How ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Rescued the Summer Box Office (Video)

The record-breaking opening of Disney and Marvel's wacky space romp sets stage for a big finish to a strange, desultory season

Peter “Star Lord” Quill and his motley crew manage to save the cosmos in Disney and Marvel's “Guardians of the Galaxy,” at least for the time being. But did they pull off an even more amazing feat — saving the struggling summer box office — with their stunning $94 million opening weekend?

Mathematically, no.

Going into the weekend, the summer was off nearly 20 percent from last year's record-breaker, and Monday morning it's still down by 17 percent. There's been no $400 million movie like last year's “Iron Man 3” and for that matter, no film has even hit $300 million domestically. Once Universal was forced to delay “Fast & Furious 7” and Disney pushed Pixar's “The Good Dinosaur” to next year, it was clear this season would have a tough time matching 2013, the biggest in history.

But psychologically, and in terms of momentum, Quill, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Drax may have turned the tide with their debut, which beat analysts’ projections by an eye-popping $20 million and was by far the biggest August debut ever.

Also read: 7 Reasons Why ‘Guardians of Galaxy’ Blew Up the Box Office

The top 12 movies took in $172 million over the weekend according to Box Office Mojo, a huge 40 percent jump over the same weekend last year.

“I think one movie can make all the difference,” Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap, “and this one hit the spot after weeks of gloom and doom.”

The rebound couldn't have come at a better time for the movie biz. Last month began on a bummer when the July 4 holiday was a major dud, and it never recovered. It wound up down down a whopping 30 percent from last year, and was the worst July in 12 years.

But thanks to the big debut by “Guardians” and strong lineup over the next few weeks, it looks like this could be a very successful August. Paramount's “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is tracking well and opens on Friday, along with “Into the Storm,” “Step Up All In” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” The following weekend, Sly Stallone brings his badass geezers for another go-round in “Expendables 3” and Fox rolls out the comedy “Let's Be Cops.”

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Also read: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Review: Michael Bay's Reboot an Empty Shell

Meanwhile, “Guardians” will still be steaming along. We'll see how many of its 4,080 theaters it keeps this weekend, but it's hard to imagine many exhibitors jumping off that bandwagon. And it will keep its full complement of IMAX theaters, which provided a major boost over the weekend.

“IMAX, Premium Large Format and 3D all did great,” Dergarabedian said. “That because when you have a film like this, it's like buying a luxury car — you want to get it with all of the high-end options.”

Momentum matters in the movie biz. When loads of people have positive experiences at the multiplex and head back to the water cooler at work — or take to Twitter and Facebook — it encourages others to get out and do the same.

Also read: Why Hollywood Isn't Really Sweating the Summer Slump at Box Office

“And think of all the marketing and trailers that people were exposed to this weekend,” Dergarbedian said. “There's no doubt that will have a positive effect.”

This has been a strange and desultory summer for Hollywood, devoid of huge bombs or massive blockbusters. But a big August could cut the drop from last year, and more importantly provide a psychological lift for both the industry and moviegoers as we head into fall. Everything would have to fall into place, but the year — which is now down about 6 percent from 2013 — could eventually match or at least come close to last year.

It's still a long shot. But so was a movie about a heavily armed raccoon and a talking tree with a funky 1970s soundtrack making box-office history.