Star Trek Into Darkness opens today in IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) theaters throughout the U.S. and then nationwide on Friday. There's plenty of enthusiasm for the film at Rotten Tomatoes, where 87% of critics have rated the film "fresh." But can it earn $1 billion at the worldwide box office, as Iron Man 3 is about to?

Perhaps it's an unfair question. In many ways, Captain Kirk and Iron Man are peers. Consider:

  • Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby created the Armored Avenger in 1963. Gene Roddenberry would bring Star Trek to TV just three years later.

  • Both depend on advanced technology to beat bad guys as they wow audiences.

  • Kirk and Iron Man's civilian persona, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, played expertly by actor Robert Downey Jr., are well known for their romantic dalliances.

If there's a difference between the franchises, it's at the box office. All told, there have been 12 Star Trek films since 1979, grossing under $1 billion worldwide on an adjusted basis and nearly $1.9 billion domestically when accounting for inflation. By contrast, Iron Man has generated roughly $3.7 billion in receipts over four big-screen appearances including Marvel's The Avengers.

A more direct comparison might be 2008's Iron Man vs. 2009's Star Trek. Each film launched in May to lead off that year's summer movie season, and both did well. But the Armored Avenger did better, earning about $200 million more at the worldwide box office for Marvel Studios parent Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS).

On the other hand, Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIA) Paramount Studios has been cashing in on the Star Trek TV series for four decades. Mix in revenue from all those episodes, and Iron Man's titanium alloy starts to look like a tin can in a head-to-head match.

Sources: Viacom/Paramount, Wikipedia.

Whichever film comes out on top -- I'm hoping both gross more than $1 billion -- I think it's already shaping up to the best summer movie season in IMAX history.

Do you agree? Will Star Trek Into Darkness perform as well as Iron Man 3 at the box office? Please vote in the following poll and then leave a comment to let us know what you thought of the films, and whether you'd consider buying IMAX at current prices.