Here goes as I try to tackle the battle of the ages…
Star Trek fans are often portrayed as being a little nerdy, but this is only testament to fan devotion. The TV Show alone is the 13th most-watched television series ever aired. Star Trek: The Next Generation had a mere 31 million viewers boldly going where no armchair had been before. Star Trek has affected generations, being aired for the first time in 1966. The first episode, The Cage, was called “too cerebral,” and “too intellectual,” and so Star Trek was apparently dumbed down for us harebrained earthlings. There have been a bunch of Star Trek movies, but the one that did the best in terms of box office receipts was 2009’s Star Trek.
The franchise has perhaps only one major space competitor – have you guessed which franchise that could be?
Star Trek is what we call a media franchise, having been the focus of novels, comics, movies, cartoons and a toy business. But Star Wars most certainly has had its fingers in just as many pies, having been made into cartoons, and being featured in comics. If you are old enough to remember, the Millennium Falcon model was perhaps the greatest Christmas gift a kid in the 80s could ever have.
The only thing Stars Wars has never been is a serious TV show like Star Trek. It did, however, appear on TV as short TV specials in 2011 and 2012 in the form of Lego. There were also animated TV series and TV movies in the 70s and 80s that were largely unsuccessful compared to Star Trek the series. As a movie, it seems people could buy into the ‘too good to be true’ Luke Skywalker character, but when consumed in large doses, audiences wanted to be spared the myth and given a hardy human womanizer hero in Captain James T. Kirk.
Before we get into talking about the art of these space enterprises, let’s have a look at some numbers. In terms of viewers, the most popular Star Wars movie ever was the first one: The 1977 film just called Star Wars. It’s anyone’s guess how many people have actually seen this film, but some non-expert opinions say around a billion. In terms of who went to the cinema, 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the most popular movie in the franchise. But, while fewer people saw the original on its release, in terms of U.S. population at the time, more than 40 percent of Americans went to see that movie in the theater.
Only a small percentage saw The Force Awakens. So, if you take ticket sales and adjust the amount for inflation, the original movie earned $1,330,752,155. The Force Awakens is indeed second, with worldwide box-office sales at over $2 billion ($2,058,662,225). The entire movie franchise has made over $7 billion ($7,604,560,371), and that’s not counting all the money generated from those kids in the 80s that had a small plastic Luke Skywalker figure. Star Trek movies have not been so successful. The first original movie was called Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and that was made in 1979 after moneyed folks in LA saw how well Star Wars did. It made $139 million. The movies that did the best at the worldwide box office were Star Trek ($385,680,446); Star Trek Into Darkness ($467,381,584); and Star Trek Beyond ($336,398,312).
It’s thought that the entire Star Trek Franchise, in terms of the 13 movies, made roughly $1.5 billion dollars in the US alone and $2.8 billion worldwide. But if we adjust that for inflation, the number would be a bit higher. That’s approximately one-third of the Star Wars total, but we haven’t included TV, and that’s where Star Trek really shines brightly.
You can’t put a number on how much Star Trek has made on TV over 40 years, but no doubt it’s a lot more than the Star Wars films have earned at the box office.
Someone actually wrote a book called ‘Star Wars vs Star Trek: Could the Empire kick the Federation’s ass?’ In the book, the writer tells us that in 2006, the TV franchise was worth around $4 billion. The writer also states that it is impossible to figure out just how much the TV series has earned, not only through TV but in clothing sales, posters, games, DVDs, pendants, plastic figures, etc. It’s likely that it is a lot more money than Star Wars ever made.
So, now it’s time to look at the real value of these franchises and consider the art. Do you consider Spock’s Vulcan philosophy a venerable stoic philosophy? Is Kirk the interpretation of every man, virtue struggling with sometimes wayward masculinity? Is Star Wars and its dark side the fight all humans face as they struggle to be ethical in a world of desire and temptations? Is there innate good and evil in the world, a white and black universe, or does the deeper meaning of life go beyond good and evil? We speak in philosophical terms because both these franchises have been extolled for not only being action-packed blockbusters, but for offering the average audience member a higher meaning.
There’s a bit of Plato in the Stars Wars good vs. bad dichotomy, with a dash of Immanuel Kant in the ethics department. Star Trek can be stoical, but Friedrich Nietzsche also plays a part in this confounding universe that is sometimes beyond explanation. Ok, we lost half of you. In terms of the art, what do critics say is best? It’s all about taste really, but we could go out on a limb and say Star Trek is the more experimental enterprise. Recent reports tell us that Quentin Tarantino will have a hand in the next Star Trek movie, and the bold artist of the audacious movie Pulp Fiction says he has a “great idea” for when he takes over as director and J.J. Abrams produces. One could argue that Star Wars doesn’t take many risks, but does it need to? That classic first movie is embedded in the minds of most of the world’s population. It has become a historical event.
As has been argued, though, Star Trek has a fandom much more serious than Star Wars. Trekkies probably out-nerd Star Wars fans. Both franchises have had slip-ups, with Star Trek’s being the film ‘Into Darkness’ and Star Wars walking on eggshells when it introduced the infamous Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. This character seemed to undermine the seriousness of the Dark Empire, and the ruthless souls who worked under a wicked emperor and a will-to-power military leader called Darth Vader.
Which is better? Business Insider gave 19 reasons why Star Wars was the better franchise, but the reasons were weak, to say the least. The writer even argued that the fact that Star Trek is more science-based was not such a big deal. We might also remember that many of the gadgets used in Star Trek in the past have actually become a real thing. Oh, and the article pointed out that Star Wars had better music. Gizmodo stooped even lower and attempted to see who would win in an actual fight. The writer said, “The goal is to assume the most favorable interpretations for each technology as demonstrated most coherently by each canon.” We’ll save you some effort and tell you Star Trek wins the scrap.
What does the public think? IGN created a poll asking people to vote on the two franchises. People were asked to take into consideration: movies, heroes, villains, ships, weapons, robots and aliens. 69,540 people responded to the poll and 53,636 voted for Star Wars while Star Trek only got the nod from 15,904 people.
The question is, which do you think is better? Star Trek or Star Wars? Let us know in the comments!