A raccoon in space and a talking tree may not seem the stuff of box-office magic, but "Guardians of the Galaxy" exceeded expectations with an estimated $94 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend at the box office.
That set a record for the biggest August opening of all time and is the third-highest opening of 2014. Only “
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Audiences and critics alike have responded well, with an A grade from audience polling firm Cinemascore and a more than 90% 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,
"This, as a choice -- of course it's genius today but was fraught with risks and challenges," Hollis said Sunday morning. "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 biopic of the singer James Brown, which came in third with an estimated $14 million. This was in line with expectations from Universal Pictures, which released the movie. Exit data showed the opening weekend audiences were 63% female and 70% African American.
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 director Tate Taylor's previous film, the hit "The Help."
"Quite frankly, we didn't see anything like it in the marketplace," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "It seemed like a perfect fit for the date."
Universal had the No. 2 movie for the weekend, the Luc Besson action romp “Lucy” starring
Paramount's "Transformers: The Age of Extinction," the year's highest-grossing film to date, 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 own part, "Guardians" director James Gunn, has been in disbelief for some time now.
"I can't believe they let me do all this stuff," Gunn said in a mid-July interview with The Times' Hero Complex. "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?'"