‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Blasts Off With $17.5 Million in Thursday Previews

James Gunn’s final Marvel film is projected for an opening weekend of at least $110 million

(L-R): Karen Gillan as Nebula, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and Dave Bautista as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Marvel Studios)

The summer box office season has officially begun with the release of Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which made $17.5 million from Thursday preview screenings.

That figure is slightly above the $17 million earned by “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” in May 2017, though James Gunn’s trilogy capper is expected to have a lower opening weekend than its predecessor’s $146.5 million. The film is currently projected for an opening of at least $110 million, though some analysts and rival distributors tell TheWrap that the opening could get closer to $130 million if audience word-of-mouth leads to more walk-up traffic.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a key release for the entire MCU brand. The film is, like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” a Marvel movie with a fandom specific to the respective franchise. In other words, even folks who stepped off the Marvel train after “Avengers: Endgame” may still pop back in for James Gunn’s trilogy capper.

Disney is hoping for a finale bump, and in this case, it might be genuine since Gunn is currently revamping Warner Bros.’ DC Studios. Moreover, the appeal of this franchise is so specifically rooted in these actors (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, etc.) as these specific outer-space outcasts. While the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise remains much-liked, this third film hasn’t sold anything other than “another one of these movies” and “the last entry in the franchise” sans any added value elements.

Reviews for “Guardians Vol. 3” have been mostly positive with an 80% Rotten Tomatoes score at the time of writing. The film comes after Marvel’s last release, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” flopped at the box office with less than $500 million grossed worldwide and had the worst second-weekend drop of any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Word-of-mouth for most of Marvel’s recent films has taken a slide, and with China no longer a reliable source of revenue for Hollywood films, the buzz for “Guardians Vol. 3” needs to be strong this weekend for it to leg out into the second half of May, when films like “Fast X” and “The Little Mermaid” will serve as potent competition.