Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rocketed to an estimated $145 million debut. It kicked off Hollywood's summer movie season with something the movie business has been lacking: a sequel more successful than the original.
Director James Gunn's second Guardians film opened 54% higher than the 2014 runaway hit, according to studio estimates Sunday.
That release, which introduced the intergalactic band of misfits played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, debuted with $94 million in its first weekend.
Once a little-known, oddball property in Marvel's vault, the Guardians of the Galaxy have grown into one of the comic-book factory's biggest brands.
Disney validated Guardians, too, by moving it from August (when the original opened) to the first weekend in May. Marvel has used the same weekend to effectively launch the summer season for the last decade.
Guardians 2, shot for about $200 million, is the second largest of the year, following Disney's Beauty and the Beast ($174.8 million). But it also turns back the tide of underperforming sequels, a developing scourge to Hollywood. Last summer saw a litany of sequels that failed to live up to earlier installments.
"We spent a lot of time looking at sequels and the idea of sequelitis," said David Hollis, distribution chief for Disney. "Really, poor quality films have been the thing that has, more than anything, been rejected by consumers over time. The ambition here was to make something that was unbelievably fresh and exciting. As long as we can continue to deliver high-quality storytelling, high-quality world creation, we'll be in great shape."
Guardians 2 scored on that front, landing an A grade at CinemaScore from audiences and an 81 "fresh" rating from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. In two weeks of international release, the film has also made $269 million overseas. A third Guardians is already planned, as are crossovers with Marvel's Avengers characters.
But whether Guardians can turn the tide for summer sequels will be a much-followed discussion as the season progresses. The bottom line of just about every studio depends on it.
On the horizon are big-budget sequels like Alien: Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, Despicable Me 3 and War for the Planet of the Apes.
"Obviously, last summer was a bummer. We had numerous sequels — well over a dozen — that didn't live up to the promise of their immediate predecessor," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "Summer 2017 gets us back on track. There's a lot out there."
Fearing the might of Guardians 2, the studios released no other major movies over the weekend. The gap between first and second at the box office was immense. The Fate of the Furious came in at No. 2 with $8.5 million in its fourth weekend. The eighth installment in the franchise has grossed $1.6 billion worldwide.
A handful of films opened in limited release, including 3 Generations, with Elle Fanning as a transgender teen ($20,000 on four screens), and the boxing biopic Chuck, with Liev Schreiber as Chuck Wepner ($40,500 on four screens).
Final figures are expected Monday.
Contributing: Kim Willis