Monday Morning Quarterback Part II
By BOP Staff
August 6, 2014

Somebody does not like Andrew McCutchen's ESPN commercial.

Kim Hollis: Where does Guardians of the Galaxy rank amongst the Marvel success stories?

David Mumpower: I think a lot depends on how much we grade on a curve. Realistically, The Avengers is always going to be THE Marvel success story. Marvel Studios built a quartet of superheroes in solo films, added Black Widow and Hawkeye as window dressing in some of those titles, and then successfully built to a sum much greater than the individual parts. At the time, I appreciated that the Iron Man movie could succeed due to the similarities of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne. I also felt that Captain America would do well because of the genteel throwback nature of the story. Plus, a little well-intended jingoism generally goes over well in this country.

Thor was the biggest risk in my estimation. That character had to include Norse mythology as well as some of the same traits I lamented about John Carter and Green Lantern in a previous reply. Marvel cleverly played up the strengths of the character, his larger than life attitude and natural charisma, and struck gold. I do think that the performance of Thor: The Dark World, the worst performer of the three post-Avengers projects, reflects the limitations of Thor but we are still discussing a financial outlay of $320 million with a box office return over a billion.

Given the above, I would have to slot Guardians of the Galaxy second overall. It slots ahead of Thor, a slightly risky project, but behind The Avengers, the most daring cinematic gamble of the 2000s. The reason why I slot Guardians of the Galaxy so highly is that even among comic book nerds, these characters are not especially beloved, at least not ones that require real actors. Groot and Rocket Raccoon are popular, but an action movie should never sink or swim based upon the comic relief. Oftentimes, the box office result in such situations is similar to The Fifth Element. Guardians of the Galaxy features one genuinely famous face in Zoe Saldana plus a bunch of That Guy actors. It has a storyline that barely hangs together under even the least critical of evaluations. And it actually fails the laugh test in a lot of key ways as a potential movie project. Despite all of that, it just opened to $94 million. Miracles do happen.

Edwin Davies: I have to agree with David both in terms of the placing of The Avengers at number one and Guardians of the Galaxy at number two on that list. Even considering how careful The Avengers project was put together, it could still have fallen apart completely if any one of the constituent parts had flopped, or if the final product didn't meet the sky high expectations that Marvel created for it. In hindsight, one of the most successful films of all time might not look as risky as it was perceived at the time, but there was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a success on the level that it ended up being.

Guardians of the Galaxy was still a much dicier proposition than any of the films that preceded or directly followed The Avengers because the characters had zero name recognition with the general public and only partial name recognition within the comic community, and its world existed so far from the one established in the other Marvel films. It spends maybe two minutes on Earth, then two hours immersing audiences in universe full of weird, grotesque monsters and finds the one human palling around with a talking raccoon. On paper, that's nuts. In execution, it's slightly less nuts, but not a commercially viable project demanding a $170 million budget and a huge marketing campaign. Up until the enthusiastic reviews started coming out, there was every reason to expect that Guardians of the Galaxy could be a disappointment, and the fact that it was not is nothing short of astonishing.

Felix Quinonez: I think it's still early to tell where Guardians of the Galaxy will fit as a success story because it's only been out for a few days. I agree that it was a risky project but it still has a huge benefit from the post-Avengers marvel brand name. I think I need to see how well it holds up from here to make a more precise decision but I'd still say top five, easily.

As far as #1, I'd give that to Iron Man, hands down. Robert Downey Jr is a huge star now but his casting was a total gamble at the time. Iron Man is an A list character now but in 2008, he was a C-lister. And most people who didn't read comics weren't familiar with him. Yet his movie was a total smash and it was literally the foundation for all of this. Iron Man's success paved the way for Disney buying Marvel and the entire marvel cinematic universe.

Bruce Hall: I'm with Felix on this one. When I first heard they were making an Iron Man movie, let's say I politely scoffed. It's not that I wouldn't want to see Robert Downey Jr. get drunk and fly around in an indestructible suit of armor. In fact, Downey's involvement was the only thing that piqued my interest about it at all. I assumed we'd see something around the quality level of Daredevil, and it would die a quiet death, and an afterlife in basic cable purgatory. All that talk about Marvel's "phases" sounded like grandiose doubletalk to me, and I just couldn't bring myself to nerdgasm about it the way a lot of people were.

