In what amounted to a box-office victory lap, "Guardians of the Galaxy" beat out three newcomers to win the weekend and in the process became the summer's highest-grossing domestic movie with nearly $252 million.
Disney's Marvel superhero space romp took in $17.6 million over the three days to return to No. 1 nearly a month after its opening. "If I Stay," the teen tearjerker starring Chloe Moretz, opened to $16.5 million and was in a close race for second with "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which has held the top spot for the past two weekends.
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The weekend lifted "Guardians" past Paramount's "Transformers: Age of Extinction" as the summer's biggest blockbuster, which has taken in $243.9 million. Michael Bay's toy-bot epic is a major hit abroad and has brought in more than $1.05 billion globally, by far the most of any film. "Guardians" has shown remarkable staying power domestically, and was off just 30 percent from last week despite being in 326 fewer theaters.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is not only the biggest hit of the summer, it's one of the biggest surprises. Few figured before the start of the season that the collection of second-tier Marvel superheroes would hit the heights it has. But the James Gunn-directed space saga starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista -- with
"The Marvel team started with a great story, told it with extraordinary characters and did so while making something that appeals to all: that right mix of action and humor against a backdrop of sweeping, epic scope," Disney's distribution chief Dave Hollis told TheWrap.
"The result was an extraordinarily original film that since it's unlike anything folks have seen, stood out as such a fresh offering that people not only rushed to see it, they then became advocates for it and the word of mouth has delivered what we've seen through the run, including this return to the top."
"If I Stay" didn't come anywhere near "The Fault in Our Stars," another low-budget teen novel adaptation that broke out with a $48 million opening in June. But given its $10 million production budget, the adaptation of Gayle Forman's young adult bestseller is a solid win for Warner Bros. and MGM.
Adapted by Shauna Cross and directed by R.J. Cutler, "If I Stay" follows a young woman whose life changes drastically after she's involved in a terrible car accident. It connected with its young female target audience (77 percent women, 61 percent under 25) and received an "A-" CinemaScore. Mireille Enos and Jamie Blackley co-star.
The nine years between the original "Sin City" and the followup was clearly too much for the sequel to overcome.
The meager $6.5 million that it debuted with is less than a quarter of the $29 million that the original film opened with in 2005, and less than half of what "The Expendables 3" debuted with last weekend, and that's with inflation and the addition of 3D. The Weinstein Company-distributed "Dame to Kill For" couldn't even beat TWC's own young adult tale "The Giver," which brought in $6.8 million in its second week.
"It's tough to take because our hopes were much higher," said Erik Lomis, TWC's head of distribution. "It's a little bit like getting a bucket of ice water poured on you."
"Dame to Kill For" was financed and produced for a reported $60 million by Aldamisa, AR Films, Miramax, Solipsist and Quick Draw Productions, the company of Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed with Miller. The addition of Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green to the cast didn't help the sequel, which also featured Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis.
The reviews weren't good -- it's at 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes -- and the gritty, black-and-white comic-book look that made the original stand out isn't a novelty any more, and that may have hurt the most. That's in large part due to the success of other Miller films like "300" and its sequel, which utilized a similar mix of live-action and animation. It received a "B-" CinemaScore.
The best news for "When the Games Stands Tall" may have been the "A-" CinemaScore it received from opening weekend audiences. Sony is hoping that the story of Bob Ladouceur, who coached Northern California's De La Salle High football team to a decade-long winning streak, can build on its audience over the next couple of weeks and the positive word of mouth can only help. It was the only film this weekend to see its grosses rise -- by 20 percent -- from Friday to Saturday.
"When the Game Stands Tall" stars Jim Caviezel as the coach at the Catholic school, with Laura Dern as his wife and Michael Chiklis as his assistant. Thomas Carter ("Coach Carter") directs the inspirational tale, which targets families with a faith-based theme and was made for roughly $15 million.
The opening for "When the Game Stands Tall" is a little under two other recent sports movies, the John Hamm baseball-themed "Million Dollar Arm" ($10.5 million) and Kevin Costner's "Draft Day" ($9.7 million), but it's a good start given its lack of A-list stars and the uphill battle most sports face at the box office.
Though soft, the overall box office was up roughly five percent from the comparable weekend last year -- the fifth straight week it's done so -- but the summer remains about 14 percent behind last year's record-breaking total with one week to go.