Heroic Opening Weekend for Second 'Guardians' Movie

By Ben FritzFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Walt Disney Co.'s Marvel Studios continued its winning streak at the box office this weekend, as "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" opened to a strong $145 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates.

It was the second-highest opening of the year so far, behind Disney's own "Beauty and the Beast."

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The interstellar action-comedy starring Chris Pratt opened in some foreign markets last week and has grossed a total of $283 million overseas. It has grossed $48 million in China since opening there Friday and its $13.3 million debut in South Korea already exceeds the $11 million total gross of the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" there.

The original "Guardians" looked like Marvel's biggest-ever risk when it was released in 2014, since it was based on one of the company's most obscure comics and featured a foul-mouthed raccoon and a sentient, grunting tree. It also didn't have narrative connections to the rest of Marvel's "cinematic universe," including characters like Thor and Iron Man.

But the movie's $773 million global gross proved the value of the Marvel Studios brand in attracting fans even to superheroes they have never heard of. Now the second "Guardians" appears likely to gross around $1 billion and become one of Marvel Studios' top five films to date, out of 15 it has released.

All of Marvel's movies have been hits save for the second one it released, "The Incredible Hulk," in 2008.

Disney, which acquired Marvel in 2009, spent about $200 million to make the visual effects-heavy "Guardians Vol. 2." It should be another profitable hit for the media company's film studio, which is coming off a string of successes including "Beauty," "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, " "Moana" and Marvel's "Doctor Strange." Disney hasn't released a big-budget disappointment since last summer's "The BFG" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass."

The first weekend of May has become the unofficial start of Hollywood's summer season, and one that Marvel has essentially owned for nearly a decade. The second "Guardians" received an average grade of A from audiences, according to market research firm CinemaScore, indicating it has a good shot at dominating the box office for the next few weeks.

The movie performed better Saturday than predicted based on Friday grosses, indicating that it is drawing a sizable family audience that comes to weekend matinees as well as fanboys who came on the first day, said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.

Its success could also be a boost to Disney's consumer-products business, which has a more extensive lineup of toys and clothing tied to the second "Guardians" than the first. A number of products are based on the character Baby Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, whom Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger predicted at the company's annual meeting in March would become a "breakout star."

Disney is also opening a "Guardians"-themed ride at its Disneyland park later this month.

Write to Ben Fritz at ben.fritz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 07, 2017 12:46 ET (16:46 GMT)