Marketing, Humor, Originality Blast 'Guardians' To Record

All Hollywood really needed to get out of the summer doldrums, it turns out, was to switch up the bing-bang-boom action-adventure formula a bit more to create a boffo box-office knockout. Director James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” — “more space adventure than superhero movie,” writes the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Olsen — is earning plaudits for its humor and originality and, not coincidentally, it seems to have set an all-time record for an August opening.

The Disney Marvel flick rang up $94 million in North America ticket sales, also taking in more than $66 million in 42 markets overseas. Thanks somewhat to pent-up demand but also to rave and grudgingly respectful reviews — “you don’t need to be held hostage by the Marvel Weltanschauung to enjoy 'Guardians,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times —and, particularly, word-of-mouth, it far exceeded expectations.

“Drawn from a relatively obscure comic book within the universe of Marvel titles, the film, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel,” — not to mention a talking raccoon — “got some unexpected comedic snap from director and co-screenwriter James Gunn,” writes Olsen. “Audiences and critics alike have responded well, with an A grade from audience polling firm Cinemascore and a more than 90% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.”

In a story Thursday that carried projections of $60 to $75 million for the movie from various sources, Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian pointed out that “Marvel’s brand is part of the draw.”

“Usually you have to either have a star or be a known commodity like a sequel that’s part of a known franchise,” he told the Los Angeles Times’ Saba Hemedy. “But ‘Guardians’ falls under that Marvel umbrella and thus has a tremendous amount of cachet with audience.”

Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson says that “from the get-go, their marketing campaign as been a textbook example of how to sell an unknown property to the masses. The brilliant initial teaser empathized with viewer ignorance with John C. Reilly playing audience surrogate and emphasizing that the characters in the film didn’t know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were either. Later trailers (trailer 02 and trailer 03) that sold somewhat generic big-scale spectacle and revealed just a bit of the talking raccoon and talking tree.”

Dave Hollis, Walt Disney Studios’ EVP of theatrical distribution, “argued that part of the reason tracking was so off was that Disney saved 40% of its marketing for the final week before the film opened, allowing them to drive awareness for the picture at a critical point,” writes Variety’s Brent Lang.

“We were able to heat things up to white hot levels and use those final days as a call to arms,” said Hollis.

Director Gunn has been getting a lot of ink on his own as a sort of journeyman-director-turned-unlikely-tentpole genius story. 

John Frost rounded up some of the coverage in a post on “The Disney Blog,” including this quote from a Los Angeles Times profile by Gina McIntyre: “For the past two years, all I’ve been doing is driving forward, making this movie. Now I’m done and I’m standing outside of it, and I’m going, ‘How did you guys let me get away with all that?’”

“To say that James Gunn is ecstatic is a vast understatement,” writes Marlow Stren in the introduction to his Q&A yesterday on The Daily Beast. “For years, the filmmaker toiled within the Hollywood studio system as a writing gun for hire, penning screenplays that mutated into lackluster films, e.g. those Scooby-Doo flicks featuring the casts of ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘Scream.’”

Production costs for the movie were about $170 million, not including the “pricey and well-waged marketing campaign,” points out the Hollywood Reporter’s Pamela McClintock. “Hype around Guardians has been so high that Marvel and Disney have already announced plans for a July 28, 2017 sequel, with Gunn returning to direct.”

For the record, the July box-office record is the $169,189,427 raked in by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2” in 2011, according to Box Office Mojo.

Will fans of the Guardians be dressing up as Rocket and standing in lines for hours before the debut? Guardians willing, we’ll report back in a few years.

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