August 30 Update: Disney reports that Guardians of the Galaxy officially became the year's top domestic grosser on Friday with another $3.85 million added to its haul, off just 20 percent from last Friday, as it again claimed first place at the start of its fifth weekend. That gives the film $262.1 million overall so far, surpassing Captain America: The Winter Soldier's final tally of $259.8 million. Through the same point in release (29 days), Guardians is now 13 percent ahead of the pace of Winter Soldier and just 1.6 percent behind that of 2008's original Iron Man.
Based on its current trajectory, and depending on post-Labor Day holds (when the market notoriously drops as summer ends), there's a considerable chance of Guardians reaching $300 million in North America before the end of its run. While at least one holiday release (possibly two or three) will likely take the yearly crown away in the end, there's no denying how impressive Guardians' run has become.
August 22: For those not keeping track, it's a foregone conclusion that Guardians of the Galaxy has won the domestic summer box office. The official crowning takes place this weekend when it overtakes Transformers: Age of Extinction as the top grossing movie of the season.
Guardians entered Friday with $234.3 million in the bank, and will eclipse the Autobots' projected $243.5 million haul sometime Saturday. The latest Disney/Marvel flick's holding power has impressed following an expectation-shattering $94.3 million opening, setting the Marvel Cinematic Universe's tenth chapter on a guaranteed course to also surpass its spiritual predecessor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as 2014's (so far) highest earner in North America.
Disney confirmed Friday that the Captain sequel has closed with a final tally of $259,766,572--the magic number Guardians of the Galaxy will usurp next Labor Day weekend. At its current pace, the pic would end up with a final tally north of $280 million.
As we start to put a bow on the past season, let's look at five keys that went into elevating Guardians above the rest of the summer heap.
The Sales Pitch
The theory's been tested, and social media is a force to be reckoned with over a movie's lifespan. Disney, Marvel, and writer/director James Gunn knew as much, ensuring Guardians would leave its mark early on thanks to the "You're Welcome" poster launch and the hard-to-resist teaser trailer featuring Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling". Gunn himself often kept the fans updated on Twitter throughout production.
Despite persistently muted expectations, both online and real-world anticipation steadily built for six months as each trailer peeled away a layer of the film's character-driven quirk. Three weeks after its debut, Guardians remains one of the top trending movies on Twitter and Facebook.
Combined with the film's online footprint, its overall ad campaign proved to be, arguably, the most unique and effective in quite some time.
A Summer of Franchises Without Momentum
Frequent readers may recall our series of previews in which we broke down the advantages of perceived favorites to come out on top this summer. Notably, Guardians wasn't given the individual feature treatment in that column due to its nature as a wild card, although we long felt it had $200 million+ potential.
As far back as last year, however, we alluded to Summer 2014's dubious roster--specifically, the lack of top-tier blockbuster franchises at the peak of audience goodwill. Unfortunately, that prognostication came true: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction continued their respective series' downward trends at the domestic box office with 22.5 percent and 31 percent revenue declines from their predecessors.
Even How to Train Your Dragon 2--despite zero animated competition, strong reception, and the first film's universal adoration--underperformed in its stateside performance after being considered the heavy favorite to win the season. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 22 Jump Street were partial exceptions, and represent two very bright spots of the past few months, but neither were considered challengers for the summer throne.
On top of all that, most expectations for Guardians before release peaked at a $150-175 million run--and far less in the months before buzz became too impossible to ignore. That's an important perspective to keep if anyone writes this box office story away as a mere beneficiary of a weak market. By the time August rolled around, many audiences were yearning for a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly popcorn movie. Gunn and Marvel gave it to them.
Give 'Em Something Different
Guardians' charm was crucial to intriguing non-fanboys. The Marvel property is a young and undeveloped one compared to established veterans Iron Man and Captain America, meaning the uninitiated needed introducing to the mere existence of mysterious "a-holes" named Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer.
To counter this potential marketing nightmare, a cast of popular and up-and-coming stars in Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel gave the off-beat intergalactic adventure an anchor for moviegoers. Furthering that cause, the film's tone and striking visuals were unlike anything else playing in cinemas this year. The market was primed for a fresh dose of storytelling.
Impressively, Guardians ended up with a more balanced male-to-female audience makeup than the typical superhero flick: 44 percent of opening weekend patrons were women, compared to 36 percent for The Winter Soldier, 38 percent for Thor: The Dark World, and Iron Man 3's 39 percent.
Mixtapes Are Still Cool
Here's another arena where Gunn's playbook stands out. "Hooked on a Feeling" became the film's star track during the pre-release campaign, but he infused an entire playlist of hits from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s which gave Guardians a distinct musical character. More importantly, it wasn't a soundtrack without purpose, but one which organically connected to the story and our leading hero.
Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" became another staple of the film's TV spots, and The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" ensured audiences walking out during the end credits did so with a huge smile on their face. Throw in the likes of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell declaring "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child", and the result was a popcorn space adventure with grounded appeal to adults (and fans of music in general).
As we speak, the official soundtrack--appropriately titled Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1--has claimed number one on the Billboard 200 for two weeks running. It's the first soundtrack to ever reach the top spot containing nothing but previously released music.
Guardians' box office accomplishments cement the drawing power of the Marvel Studios brand. That's been a generally accepted fact since the phenomenal performance of The Avengers, not to mention the boost enjoyed by the Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America sequels following it. Still, Guardians was their riskiest adaptation yet. After all, even Marvel's first quasi-independent foray onto the big screen boasted character awareness and Robert Downey, Jr.'s well-publicized comeback.
Fans and non-fans alike have come to know and trust Marvel through their consistent output of entertaining movies, opening up the comic book pantheon to the hordes of parents and families that Disney has spent the better part of a century working to develop into loyal viewers. What Disney and Pixar did together a decade ago, the former is accomplishing again with Marvel Studios.
The fact that Guardians, replete with potential excuses for playing to a niche crowd, is able to stand among 2014's best box office performers is a testament to the legacy Marvel and its president/creative overseer, Kevin Feige, have been building toward. Here's hoping that legacy continues thriving into, and beyond, the MCU's Phase 3.
In the mean time, if you're still grooving to the sound of Jackson 5's "I Want You Back", you're not alone.