Forecast: 'Guardians' To Take Off With August Record

by Ray Subers
Guardians of the Galaxy

July 31, 2014

Friday AM Update: Could Guardians of the Galaxy open to $100 million this weekend? Based on late Thursday earnings, this is actually within the realm of possibilities.

The 10th movie from Marvel Studios earned a stunning $11.2 million from Thursday night showings beginning at 7 p.m. That's the biggest Thursday night debut so far this year ahead of Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($10.2 million). It's also way ahead of June's Transformers: Age of Extinction ($8.75 million), which is the only movie to open over $100 million this year.

If Guardians of the Galaxy follows the same pattern as either of those movies—or of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past—it will score the biggest opening weekend of the year.

Of course, there's a chance that it's more front-loaded than those movies. Shows began early (7 p.m.), and everyone is out of school (which wasn't the case with the April and May releases). Also, Marvel's most committed fans (i.e. the ones who go on Thursday night) have always been on board with Guardians; it remains to be seen if more casual viewers have bought in.

Regardless, an August opening weekend record ($70-million-plus) is a lock at this point.

Forecast: Coming off a remarkably slow month at the box office, Guardians of the Galaxy should get things back on the right track this weekend. The 10th movie in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" will likely set a new August record, and could even come close to matching last year's Thor: The Dark World.

Meanwhile, James Brown biopic Get On Up opens at 2,468 locations. For this weekend, at least, it will likely wind up in third place behind fellow Universal release Lucy.

Opening at 4,080 theaters—a record for an August release—Guardians of the Galaxy is the first "original" Marvel movie since Captain America: The First Avenger, which debuted around the same time in 2011. It's also the fourth Marvel title to hit theaters after The Avengers propelled the brand to the next level; all three previous releases have debuted to at least $85 million.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Guardians won't be able to match those sequels. While the comic book version of the characters has a solid cult following, the built-in fanbase isn't in the same stratosphere as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor or Captain America. Still, it is a Marvel movie, and its loose connection to The Avengers should be enough to get it to the same level as Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor ($65 million).

There's reason to believe that Guardians can actually open quite a bit higher than that. Recognizing that most people aren't familiar with the characters, Disney's marketing department has focused on correcting that. The first teaser trailer spends the majority of its time introducing each of the five Guardians, and the ensuing marketing material has followed up on that strategy. It's an odd bunch, for sure: Chris Pratt is the only human member, while two wacky CGI creations (a gun-toting raccoon and anthropomorphized tree) round out the group.

Aside from selling the characters, Disney's confident marketing effort has worked to position Guardians as a more light-hearted affair. While they aren't packed with jokes, advertisements do seem to emphasize the movie's tongue-in-cheek approach (which is complemented by the poster's "You're Welcome" tagline).

The movie's soundtrack (filled with hits from the 70s and 80s) has also been a key element of the campaign: songs like "Hooked on a Feeling," "Spirit in the Sky" and "Cherry Bomb" have all been used to good effect. The humor and the music has helped Guardians reach beyond typical fans of sci-fi adventures, which have a mixed track record (for every Star Wars, there's a John Carter or a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

There's also been an aggressive marketing push in the run up to release. The Guardians have been everywhere promoting the movie, and even actors in minor characters (John C. Reilly, for example) have been doing the talk show rounds. The final batch of television ads have focused on highlighting the movie's strong reception with critics: as of Thursday afternoon, Guardians of the Galaxy had an 89 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is roughly on par with April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Fandango reports that Guardians of the Galaxy is their biggest August pre-seller ever, and also indicated that it's out-selling the first Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. It seems like a safe bet, at this point, that the movie tops The Bourne Ultimatum ($69.3 million) to set an August opening weekend record. It's hard to imagine that it beats The Winter Soldier ($95 million), but a debut in the $80-million range seems doable.

Guardians of the Galaxy
will likely have a strong showing at the international box office as well. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World earned $454 million and $438 million, respectively; while Guardians probably won't make it that high, a total north of $300 million is likely. An added bonus: international star Vin Diesel has recorded his character Groot's lines (or, one line) in five different languages (Brazilian Portuguese, Latin American Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and French).

James Brown biopic Get on Up also opens nationwide this weekend, though it's unlikely that it opens above $20 million.

Historically, music biopics are a mixed bag. Opening weekends are typically modest: 2005's Walk the Line is tops with $22.3 million, while 2004's Ray opened to $20 million. James Brown is arguably as popular as Johnny Cash or Ray Charles, though Get on Up doesn't have the type of awards buzz that those late-year releases did, and an opening weekend a bit higher than Jersey Boys ($13.3 million) seems likely (Universal is expecting low-teen-millions).

The movie is receiving solid reviews, though, and star Chadwick Boseman's performance sounds like the type that could drive strong word-of-mouth. Similar to past August releases The Butler and The Help—which shares a director with Get on Up—this should hold well over the remainder of the month.

Fox Searchlight releases Calvary at four locations this weekend. The comedy/drama reteams The Guard director John Michael McDonagh with star Brendan Gleeson. That movie did solid business back in Summer 2011 ($5.4 million), and a similar result is possible for the well-reviewed Calvary.

After earning $2.69 million from 361 theaters last weekend, A Most Wanted Man expands nationwide to 727 locations on Friday. The movie should once again wind up in the $2 to $3 million range.

Forecast (Aug. 1-3)

1. Guardians of the Galaxy - $82 million
2. Lucy - $18.9 million (-57%)
3. Get on Up - $15.5 million
4. Hercules - $14 million (-53%)
5. Dawn/Apes - $9.6 million (-43%)

Bar for Success

Guardians of the Galaxy ought to be opening on par with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger; anything above $65 million is a win. James Brown biopic Get on Up is in decent shape if it tops $15 million this weekend.

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

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