By Pamela McClintock
Rousing the ailing summer box office to life, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy opened to a record-breaking $94 million in North America, the top August debut of all time and besting every other summer tentpole save for Transformers: Age of Extinction in another sizeable victory for Marvel Studios.
Overseas, Guardians also dazzled, debuting to $66.4 million in 42 markets for a global opening of $160.4 million.
The Marvel and Disney tentpole did far more business than expected after receiving glowing reviews for its originality and an A CinemaScore from audiences. The movie, launching only the second in-house Marvel franchise after the Avengers series, received the widest release ever for an August title (4,080 theaters), and easily surpassed the debut of previous August record-holder The Bourne Ultimatum ($69.3 million).
Guardians also secured the best showing of the year so far for an original property, as well as opening ahead of high-profile summer offerings Godzilla ($93.2 million), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($91.6 million) and X-Men: Days of Future Past ($90.8 million). And it’s the third best debut of the year so far after Age of Extinction ($100 million) and fellow Marvel movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million).
Heading into the weekend, the Marvel and Disney tentpole was projected to gross $65 million to $70 million in its domestic debut.
Still, Guardians of the Galaxy won’t be able to rescue the ailing summer overall. The weekend may have been up from last year, but summer revenue is still down by a large margin.
Featuring a rag-tag group of unlikely galactic heroes, Guardians stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace and Bradley Cooper, who voices the role of Rocket the raccoon. Vin Diesel, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro also star.
Hype around Guardians has been so high that Marvel and Disney have already announced plans for a July 28, 2017 sequel, with Gunn returning to direct.
The movie’s tone is much different than the Avengers franchise, and is laced with humor. “It’s much more of a space opera than a superhero movie,” Gunn said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Guardians wasn’t a cheap proposition and cost $170 million to produce. That doesn’t include Disney and Marvel’s pricey marketing campaign.
This weekend’s other new wide offering, James Brown biopic Get On Up, placed No. 3 with an OK $14 million. The movie was directed by The Help director Tate Taylor, and stars Chadwick Boseman as the legendary godfather of soul. Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment produced the $30 million film with Mick Jagger.
Universal is handling the release of Get On Up, and opened the biopic in the same corridor as The Help, which debuted to $26 million, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which opened to just north of $24 million.
Get on Up came in No. 3 after Guardians and fellow Universal title Lucy, which fell to No. 2 on its second Friday, falling a respectable 58 percent to $18.2 million for a pleasing domestic total of $79.6 million.
Paramount and MGM’s Hercules continued to lag behind Lucy, falling to No. 4 in its second outing with an estimated $10 million to $11 million for a $52 million-plus domestic total. The action epic tumbled a steep 64 percent (the movie is faring far better overseas).
Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rounded out the top five, grossing roughly $8.5 million for a domestic total of nearly $190 million.