I wouldn't say that I was wrong, so much as I'd say that the thing I said and believed were ultimately the complete opposite of what happened in reality. That's totally different.

Be that as it may, I would place Thor at number two. Okay, so Iron Man worked out. But Thor? That's where I draw the line. I had a couple of friends who read Iron Man back in the day, but Thor? Nobody read Thor, except the weird guy who runs the hobby shop in the strip mall and also runs a Dungeons and Dragons league on the weekends. What hubris, to think that such a dull character, played by an actor as blandly fortifying as unflavored Malt-o-meal, could also be a success? Well, it was, and by the time Avengers came around, I'm really not sure there was any question it would be a success. If people around the world were willing to pay half a billion dollars to see Thor save New Mexico by waging one of the most boring boss battles ever put to film, why wouldn't they be willing to see the whole team in action at once?

As for Guardians of the Galaxy, I think that it is a very well written and constructed movie. And it's one that benefitted from a well-coordinated marketing campaign and more important, the gushing wellspring of goodwill that audiences have for the Marvel Brand right now. It doesn't matter what it is, people will go see it. And if you can get them to consistently walk out smiling, it won't matter that you're making a movie about a guy who dresses up like an ant. They will come back, and the only question will be when the sequel is coming out.

Jay Barney: I think it is too early to tell, but this is very significant. As a success story, Avengers had the momentum of Iron Man's popularity, the okay Hulk films, and expanding with Thor. Avengers also had the benefit of the coveted early May time slot, which is where the big boys usually come out to play. What it did was incredible but it was expected to open big. At the time, everyone was shocked that a film could start out of the gate with over $200 million on its first weekend.

After a couple of weeks, and a couple of solid holds, Guardians of the Galaxy may earn the slot as being the best success story. Go back just a couple of months. Would any of us have been surprised if this film had opened to $30 or $40 million? And we would all be barking about how Disney doesn't care about quality, about how they just have enough money to tolerate mistakes like John Carter and The Lone Ranger. On some level I think a lot of people EXPECTED Guardians to fail. Now it is a massive hit, and we don't know where the ceiling is.

Pete Kilmer: I agree with Felix that the first Iron Man has to be ranked as number one. Here you have an actor who was sleeping in other people’s houses instead of his own by mistake just a few years prior. Robert Downey Jr. was an actor who everyone liked, but also who everyone thought was done. He was a HUGE risk to bank your $500 million bank loan on. Remember that this was prior to Disney acquiring Marvel for $4 billion. If the first Iron Man failed, then Marvel Studios was in all likelihood done. And with the stinger at the end of the film wihere Nick Fury showed up and indicated that an Avengers movie was going to happen, that was huge in terms of winning hearts and minds of superhero fans.

With Avengers, that movie was clearly a huge risk as well, because lots of studios thought something like that couldn't be done. No way can you put all those leading actors in one movie together and make it work. Boy, were they wrong. You get a visionary director and writer (Joss Whedon) who actors respect, you have a leading actor who was there from the beginning and who wants to play (Robert Downey Jr.). Mix it together and you've got something special.

As for Guardians, it's a very close second. This group of characters was D-list at best. Even among comic readers, sure we knew of them and enjoyed the Abnet and Lanning run of the series in the mid-2000s… but a movie featuring them? Nahhhh. We all figured Marvel would do something else. But they captured something very special with Guardians of the Galaxy and that has to do with writer/director James Gunn and his great cast.

Guardians was a huge risk, but since Marvel Studios does not have the Fantastic Four, X-Men, or Spider-Man franchises, they were forced to get creative in developing a new movie brand. And they succeeded.

Max Braden: Agreed on Iron Man. Guardians had the advantage of being an underdog. The Avengers had the advantage of being a sure thing. Jon Favreau really only had one prior solid directing credit with Elf five years before Iron Man, and Zathura in the interim failed to made back its budget with worldwide grosses. Robert Downey Jr. really had no character like this in his filmography since Chaplin. Iron Man could have done okay, but it hit a homerun and set up the franchise, which allowed for the success of The Avengers and the ability to pull in fringe characters like the Guardians. Still, to smash the August opening weekend record (which had stood for seven years, with the previous record set in 2001), I think means that the Guardians get to claim Marvel's second most important success. At this point it looks like anything they touch will turn to gold.