Weekend Box Office (August 1 - 3, 2014)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Marvel enjoyed one of the film industry's most amazing openings in recent years, and silenced any doubters, with a record-breaking top spot debut for the new super hero adventure Guardians of the Galaxy which led the overall box office to the largest August weekend in box office history.

Blasting off with a sensational weekend of $94.3M according to final studio figures, Guardians seized control of the marketplace and beat out all expectations as it gave birth to a brand new movie franchise. Averaging a stellar $23,118 from 4,080 locations, the PG-13 band of misfits had the third biggest opening weekend of 2014 trailing only Transformers: Age of Extinction (about $100M in late June) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95M in early April). It also shattered the August opening weekend record set in 2007 by The Bourne Ultimatum's $69.3M. The location count was also a record for this month.

It was especially impressive since Guardians is not a sequel and is not based on any property known to a broad mainstream audience. Certainly, popular super heroes like Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, Hulk and X-Men are more known to non-comic fans but Galaxy attracted a bigger opening in its movie franchise debut than any of those. In fact, the only super hero franchise kickoff films to open bigger were 2002's Spider-Man ($114.8M) and 2008's Iron Man ($98.6M) which both launched on the more lucrative first weekend of May. Among all non-sequels, Guardians had the seventh best opening weekend of all-time which was remarkable.

With a good product, the Disney release connected with audiences and brought in a breath of fresh air at a time when sequel fatigue was kicking in. Plus most recent action offerings were very serious in tone while Galaxy promised fun, humor, and laughs as it put something new on the table. Ticket buyers responded. Reviews were terrific and helped to draw in those curious to know what this new comic franchise was all about. James Gunn directed and the cast included Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista plus voice contributions from Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Marvel can now open its library doors even wider for more future films - as long as the movies are rock solid and marketing is effective.

Studio research showed that Star-Lord and company drew a crowd that was very common for this genre, but appeal to women was stronger than usual. 56% of the audience was male and 55% was over 25. Male shares for the recent Captain America and Thor sequels were higher at 64% and 62%, respectively. 45% of the business came from 3D screens which is pretty good nowadays for a conversion. 354 IMAX screens contributed a solid $11.7M, or 12%.

The weekend for Guardians of the Galaxy started with $37.8M on Friday which included $11.2M from Thursday night pre-shows starting at 7pm which was the best for any film all year. Saturday dipped by 18% to $31M which was a good hold for a comic flick with a large built-in fan base. Sunday dipped another 18% to $25.5M. Word-of-mouth has been strong and the A grade from CinemaScore shows that moviegoers are liking what they are paying for which bodes well for coming weeks.

Thanks to Guardians, the summer box office ended its seven-week streak of down weekends when compared to last year which was a big relief for exhibitors who need bodies in those multiplexes. In fact, the Top 20 soared to over $180M marking the best weekend ever seen during the month of August. It was even stronger than any of the July frames from last month.

3D and IMAX contributed to much of the opening weekend figure as ticket prices are much higher these days. Strip those out and the actual number of tickets sold for Galaxy was just over 10 million. To put that into perspective, it was roughly even with the number of tickets sold during the opening of another franchise debut with an ensemble cast of misunderstood Marvel heroes - the first X-Men from July 2000. That hit spawned a series with seven films and counting that has grossed over $3 billion worldwide so Marvel and Disney have a lot to look forward to with the Groot gang. A Guardians sequel is already on the calendar to open three years from now on July 28, 2017.

What Guardians also did this weekend was instantly become the odds-on favorite to become the highest grossing movie of this summer, and quite possibly for 2014 so far. With stellar reviews and audience scores, schools still out for summer vacation, a large potential audience that has not come out yet, plus no major tentpole competition next week, a final gross of more than $250M seems likely. Even $300M domestic cannot be ruled out.

Opening in 42 international markets this weekend, Guardians grossed an estimated $66.4M overseas for a powerful $161M worldwide launch. The best performances came from Russia ($13M) and the U.K. ($10.8M). Key markets like Australia, France and Germany open over the weeks ahead while China, which has been very receptive to Marvel super hero films, has not been dated yet.

