LOS ANGELES -- A raccoon in space and a talking tree with a limited vocabulary may not seem the stuff of box-office magic, but Guardians of the Galaxy exceeded expectations with an estimated $94.3 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters last weekend.
That set a record for the biggest August opening of all time and is the third-highest opening of 2014. Only Transformers: Age of Extinction and Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened better than Guardians this year. The former August record holder was 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, which opened with $69.2 million.
Although it's part of the same Marvel Studios brand behind the Captain America, Iron Man and Avengers movies, Guardians of the Galaxy was not the most obvious mega-budget blockbuster. Drawn from a relatively obscure comic book within the universe of Marvel titles, the film, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, got some unexpected comedic snap from director and co-screenwriter James Gunn.
Audiences and critics alike have responded well, with an A grade from audience polling firm Cinemascore and a more than 90 percent positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
"The movie's surprise success [studio projections and audience surveys had predicted an opening of $60 million to $75 million heading into the weekend] is an indicator of pent-up moviegoer demand during a slumping summer," said Dave Hollis, Walt Disney Studios' executive vice president of theatrical distribution. He acknowledged that Guardians benefited from being under Marvel's umbrella while also offering a new story, one that is more space adventure than superhero movie.
"This, as a choice -- of course it's genius today but was fraught with risks and challenges," Hollis said. "It was a departure from the traditional superhero fare that had been so successful for Marvel. But the brand has such extraordinary momentum."
The weekend's other big opener was Get on Up, a bio-pic about singer James Brown, which came in third with an estimated $13.5 million. This was in line with expectations from Universal Pictures, which released the movie. Exit data showed the opening weekend audiences were 63 percent female and 70 percent black.
With strong notices for Chadwick Boseman's performance as Brown, even if reviewers didn't entirely care for the movie overall, the film could gain momentum on through awards season and cross over to broader audiences. The late-summer release date was similar to that of director Tate Taylor's previous film, the hit The Help.
Universal had the No. 2 movie for the weekend, the Luc Besson action romp Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson, which brought in about $18 million in its second week. The studio also had the No. 7 film for the weekend, the low-budget horror-thriller sequel The Purge: Anarchy, which made $5.8 million. With a cumulative gross of a little more than $63 million, the film is expected to overtake the total of the 2013 original this week.
Paramount Pictures' Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson and directed by Brett Ratner, came in No. 4 for the weekend with an estimated $11 million, bringing its cumulative total to $52.6 million in its second week of release. Fox's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at No. 5 brought in an estimated $8.6 million in its fourth week to raise its take so far to $189 million.
Paramount's Transformers: The Age of Extinction, the year's highest-grossing film to date -- at No. 12 -- crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office worldwide.
But the weekend belonged to Disney, Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn will return to direct a sequel, planned for summer 2017. Having bookended the summer with a Captain America sequel and the first Guardians picture, and with the much-anticipated Avengers sequel on deck for next year, Marvel's momentum does not look to be slowing any time soon.
"It's crazy to think it's only been since 2008 when Iron Man came on the scene," Disney's Hollis said. "The consistency with which the Marvel team has pulled movies together -- they have been really deliberate about how each story is intertwined and how the sum of the parts ends up equaling a far richer experience."
For his part, Guardians director James Gunn, has been in disbelief for some time.
"I can't believe they let me do all this stuff," Gunn said in mid-July. "For the past two years, all I've been doing is driving forward, making this movie. Now I'm done and I'm standing outside of it, and I'm going, 'How did you guys let me get away with all that?'"
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Rentrak, are:
Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney, $94,320,883, 4,080 locations, $23,118 average, $94,320,883, one week.
Lucy, Universal, $18,252,590, 3,202 locations, $5,700 average, $79,539,975, two weeks.
Get on Up, Universal, $13,585,915, 2,468 locations, $5,505 average, $13,585,915, one week.
Hercules, Paramount, $11,010,367, 3,595 locations, $3,063 average, $52,658,415, two weeks.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox, $8,690,314, 3,283 locations, $2,647 average, $189,319,987, four weeks.
Planes: Fire and Rescue, Disney, $6,044,003, 3,241 locations, $1,865 average, $47,216,209, three weeks.
The Purge: Anarchy, Universal, $5,853,245, 2,656 locations, $2,204 average, $63,264,220, three weeks.
Sex Tape, Columbia, $3,522,201, 2,500 locations, $1,409 average, $33,880,665, three weeks.
A Most Wanted Man, Roadside Attractions, $3,240,980, 726 locations, $1,334 average, $6,975,629, two weeks.
And So It Goes, Freestyle Releasing, $3,261,935, 1,816 locations, $1,796 average, $10,390,718, two weeks.
Boyhood, IFC Films, $2,398,683, 310 locations, $7,738 average, $7,442,063, four weeks.
Transformers: Age of Extinction, Paramount, $2,241,072, 1,732 locations, $1,294 average, $241,206,987, six weeks.
Tammy, Warner Bros., $1,568,002, 1,415 locations, $1,108 average, $81,530,707, five weeks.
How to Train Your Dragon 2, 20th Century Fox, $1,216,629, 861 locations, $1,413 average, $168,570,686, eight weeks.
Maleficent, Disney, $1,272,342, 681 locations, $1,868 average, $234,740,473, 10 weeks.
22 Jump Street, Columbia, $1,180,532, 828 locations, $1,426 average, $188,441,614, eight weeks.
Magic in the Moonlight, Columbia Pictures Classics, $740,759, 65 locations, $11,396 average, $1,323,095, two weeks.
Begin Again, The Weinstein Co., $668,236, 727 locations, $919 average, $13,755,573, six weeks.
Chef, Open Road, $657,530, 350 locations, $1,879 average, $28,310,000, 13 weeks.
Edge of Tomorrow, Warner Bros., $629,586, 402 locations, $1,566 average, $98,621,346, nine weeks.
MovieStyle on 08/08/2014
Print Headline: Guardians zaps August record