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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ blasts off with $145M debut

  • FILE - This image released by Disney-Marvel shows Zoe Saldana, from left, Karen Gillan, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, in a scene from, "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2." “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has rocketed to a $17 million opening night, beating out early showings of the first film. Disney reported the sales estimate for Thursday night, May 4, 2017, preview screenings on Friday morning. The sequel’s Thursday night earnings are the biggest of the year so far. (Disney-Marvel via AP)

NEW YORK >>“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” rocketed to an estimated $145 million debut in North America, kicking off Hollywood’s summer movie season with something the movie business has been craving: a sequel more successful than the original.

Director James Gunn’s second “Guardians” film opened 54 percent higher than the 2014 runaway hit, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That release, which introduced the intergalactic band of misfits played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, debuted with $94 million in its first weekend.

Once a little-known, oddball property in Marvel’s vault, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” have grown into one of the comic-book factory’s biggest brands.

The Walt Disney Co. validated the rise of “Guardians,” too, by moving it from August (when the original opened) to the first weekend in May. Marvel has used the same weekend to effectively launch the summer season for the last decade.

The opening for “Guardians Vol. 2,” made for about $200 million, is the second largest of the year, following Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” ($174.8 million). But it also turns back the tide of underperforming sequels, a developing scourge to Hollywood. Last summer saw a litany of sequels that failed to live up to earlier installments.

“We spent a lot of time looking at sequels and the idea of sequel-itis,” said David Hollis, distribution chief for Disney. “Really, poor quality films have been the thing that has, more than anything, been rejected by consumers over time. The ambition here was to make something that was unbelievably fresh and exciting. As long as we can continue to deliver high-quality storytelling, high-quality world-creation, we’ll be in great shape.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” scored on that front, landing an A CinemaScore from audiences and an 82 percent “fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In two weeks of international release, the film has also made $269 million overseas. A third “Guardians” is already planned, as are crossovers with Marvel’s Avengers.

But whether “Guardians” can turn the tide for summer sequels will be a much-followed story line as the season progresses. The bottom line of just about every studio depends on it.

On the horizon are big-budget sequels like “Alien: Covenant,” ”Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” ”Cars 3,” ”Transformers: The Last Knight,” ”Despicable Me 3” and “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

“I think this is going to be one of the biggest summers ever. Obviously last summer was a bummer. We had numerous sequels — well over a dozen — that didn’t live up to the promise of their immediate predecessor,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “Summer 2017 gets us back on track. There’s a lot out there.”

Fearing the might of “Guardians,” no other major studio releases debuted over the weekend. The gap between first and second at the box office was immense. “The Fate of the Furious” came in at no. 2 with $8.5 million in its fourth weekend. The Universal release, the eighth installment in the franchise has grossed $1.6 billion worldwide.

A handful of films in limited release opened including A24’s “The Lovers,” with Debra Winger and Tracy Letts ($70,410 on four screens); the Weinstein Co.’s “3 Generations,” with Elle Fanning ($20,118 on four screens); IFC’s “Chuck,” with Live Schreiber ($40,416 on four screens); and Laura Poitras’ Julian Assange documentary “Risk” ($75,179 on 34 screens).

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