Top Film Industry Stories of 2014 #2:
Consider the Galaxy Sufficiently Guarded
By Kim Hollis
January 9, 2015

They sure do look like more than 300 million bucks!

Put your Awesome Mix Vol. 1 into the Walkman, press play, and get ready to be hooked on a feeling.

If you were like many, many people in North America and around the world, you had probably never heard of the comic book heroes Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax the Destroyer or Gamora prior to the moment you heard “Ooga Chaka Ooga Ooga” blaring from movie screens (or smaller screens) playing the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy. More to the point, if someone would have told you that a movie featuring an anthropomorphic raccoon, a talking tree creature whose dialogue is composed only of his name, and a guy best known as the star of a low-rated NBC comedy would be part of one of the biggest movies of 2014, you would have assumed they were either crazy, weird, or some combination of the two. Financial website The Motley Fool certainly didn't think it was possible.

And yet, Guardians of the Galaxy held the title of #1 film in North America all the way through 2014, though it will be overtaken by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 somewhere close to the MLK Jr. holiday weekend. It was a hit overseas as well, taking the #2 spot behind only Transformers: Age of Extinction (though again, it has a shot at losing a position to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies by the time it finishes its international run).

How did Disney and Marvel achieve such an unlikely result? When the project was announced, comic book fan boys were the only ones excited, as no one else even knew who these guys were. And even then, Guardians of the Galaxy was a minor title for Marvel. Consider this: Iron Man was a lesser known super hero prior to the release of those films, but he’s atop the A-List compared to the Guardians. And Spider-Man, who had a movie released earlier in 2014 prior to Guardians of the Galaxy is considered one of the three or four premier comic book characters. It had only so-so results by Spidey standards. Surely there was a threshold for a space opera with such a motley crew of characters.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the film, we started to see signs that such a threshold did not exist in this case. Fanboys and people new to the series responded extremely well to the previews, as the humor was emphasized, making the film look like a playful romp through the stars with cross-demographic appeal. Although the initial trailer received mixed reactions, glowing reviews in the weeks leading up to the film’s release gave fans and non-fans confidence in the quality of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Also in the positive column was Chris Pratt, heretofore most famous for his work on the television series Parks and Recreation. He was an appealing leading man with charisma that hearkened back to Han Solo and Indiana Jones. For kids, there was a hilarious talking raccoon and a funny tree creature.

Before Guardians was released, Disney turned their marketing machine up to 11 and used synergistic resources from ESPN to Marvel’s Agents of Shield to the end credits in Thor: The Dark World to promote the film’s release. Most important, Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, carefully oversees each project to ensure that their films fit within the universe they have cultivated. As much as any movie in Marvel’s recent franchise history, Guardians succeeded, receiving universal acclaim from both critics and audiences alike.

The excitement and energy surrounding the film enabled it to debut with an August record-breaking $94.3 million on August 1, 2014. In case you’re wondering, this total is not even a million dollars less than the already established Captain America sequel earned earlier in the year. It’s only $4 million less than the original Iron Man earned on its opening weekend, and that was considered a huge breakthrough. For a film the Motley Fool was scoffing at only six months earlier, this achievement borders on legendary.

Of course, Guardians wasn’t finished there. Although it dropped somewhat precipitously in its second frame when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted, from that point on, it was a smooth ride to profitability. By the time Guardians of the Galaxy finished its run in North America, it had earned a massive $333 million. This was $74 million more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier earned domestically, $3 million less than Iron Man 2 earned domestically, and a whopping $127 million more than Thor: The Dark World earned in North America. Kevin Feige, Bob Iger and every other studio head involved in the project was probably happily dancing along with Star-Lord as the cash came rolling in. The naysayers who thought a $170 million budget was excessive quickly changed their tune to one of praise.

Of course, Guardians was even bigger overseas. Foreign audiences love them some action, and apparently if it involves talking raccoons and trees, so much the better. The film earned nearly $440 million from international venues, giving it a worldwide total approaching $775 million. And let’s not forget that Disney and Marvel have mastered the art of merchandising. Kids were clamoring for Star-Lord action figures, and dancing baby Groot was one of the hottest collectible items of the 2014 holiday season. Ancillary revenues, including home video, would make Guardians of the Galaxy one of their strongest brands in only a matter of months.

Other than Disney, the biggest beneficiaries of the success of the Marvel project are the Guardians themselves. Chris Pratt (aka Star-Lord) was a funny, under-appreciated performer who had a niche following thanks to great roles in Everwood and Parks and Recreation. Now, he’s a Harrison Ford for a new generation and becomes one of Hollywood’s hottest stars. He’ll appear in the upcoming Jurassic Park film, and looks to have a chance to steal it right out from under the dinosaurs. Of course, he was also the voice of Emmet in 2014’s The LEGO Movie, a massive hit in its own right. In fact, I’m starting to wonder why “Chris Pratt’s Big Year” wasn’t one of our top film industry stories

For the other Guardians, it may be wrestler Dave Bautista who will enjoy the most surprising success. A mainstay in the WWE, the fact that his surprisingly sensitive Drax the Destroyer struck such a chord will open the door for him to appear in other projects moving forward. He’ll start with Spectre, the next film in the James Bond franchise. If you’ve gotta play a henchman, at least play one in one of the biggest and most popular series going, right?

And of course, director James Gunn graduated from Troma films, Scooby-Doo and the horror movie Slither to helm a ridiculously popular project, and the success truly rests on the fact that he was able to make the movie so fun for all ages. Like Joss Whedon directing The Avengers before him, it’s nice to see a cult favorite make it big.

Naturally, Guardians is slated to have a sequel to be released in 2017, meaning that Star-Lord and friends will have another big summer in just a couple of years. With this movie almost performing as a new Star Wars for the youth set, it’s fair to say that a second movie stands to be absolutely massive. It’s nice when it happens to some of the good guys.