience for a Star Trek movie to follow a number of formats - I think that is the success of Star Trek, it is a fundamentally very open, broad and flexible idea. I mean who would have thought back in 2002 when Nemesis launched that 7 years later after the franchise was only going further into oblivion, that Paramount would spend $150 million on Star Trek and make a massive success of it.
I think we have to look at why that first movie was such a success. I think 2009 worked because it changed the status quo whilst being faithful to what people remember Star Trek being. It offered up something absolutely refreshing to people who had just switched off. I think there is a huge fan base out there that simply fell asleep during Voyager and Enterprise and Insurrection and Nemesis because nothing was being changed, Star Trek was operating within this ever shrinking box that only few fans would really appreciate and understand.
Along comes Abrams and just smashes that box open and does something with Star Trek, inspired by his love of Star Wars, that revolutionised and gave this franchise so much more room to breath and to create new and exciting stories. Where Abrams kind of failed was by undoing all of the work Star Trek did so brilliantly by going back to the familiar Star Trek tropes - Khan, this time Kirk dies, Spock lives, Spock shouts KHAAAAAN! Its a bit like you leave the theatre sighing rather than wanting more.
Into Darkness I still think is actually a very good movie with a lot of heavy, relevant themes running through it and ultimately the movie succeeds up until Khan does what we all expect Khan to do. Admiral Marcus was the bad guy in that movie and I think what would have been good is if by the end of Into Darkness, whilst they still had to detain Khan, It was the fact that Admiral Marcus wanted to militarise Starfleet and aggressively assert his idea of what he felt Starfleet should evolve into. Khan could of been a Section 31 defector... But I think studios were looking for their Joker and Dark Knight and Star Trek Into Darkness was born with Khan.
I think the lack of success Beyond had was really down to the reaction Into Darkness got rather than the quality of Into Darkness as a film. But even so, Beyond wasn't anything like the first movie, it played it very safe by returning Star Trek to familiar territory and when you've made such a point of making things different, only to return to what is familiar three movies in, you kind of loose that new audience you'd impressed in 2009.
I mean I think they've really made this a lot more difficult than it should of been, they should of done something so radical and turned Star Trek on its head after the 2009 movie all the while remaining faithful to the point of Trek.
I think with Star Trek 4, they need to again break the mould. Do something unexpected. With the 2009 movie, it was such a brazen movie from start to finish, they give Spock and Uhura a relationship and blow up Vulcan! I mean who does that! Thats f*cking ballsy! Thats what Star Trek needed and needs again. What you do to break the mould with Star Trek once more, who knows, but I think the important thing is to give fan criticism very little attention and do something with Star Trek that shocks people but in a very good, pleasing way. This can't be Star Trek 4: The movie where everyone dies or where the Earth blows up. This has to be something that when you leave the movie theatres you turn to your friends, wife, girlfriend and you both come out hugely satisfied and mind blown. I think Bad Robot can do it, I trust in their ability to make a decent Star Trek movie, I just hope it doesn't play it safe and doesn't rely on what we already know Star Trek to be. It needs to bring something new to the table.