How ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Box Office Can Soar Where ‘Doctor Strange 2’ Crashed

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There’s no doubt now that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is one of the best received superhero movies to hit theaters since they reopened, and its stronger-than-expected second weekend lends itself to some interesting box office comparisons to last year’s May Marvel film, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

A year ago, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” came into theaters with white-hot momentum from “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and earned the biggest opening weekend of the year with $187.4 million. But hardcore fans who bought a ticket that weekend weren’t as enthused as they were with “No Way Home,” and on the film’s second weekend, it slipped 67% to a $61.7 million second weekend total.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” has seen somewhat of a reverse trend. Whether it’s because of the weak reception to recent Marvel films or its self-contained nature, “Guardians Vol. 3” opened to $118 million, $28 million less than “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” in 2017 and nearly $70 million less than “Multiverse of Madness.”

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Yet with rave audience reception, “Guardians Vol. 3” was able to keep its second weekend drop to just 47% — a hold that is second only to “Black Panther” among all MCU films — and post a total this weekend nearly identical to “Multiverse of Madness” with $62 million.

These near-identical results make “Multiverse of Madness” an ideal comparison for “Guardians Vol. 3” as the latter Marvel movie heads into a very interesting weekend for the box office. With premium format screens switching over to Universal’s “Fast X” this Friday, we will see just how much drawing power “Guardians Vol. 3” truly has with audiences without surcharges for Imax and Dolby screenings boosting the numbers.

“There’s a chance that ‘Guardians’ sees a weekend drop just from the loss of premium surcharges even if admissions hold well,” said Boxoffice Pro analyst Shawn Robbins. “But at the same time, ‘Guardians’ is showing that it is bringing casual moviegoers back to Marvel at a time when a new ‘Fast & Furious’ film is coming out well past the peak of that franchise’s prime.”

Last year, “Multiverse of Madness” had no major blockbuster competition in its third weekend. Instead of a “Fast & Furious” film, the new release that weekend was “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” a film with a limited audience that had almost no overlap with Marvel’s fan base. The film fell 47% in its third weekend to $32.3 million before dropping another 50% to $16 million on Memorial Day weekend against the record opening of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

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Audience metrics indicated that “Multiverse of Madness” was seen as a good-but-not-great follow-up to “No Way Home,” with fans mixed on the idea of “WandaVision” protagonist Scarlet Witch becoming the film’s antagonist. While it performed well without any competition, its box office numbers quickly fell off once “Top Gun: Maverick” took over all of pop culture.

While the third weekend drop for “Guardians Vol. 3” might be larger than it would have been if it had another weekend of premium support, there’s a possible outcome where “Fast X” doesn’t get as strong audience buzz as “Guardians,” allowing the Marvel film to continue legging out despite the tentpole competition. Conversely, strong word of mouth for “Fast X” could make the drop worse.

Either way, the $32 million total for “Multiverse of Madness” will be the standard against which “Guardians Vol. 3” will be judged. If the third weekend total is above $35 million, it will not only keep its weekend drop below 44% but will have topped the third weekend of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

It would be difficult, but after this past weekend, not unfeasible. Superhero films like “Quantumania” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” have struggled immensely this year amidst weak reviews, but sometimes high quality makes all the difference. Maybe being one of the best-received superhero movies since “Avengers: Endgame” will be enough to keep the Guardians standing out at the box office — even when racing against Dominic Toretto.

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