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Can ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ save Hollywood's terrible summer?

Schuyler VelascoThe Christian Science Monitor

Until last weekend, Hollywood was trapped in a historically dismal summer. Then, as they are wont to do, a group of ragtag superheroes saved the day.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” the big-budget action flick starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and the  voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as a group of intergalactic crime fighters, earned an eye-popping $94 million in its opening weekend. That shattered the previous $69.2 million record set by “The Bourne Ultimatum" in 2007. The performance was a shock to movie industry analysts, who had expected the film to earn between $60 million and $75 million in its first weekend, according to the Associated Press.

The adaptation of the cult-favorite comic book series set a record for August and raked in a healthy $66 million overseas – an increasingly important achievement for the summer “tentpole” movies of major studios.

The opening was a much-needed bit of good news for the movie industry, which is deep into one of its worst summers in over a decade. Domestic box office revenues failed to crack $1 billion in July – the first time that’s happened since 2002.  The past two months have been crowded with big-budget action releases with strong opening weekends, including “Godzilla,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. But none of them have had any staying power domestically. In fact, not a single summer movie this far in 2014 has made more than $300 million. According to Bloomberg, that hasn’t happened since 2001, when IMAX and 3-D movies were more of a rarity and international success was harder to come by. As of July 23, domestic box office revenues were expected to be down between 15 and 20 percent from 2013, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Whether or not “Guardians” can break the losing streak largely hinges on its second weekend, which remains up in the air. On the one hand, action movies have had a huge dropoff this summer: ticket sales for “Godzilla,” fell 66 percent in its second week in theaters in May. After a $100 million opening weekend, “Transformers” fell to $36.4 million in its sophomore weekend.

“Guardians,” however, has a few things going for it that those films didn’t. It’s a comedy, and one well-like by critics (it has a 92 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an film-review aggregator). Comedies have been more consistent at the domestic box office this summer. “22 Jump Street,” starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, made $42 million in its second week; ticket sales for “Tammy,” starring Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon, actually jumped 179 percent from week one to week two, according to Box Office Mojo. 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is yet another adaptation of a Marvel Comics property, and those have been on a tear this year. Four Marvel films have opening weekends at or above $90 million in 2014, including “Guardians,” "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

But the film has another ace up its sleeve in Mr. Pratt, who before this year was primarily known as the dim-witted but lovable Andy Dwyer in the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” In March, Pratt voiced the hero in the animated hit “The Lego Movie,” another beloved action send-up that made money hand over fist for studio Warner Bros. After an $80 million opening weekend, that film made at least $1 million for nine weeks straight and was still playing in about 200 theaters at the end of July.