Walt Disney Co.’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the misfit superheroes from deep in Marvel’s comic-book lineup, are about to join Hollywood’s A-list as stars of the biggest summer movie in the U.S.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” released on Aug. 1, has generated $231.7 million in domestic ticket sales, about $12 million less than the season’s leader, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” according to researcher Box Office Mojo. “Guardians” took in $25.1 million last weekend in U.S. and Canadian theaters and has time to vanquish the competition in the remaining days of the season.
“It is assured to surpass ‘Transformers,’” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Rentrak Corp.
A win would cap another strong performance for Disney and its Marvel division, which last year had the biggest hit of summer with “Iron Man 3,” and led the 2012 season with “The Avengers.” The studio boasts the biggest hit of calendar 2014 as well, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” released on April 4, before summer began. That film has earned $259.8 million in domestic theaters, and $714.1 million worldwide.
“Transformers,” from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, has $243.4 million in domestic ticket sales. Released on June 27, the film took in $205,500 domestically last weekend, according to Dergarabedian.
Globally, “Transformers” is still the top grossing movie for the summer and for the year, with $1.05 billion in worldwide revenue, according to Box Office Mojo. “Guardians” has $428 million in worldwide sales and is unlikely to catch up.
While the international box office makes up a growing portion of film revenue, the U.S. remains the largest market. The sales that studios receive for movies in the home-entertainment market -- cable TV showings, DVDs and movie downloads, for example -- closely follow the domestic box office, and are in some cases tied directly to ticket sales.
Studios also keep a bigger share of U.S. ticket sales than in some other markets. In China, where the latest “Transformers” has grossed more than $300 million, according to Box Office Mojo, Hollywood gets less than a quarter of the box-office proceeds. That compares with 50 percent or more in the U.S.
Officials at Disney, based in Burbank, California, and Paramount, declined to comment.
With “Guardians,” Marvel brought a scrappy, less-known group of comic-book heroes to cinemas, with an eye toward developing a new film series. The studio spent $170 million making the movie, according to Box Office Mojo. A sequel is planned for 2017, Disney said.
Chris Pratt, known for NBC’s “Parks & Recreation” sitcom, stars as Peter Quill, an American pilot who becomes the target of a unrelenting bounty hunt in space. He’s pursued after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by the super-villain Ronan, played by Lee Pace.
Quill discovers the true power of the orb and leads an effort to save the galaxy, according to a studio synopsis. He is joined by co-stars Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and characters voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. The movie registered the biggest August opening of all time, and was well received by fans, who rated it A with polling firm CinemaScore.
The summer season runs from the start of May through the U.S. Labor Day holiday, which falls on Sept. 1 this year. Producing hits during this period is critical for studios, which generate about 40 percent of their annual box-office revenue when children are on school break.
Overall, the summer season has been a disappointment. Domestic ticket sales are down 15 percent to $3.75 billion from the year-earlier period, according to Rentrak. Some studios shifted film releases to avoid conflict with the World Cup from mid-June to mid-July.
Others released clunkers like “Edge of Tomorrow,” from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. The Tom Cruise film cost $178 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo, and brought in $99.8 million in domestic sales.
Delays also played a role. Disney’s Pixar division pushed back the release of “The Good Dinosaur” until November 2015 because the film wasn’t ready, while Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures postponed “Fast & Furious 7” until next year with the death of actor Paul Walker in an automobile accident.
“It’s been a rough summer in terms of domestic box-office receipts, but it’s important not to say that this marks some kind of drastic shift in the popularity of the movie-going experience,” said Phil Contrino, chief analyst with researcher BoxOffice.com. “This is a cyclical business. 2014 is simply the calm before the storm that will be 2015.”
The domestic box office is down 5.5 percent so far in 2014 from last year, which set a record. Next year is set to post new highs with the release of pictures from some of Hollywood’s most popular franchises, such as James Bond, Disney’s “Star Wars” and “The Hunger Games,” from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., according to Dergarabedian.