‘GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’: Marvel’s latest super-team tops box office with record-setting $94M debut


The new team assembles for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Disney/Marvel via AP.)

AS A RELIABLE NAME BRAND, Marvel apparently is the new Pixar.

And fortunately for Disney, it’s in the business of distributing both.

Surprising far more of the professional box-office guessers than the fanboys, it seems, “Guardians of the Galaxy” grossed a whopping $94-million this weekend — a record-setting August opening for a domestic debut.

The deep-space comedic thrill ride — which had a reported production budget of $170-million — also had the right combination of cinematic thrust, velocity and mass-advertising to already gross $160-million worldwide its first week out.

This from a team of action heroes that some industry prognosticators had too lightly regarded as “second-tier.” Many box-office watchers seemed to forget two things:

First, that Iron Man was considered a comic-book “B-lister” in 2008 when Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. turned him into the superhero that launched a new studio — and sparked Disney to make a $4-billion deal to buy the universe of Marvel characters not named Spider-Man or X-Men member.

And second, that Marvel is an efficient name-brand whose box-office muscle has grown since the record-setting “Avengers” ($1.5-billion gross worldwide) — as the recent sequels of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor each far outpaced their original films. (Many fanboys, on the other hand, knew the sky was the limit with Rocket Raccoon, who — as voiced by Bradley Cooper — long seemed primed to be a quick-lipped merchandising mascot. Among the team’s five new bankable characters, he’ll be the biggest brand name.)

“Guardians’ ” $37.8-million Friday raised eyebrows and reset the box-office expectations.

The huge opening for the “Guardians” — which co-stars Chris Pratt (“Star-Lord” Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (trading in blue for green as Gamora) and Dave Bautista (Drax), as well as Vin Diesel voicing Groot — is a highly promising turn for the forthcoming films of such lesser-known Marvel figures as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange.

FUN WITH NUMBERS:

* “GOTG” smashed the domestic August record of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which opened to $69.3-million in 2007.

* FOR SALDANA, “Guardians” had even a bigger opening than the debuts of her such other franchise films as “Avatar” ($77-million), “Star Trek” ($75.2-million) and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” ($46.6-million).

* CHARACTERS from the Marvel Studios universe have now grossed more than $6.54-billion worldwide.

* OVER THE weekend, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” became the first film of 2014 to top the rarefied $1-billion mark worldwide. The Michael Bay behemoth has now grossed $1.005-billion globally, putting “Transformers” 4 at No. 18 on the all-time list.

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