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"Guardians of the Galaxy," the latest action film from Walt Disney Co.'s Marvel Studios, opened as the top weekend picture in cinemas, smashing forecasts with ticket sales of $94 million for the best August opening ever.
The studio spent $170 million making the movie, according to Box Office Mojo, and many millions on advertising it over the course of many months, adding up to a big bet.
Disney also made the most of corporate holdings such as ABC to promote the movie. Star Chris Pratt, who plays Peter Quill in the film, appeared on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" way back in February to show viewers the first trailer. An extended trailer later ran during high-profile TV programming such as the NBA Finals.
"Guardians" opened in 4,080 theaters, the biggest release ever for August, according to Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak's senior media analyst. Sales at Imax theaters totaled $17 million, the best-ever for an August opening. Rentrak said the movie is the third- biggest debut for this year.
The picture, a funnier take on usually serious super-hero films, was forecast to pull in $72 million to $75 million, the estimates of BoxOfficeGuru.com and BoxOffice.com.
The "Guardians" sales number "is absolutely astounding, especially since this is not a sequel, and what makes it even more impressive is that it's based on characters that are not household names," Gitesh Pandya, editor of Box Office Guru, said in a telephone interview. "It's a combination of a very strong brand for Marvel, the built-in audience of comic-book fans who know these characters and also the factor that they really made a really good film."
Marvel is planning a "Guardians" sequel for 2017.
"Get On Up," a biopic about singer James Brown from Universal Pictures, opened in third place with sales of $14 million, researcher Rentrak Corp. said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Unlike Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers, the Guardians come from more-distant reaches of the Marvel archive and stay truer to the comic-book publisher's edgier early days, said Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times.
"Blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you're not quite sure what's going on, the scruffy 'Guardians' is irreverent in a way that can bring the first 'Star Wars' to mind," he wrote.
"Guardians" garnered a 92% favorable rating as of Aug. 1 from critics at Rottentomatoes.com, and had a 96% positive rating with fans. One of the reasons Burbank, California-based Disney purchased Marvel for more than $4 billion was to bolster its products for boys and young men.
Among returning films, Luc Besson's thriller "Lucy," starring Scarlett Johansson, pulled in $18 million in its second week of release for Universal to place second. BoxOffice.com had forecast revenue of $17.5 million.
"Lucy" joins a number of smaller-budget movies that have done well this summer, such as "Neighbors" and "22 Jump Street." The film was made for $40 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
~ Bloomberg News with Ad Age staff ~