"Guardians of the Galaxy" blasts to top of box office with $94M

Chris Pratt stars in the new action flick, "Guardians of the Galaxy." Disney/Marvel

"Guardians of the Galaxy" has become just as much of a hit with audiences as it has been with critics.

Marvel's cosmic action flick starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana as members of an intergalactic band of rebels earned $94 million in its debut weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. Ahead of its Friday debut, box office analysts initially projected that the comic book adaptation would earn between $60 million and $75 million in North America.

The out-of-this-world launch gives "Guardians" the biggest opening for a film released in the traditionally low-key month of August, a record previously held by the $69.2 million debut of 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum." "Guardians" now stands as the third largest opening of 2014, coming behind the $95 million inauguration of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" in April and the $100 million launch of "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in June.

"Guardians," which also features Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing the CG characters Rocket Raccoon and Groot, was originally considered a risky proposition for Marvel and distributor Walt Disney Co., because it features more obscure characters from the Marvel universe and is set almost entirely in outer space.

Despite any apprehension, Marvel was betting on "Guardians," written and directed by "Slither" filmmaker James Gunn, to be a blockbuster. The studio announced at Comic-Con in San Diego last month that a sequel is already set for release in 2017. Marvel's next films are "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Ant-Man" starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, both due out in 2015.

Marvel comic book adaptations have dominated 2014 with Sony Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and Marvel Studios' "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" each arriving in first place at the box office on their respective opening weekends.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, believes Marvel is unstoppable at this point.

"This is a brand that transcends any character within their universe," he said. "The mere mention of the name Marvel is enough to get people into the movie theater. That's somewhat rare. Pixar obviously has a similar cachet, but for Marvel to have four films this year open with over $90 million is amazing. It's unprecedented success."

Disney noted that "Guardians" hauled in an additional $66.4 million from 42 international territories, including Russia, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and the United Kingdom, making it the first-place film overseas.

"Guardians" is scheduled to land in other markets such as Australia, India and Columbia next weekend.

In a distant second place at the North American box office, "Lucy," starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman with mind-bending powers, nabbed $18.3 million in its second weekend, bringing the Universal Pictures release's domestic total to $80 million.

Meanwhile, Universal's James Brown biopic "Get on Up" featuring Chadwick Boseman as the soulful singer opened in third place with $14 million.

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