Though it should surprise no one, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has proven to be yet another big hit for Disney and Marvel Studios, blasting in with a $145 million opening and blowing by the $94.3 million opening made by the original “GotG” to the tune of 54 percent.
It didn’t reach the heights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s highest grossing sequel, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” films, but “GotG2” still outperformed that of several other sophomore entries in the Marvel mythos, including “Iron Man 2” ($128.1 million), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” ($95 million) and “Thor: The Dark World” ($85 million).
So, along with the critical success of the first movie, what were the factors in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” performing so well?
1.) May is for Marvel
Fifteen years ago, “Spider-Man” became the first movie to gross $100 million in its first-weekend-in-May opening, pushing the start of the summer blockbuster season from Memorial Day weekend to the start of the month. Every year for the past decade, a Marvel movie has been released in this slot, including “Spider-Man 3,” “Iron Man 2” and the “Avengers” films. For Marvel Studios, this weekend has been staked out as their territory, when their films become an event title that serves as an unofficial start to the summer.
On an international level, an early May opening allows Marvel to increase their overseas potential by rolling out the film a week early in overseas markets. This allows the film to capitalize on holidays in certain countries — such as Anzac Day in Australia — that increase foreign openings.
For “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” this led to a $101 million haul last weekend and a current global cume of $428 million. It also has a cascading effect on domestic totals, as social media posts from outside the U.S. help spread word-of-mouth about the best moments in the film to look out for.
“Early international openings in this slot also allow us to release the film on May Day, which is a holiday in many of the countries we opened in last week,” Disney distribution head Dave Hollis told TheWrap. “May Day fell on a Monday this year, so it served as an extended weekend where families could go out and see this highly anticipated film.”
2.) Lack of competition
After a busy March, April was a major lull period on the movie calendar, with “Fate of the Furious” having been released three weeks ago. That allowed “Guardians of the Galaxy” to enjoy the undivided attention of the blockbuster-loving populace, earning 85 percent of total revenue on Friday. Outside of “Guardians,” the rest of the top 5 at this weekend’s box office combined to gross approximately $25 million. “Guardians” will also face little competition from next week’s entries, “Snatched” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” and may even be able to stave off “Alien: Covenant” to hold the No. 1 spot for three weekends.
3.) “Fox on the Run”
The trailer for “Vol. 2” did a perfect job encapsulating everything that won over MCU fans who have never read a single “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic book. Opening with a fun gag from Baby Groot, the trailer quickly sped through a series of clips that promised more banter between the Guardians, introduced newcomer Mantis to the series with the help of Dave Bautista’s showstopping performance as Drax, and wove it all together to the rollicking beats of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” which quickly became as big a hit with Marvel fans as Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” The trailer not only set the tone for the rest of Marvel’s marketing — there’s plenty more where that Baby Groot came from — but also seems to have influenced the trailer for “Thor: Ragnarok,” which also featured laugh-inducing one-liners and a soundtrack courtesy of ’70s rock.
4.) Spoon-feeding information
Whether it was at a Comic-Con panel or while promoting his horror film “The Belko Experiment” at the Toronto Film Festival, director James Gunn was always game to give fans a little taste of what was to come with “Vol. 2.” Gunn struck the right medium between keeping his cards close to the chest and giving the whole movie away, a balancing act he demonstrated best when he revealed last summer that Kurt Russell would be playing Ego the Living Planet, a departure from Marvel canon when it comes to the identity of Star-Lord’s father.
Gunn said he revealed this because he wanted fans to focus on the themes of family that lie at the core of the movie rather than be preoccupied with the shock of seeing Russell play one of the corniest characters of Marvel’s Silver Age comic lore. It turned out to be the right decision, as critics and audiences alike talked more about Ego’s relationship with his estranged son rather than his identity as a sentient planet.
The cast members also helped with teasing the story, speaking at length about what new personal struggles their characters would face in the sequel and promoting the film on social media. Vin Diesel, in particular, became known for his promotion of Baby Groot, while Chris Pratt used his increased star power from the first “Guardians” and “Jurassic World” to get the word out when new trailers and clips were released.
5.) Feige’s guiding hand
It’s no secret by now, but Kevin Feige’s masterful guidance of Marvel Studios has been key to dodging the pitfalls of audience fatigue and keeping them coming back for more every six months. Part of this is the sense of variety the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built with their characters. In between straight-laced action films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and ensemble pieces like “Captain America: Civil War” and the “Avengers” films, room has been made for more experimental fare with lesser-known characters and different tones.
“The strength of the brand allows us to do a little bit of risk-taking with the characters we introduce,” Hollis said.
That risk-taking has led to titles such as the heist film “Ant-Man,” the psychedelic “Doctor Strange” and, of course, the campy space opera of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The hiring of established indie directors like James Gunn, Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler helps with the experimentation. As the MCU nears its long-awaited showdown with Thanos in the Infinity War, get ready for Marvel to take more leaps of faith as it continues to cash in on its ever-building trust with audiences.