‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3': The Good and Bad News From Its $289 Million Global Box Office Start

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After taking a shellacking from fans disappointed over the quality of many recent films, Marvel Studios and Disney are once again enjoying a critical and box office superhero hit with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which earned a $118 million domestic and $289 million global opening weekend.

More importantly, audiences are praising the film with opening crowds giving the film 5 stars on PostTrak and an A on CinemaScore. Four of the last six Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including the box office duds “Eternals” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” have received a B or B+ on CinemaScore. All but one of the previous 25 MCU releases had earned an A- or better.

These are just a few of several signs of good news for both Marvel and the box office, but this weekend’s success isn’t a cure for all of Marvel’s problems. Let’s go deeper into the good and bad news about how the release of the Guardians’ final chapter went:

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The good news

Obviously, this strong audience reception means that “Guardians Vol. 3” won’t have the uncharacteristically short box office legs that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” suffered earlier this year. Hit by some of the poorest critical and audience reviews ever for a Marvel film, “Quantumania” fell a staggering 70% from its $106 million opening weekend and failed to reach $500 million in global grosses.

“Guardians Vol. 3,” meanwhile, should have two weeks of robust ticket sales with support from premium formats, which made 40% of the film’s opening weekend gross. While the arrival of Universal’s “Fast X” on May 19 will provide stiffer competition than May Marvel releases usually see before Memorial Day weekend, it’s possible that word of mouth may bring in general audiences who enjoyed the previous “Guardians” films but did not immediately show interest for “Vol. 3” because of Marvel’s recent decline in popular reception.

Insiders at Disney also said the film has particularly overperformed in certain overseas markets such as South Korea, where the film faced competition from “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and local sports film “Dream,” and in Latin America, where sci-fi films tend to make less money.

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Despite the lack of a May Day weekend release, “Guardians Vol. 3” is on pace internationally with “Guardians Vol. 2” with the exception of China, where the film’s $28.5 million opening is well below the $48.5 million opening of “Vol. 2” but noticeably better than most of the Hollywood films that have come out in the past year.

With a strong second weekend hold, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” should have a good chance of reaching a $300 million domestic total and at least $750 million worldwide. While less than the $955 million made a year ago by “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” that would still make it a theatrical success for Disney, while a global run that stretches to the $800 million range would put it between the unadjusted box office totals of $773 million for the first “Guardians” and the $863 million of its 2017 sequel.

Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

The bad news

As good of a start as this is, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” would have to have unexpectedly strong legs even against intense box office competition in the coming weeks — including “The Little Mermaid” on Memorial Day weekend — in order to pass “Vol. 2” and become the highest-grossing film in the “Guardians” trilogy.

Even when one takes out China and focuses just on the domestic front, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was able to take advantage of a relatively weaker slate than what “Vol 3.” faces this year to gross $389 million in North America.

In the month of May, “Vol. 2” faced an R-rated, tepidly received “Alien: Covenant” that just grossed $74 million domestic and the Memorial Day weekend release of fellow Disney title “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which performed solidly internationally but fell off domestically to gross $78 million on its opening weekend and $172 million overall, the lowest domestic total of any “Pirates” film. “Fast X” and “Little Mermaid” should perform much better and lead to tougher weekend drops for “Guardians Vol. 3.”

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And even if “Guardians Vol. 3” becomes a hit as expected, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the lapsed MCU fans it brings back to theaters will stick around for upcoming films like “The Marvels” or “Thunderbolts.” “Vol. 2” topped $850 million worldwide not only because of the popularity of its ragtag superhero team, but because it was riding the unstoppable momentum of MCU’s Infinity Saga, where every installment felt like a build-up to “Avengers: Infinity War” and the looming showdown with Thanos.

“Guardians Vol. 3,” by director James Gunn’s design, is not meant to set up any future installments the way “Quantumania” did. Its focus is solely on ending the “Guardians” trilogy that began nine years ago, as Gunn and some cast members like Dave Bautista leave the Marvel stable.

While the film’s mid- and post-credit scenes tease more potential adventures for some members of the Guardians, everything before that is about saying goodbye to the original quintet of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot, along with the new members that joined along the way. Because of that, “Vol. 3” in many ways feels more like a true finale than even “Avengers: Endgame,” which planted seeds for future MCU titles like “Loki,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Disney insiders believe it was this self-contained presentation that led to weaker presales than past Marvel films released in May rather than the poor reception of “Quantumania” and other Phase Four MCU films, and it is also because of that self-contained style that those insiders say Disney does not expect that “Guardians Vol. 3” will necessarily get audiences interested in films to come.

So when it comes time for Disney and Marvel to get audiences hyped for “The Marvels” this summer, it’s not out of the question that a substantial number of moviegoers decide to wait on word of mouth or even for a streaming release before committing to see it. If that happens, and the MCU’s slow decline resumes with disappointing box office returns for “The Marvels,” the successful release of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” may seem in hindsight to be just a bear-market rally.

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