“Guardians of the Galaxy,” Disney and Marvel’s raucous superhero space romp, opened to an electrifying $94 million to win the weekend and put a charge into the slumping summer box office.
The opening by “Guardians” is nearly $20 million ahead of analysts projections and shatters the record for an August debut, ahead of the $69.2 million of “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007. It’s also better than the $85 million that “Thor: The Dark World” opened to last November and just behind the $95 million that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” did in April.
With “Guardians leading the way, the top ten films delivered roughly $170 million. That’s well ahead of the $118 million that the same weekend totaled last summer. It doesn’t save the summer — this season is running roughly 20 percent behind last year’s record-breaking total — but it reverses the momentum after a nearly two-month run of down weekends.
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All this from a movie whose biggest-name stars — Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper — voice CGI characters Groot the tree creature and the gun-toting Rocket Raccoon?
“We came into the weekend knowing that momentum had been a question,” Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis told TheWrap, “and we didn’t know if that would work against us. But this was something fresh, and people were ready to come back to the theaters.
“The big Thursday night really helped, and the word of mouth hit a fever pitch on Friday and this really turned into something special,” he said.
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The base of Marvel fans, no doubt mobilized by last week’s ComicCon, turned out and delivered $11.2 million at Thursday’s early screenings. That led to a $37.8 million Friday that ignited the weekend.
“They really were ambassadors for us,” Hollis said.
With its $170 million price tag, “Guardians” was at one time seen as a risky bet. But Disney and Marvel realized that “Guardians” — based on one of Marvel Comics’ more obscure set of characters — and its mix of humor, music and classic superhero action was connecting, and last week commissioned a 2017 sequel at Comic-Con.
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The huge debut is a stunner however, 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. It gives yet more momentum to Marvel, which has dominated the summer with No. 1 movies including “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and had “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in April.
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 and the aforementioned Groot and Rocket in a chase against interstellar baddies for an all-powerful orb.
The reviews have been terrific, and it’s over 90 percent positive on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. Opening weekend audiences — which broke down 56 percent male and 55 percent over the age of 25 — agreed and gave it an “A” CinemaScore. Adults made up 59 percent of the crowd, families 26 percent and teens 15 percent.
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“Guardians” played in an August record 4,080 theaters, and got a big boost from premium surcharges at the roughly 3,200 locations offering 3D, as well as 354 IMAX theaters and about the same number of Premium Large Format theaters. IMAX theaters alone delivered an August-record $11.7 million, or roughly 12 percent of the domestic total. PLF brought in eight percent and the combined 3D total was 45 percent.
“People looking for summer to extend into overtime and this delivered,” IMAX president Greg Foster told TheWrap. “It was irreverent but had an originality and earnestness to it that people really appreciated.”
“Guardians” also opened in 42 foreign markets, about half of its eventual international run. It took in $66 million, giving it a $160 million global total in its first weekend.
The weekend’s only other wide opener, Universal’s James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” finished third with $14 million. That’s a little better than expected for the music tale starring Chadwick Boseman (“42”) and directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”) and produced by Brian Grazer‘s Imagine Entertainment and Mick Jagger for roughly $30 million. It’s also a little ahead of the $13 million that another music film, the Four Seasons biopic “Jersey Boys,” opened to in June.
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Audiences agreed with critics on the well-reviewed “Get On Up,” and gave it an “A” CinemaScore. The crowd at its 2,468 theaters was 70 percent African-American, 63 percent female and 95 percent over the age of 25.
Last week’s No. 1 movie, the Scarlett Johansson sci-fi thriller ‘Lucy,” another Universal release, was second with $18.2 million.
Paramount’s “Hercules,” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing the Greek hero, claimed the fourth spot with a $10.7 million second week. Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was fifth with $8.7 million, which lifts its domestic total to nearly $190 million, ahead of the $176 million that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” took in.