“Guardians of the Galaxy” skyrocketed past expectations with a massive $37.8 million first day Friday, and is heading for a spectacular $90 million-plus opening weekend at the box office.
Disney’s Marvel superhero space opera is already a success, having spawned a sequel that the studio announced at last weekend’s Comic-Con and launched a new franchise that will be driving sequels and powering merchandising for years. But the stunning opening puts a huge exclamation point on the “Guardians” launch.
After posting the biggest Thursday night of the year with a fan boy-fueled $11.2 million, “Guardians” took off Friday. It will easily be the biggest August opening ever — the previous best was the $69.3 million of “The Bourne Ultimatum — and could beat analysts’ expectations by as much as $20 million. It got a boost from being in 4,080 theaters, also an August record.
The big first day sets “Guardians” up for one of the year’s best opening weekends. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” rode a $41.8 million Friday to $100 million, the year’s biggest debut, in July. Another of Disney’s Marvel superhero movies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” put up $37 million on its first day, on the way to a $95 million debut in April.
How high “Guardians” goes on Saturday and Sunday will hinge on word of mouth, and that looks to be terrific. Audiences — which broke down 59 percent male and 57 percent over the age of 25 — awarded it an “A” CinemaScore, in line with the critics, who have it at 91 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Guardians” is providing a shot in the arm for the struggling summer box office, which is down nearly 20 percent from last year’s record-breaking total. With Star Lord and company leading the way, the weekend was running about 35 percent ahead of the comparable frame last year; it’s the first weekend in nearly two months that the overall box office has run ahead of last year’s.
The huge “Guardians” debut is a stunner, in part because the James Gunn-directed saga features a whole new batch of characters, second-tier superheroes far less familiar than Thor, Iron Man and Captain America, part of Marvel’s Avengers pantheon.
In the film, Chris Pratt of TV’s “Parks and Recreation” leads a rag-tag band of space cowboys that includes Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Warrior (Dave Bautista), and CGI characters Groot the tree warrior (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the heavily-armed Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).
The weekend’s only other wide opener, Universal’s James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” took in $4.9 million on Friday. That puts the film, starring Chadwick Boseman (“42”) and directed by Taylor Tate (“The Help”), on course for an opening weekend near $15 million.
That’s a little better than expected, and should be good for third place, behind another Universal film, “Lucy.” The Scarlett Johansson sci-fi action film was on its way to an $18 million second week. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Hercules,” another second-week film, was heading for a $10 million three-day total and fourth place after taking in $3.1 million Friday.