Falling from the top spot was the Scarlett Johansson action hit Lucy with $18.3M, down 58%, for a cume to date of $79.5M which is roughly twice the pic's $40M budget. The Universal release's decline was understandable considering the arrival of Guardians and the low audience scores that Lucy received on opening day. A final of about $120M from North America seems likely (close to Angelina Jolie's $118.3M for Salt) while international appeal for the Luc Besson-directed thriller is strong. Lucy began its overseas roll-out this weekend with a top spot bow in Australia which will be followed by other market launches across August and September.

Universal took third place too with its new James Brown drama Get On Up which bowed to $13.6M from 2,468 locations for a moderate $5,505 average. It was a decent performance for a film that never generated that much heat to begin with, but was also about half of the openings for star Chadwick Boseman's 42 ($27.5M in April 2013) and director Tate Taylor's The Help ($26M in August 2011).

Older black women made up the dominant audience for Get On Up. Studio research showed that the crowd was 63% female, 70% African American, and 90% over 25. Reviews were generally positive and audiences too were happy with the film as it earned an encouraging A CinemaScore grade.

Hercules took a beating in its second fight. The Dwayne Johnson-led action epic collapsed 63% and grossed $11M for a cume to date of $52.7M for Paramount. The $100M-budgeted pic should finish its domestic run in the vicinity of $75M. Overseas sales have brought in a decent $56.5M from 35 markets with most key territories yet to open. Russia leads with $18.8M after its second weekend.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took a hit thanks to Star-Lord and pals crashing into the marketplace. The sequel to the 2011 prequel fell 48% to $8.7M for fifth place. With $189.3M to date, Dawn has surpassed the final domestic tally of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and looks on course to finish in the $210M range for Fox.

Planes: Fire and Rescue eased just 37% in its third round thanks to very little else for smaller children to see right now. The Disney toon grossed $6M and raised its cume to $47.2M on its way to around $65M. Universal's sequel The Purge: Anarchy dropped 44%, to $5.9M for a new total of $63.3M. The comedy Sex Tape followed with $3.5M, off 42%, for a lackluster $33.9M to date for Sony.

Mature-skewing films rounded out the top ten with nearly identical grosses. The Michael Douglas-Diane Keaton comedy And So It Goes held up well in its second weekend but still was attracting modest crowds. The Clarius release dipped only 30% to $3.26M and has collected $10.4M to date. Philip Seymour Hoffman's well-reviewed spy thriller A Most Wanted Man doubled its screens and grossed $3.24M from 726 sites for a good $4,464 average. Cume is $7M for Roadside Attractions.

Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction was booted out of the domestic top ten this weekend, but worldwide it shattered the coveted $1 billion mark on Sunday. The fourth Optimus Prime flick is losing stamina quickly overseas, especially since the record China release ended last week, but the sixth weekend gross of $19.5M boosted the international tally to $764.4M. Add in domestic's $241.2M and Extinction has now reached $1.006 billion with key markets Japan and Spain to open next weekend. Those two markets combined for $65M in box office on the last Transformers in 2011. Unless Paramount sets up a re-release, the latest Autobots tale looks on a trajectory to end with around $247M from North America with worldwide likely to surpass $1.1 billion just as Dark of the Moon did three years ago. That means one thing - more robots in disguise to come!

The top ten films grossed $167.8M which was up a sturdy 42% from last year when 2 Guns opened at number one with $27.1M; and up a fantastic 51% from 2012 when The Dark Knight Rises stayed on top for a third time with $35.7M.

Compared to projections, Guardians of the Galaxy soared higher than my $72M forecast while Get On Up was very close to my $15M prediction.

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Watch the NEW trailer for The Hobbit. For a review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's busy session when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Into The Storm, and Step Up All In all open.


Last Updated: August 4, 2014 at 5:45PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 6:40pm ET.

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