What Will Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Make in its Opening Weekend?
A couple of weeks ago I offered an estimate of Guardians of the Galaxy 3’s box office gross (that now, perhaps unsurprisingly given the movie’s coming out Friday, seems to be getting a lot of traffic).
At the time I concerned myself with the film’s overall box office performance, not its opening weekend performance, which is the main thing we are hearing about now. According to Variety, Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3, is expected to take in $120 million in its opening weekend at the domestic box office.
This sounds robust (and certainly the relevant media presents this as excellent). But $120 million is, even in current dollars, about a fifth down from what Guardians of the Galaxy 2 made in its opening weekend during the same three-day period in May (May 5-May 7) six years ago. Some $147 million, when one adjusts it for today’s prices, that opening weekend take was more like $180 million.*
So basically the expectation is that Guardians of the Galaxy 3 will make a third less than Guardians of the Galaxy 2 — suggesting the new movie’s making a lot less than its predecessor.
Might the film have better “legs” offsetting an underwhelming opening weekend, however? I know of no reason to think so. Quite the contrary, it is a highly publicized threequel coming into a crowded-as-usual summer movie season very different from last year’s, in which circumstances the same “front-loading” of the gross as was seen with the preceding movie made seem rather plausible. Guardians of the Galaxy picked up 38 percent of its total domestic gross in those first three days — a typical figure for high-profile sequels — and should Guardians of the Galaxy 3 do the same it would end up with about $320 million in the till. This is less than what the preceding Guardian films made in current dollar terms, and about a third down from what Guardians of the Galaxy 3 made in real, inflation-adjusted terms.
Down near the bottom end of the range of predictions previously being discussed (roughly, $290-$400 million), were the international grosses (57 percent of the total previously) to go the same way the movie’s final global tally would be in the vicinity of $740 million, again a significant drop from what came before (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 a billion dollar hit in today’s terms).
Moreover, it seems some analysts are even less optimistic about key parts of the picture. Deadline, which estimated a $130 million gross for the film’s opening weekend not quite three weeks ago, now offers another estimate in the area of $110 million, which, apart from setting us up for still less on the basis of the same formulas I have used here (a Guardians movie taking in $290 million domestically, $670 million globally), in itself bespeaks the kind of falling expectations that preceded Thor 4’s less-than-stellar performance last summer. Meanwhile I find myself thinking about Ant-Man 3’s underwhelming performance, and how that was much more a matter of underperformance internationally rather than at home in North America. Where Ant-Man 3’s box office slipped by a sixth domestically, it fell about half internationally in real terms. Were the drop for Guardians’ international gross to be that much greater than its domestic drop (which already seems likely to be much sharper than the one Ant-Man 3 suffered, one-third rather than one-sixth, and maybe worse) it is not inconceivable that the international take could be that much weaker.
The result is that if a Guardians performance in the $700-$750 million range looks worrisome, worse still is quite conceivable. In the event of $290 million in the U.S., combined with an Ant-Man 3-like drop internationally, the movie might not see $600 million. Were the international drop, again, increased in severity, as the U.S. drop increased in severity, the movie could see a good deal less than $600 million.
At this point it seems one could say something of potential profitability. Even with its reported $250 million budget Guardians 3 would not necessarily be a money-loser with a $700-$750 million gross. After all, Thor 4, budgeted at a similar level, if failing to cover its cost in its theatrical run, eventually brought in a $100 million cash-on-cash return thanks to characteristically healthy Marvel revenues from home entertainment/streaming/TV (and perhaps more still from merchandise, and from keeping the bigger-than-any-one-movie-or-series Marvel machinery grinding along). And there is for the time being no reason to think the profitability of a Guardians movie at that level would be worse. But it would likely be less than Disney-Marvel was hoping for from a Guardians of the Galaxy 3, the more in as it is a good deal less profit than it made from Guardians 2 ($190 million adjusted for today’s terms, by my reckoning), continuing the pattern of falling profits (indeed, halved profits on its latest sequels relative to their predecessors, as seen with Thor 4 and Black Panther 2), and reaffirming the increasingly widespread view that Marvel’s heyday is a thing of the past rather than proving the occasion on which the mega-franchise rallied and showed up the naysayers. Moreover, in 2023 it will not have a better chance than this one was, with the animated Spider-Man and the Kraven movies different sorts of projects, best judged by a different standard, and the only other comparable MCU movie The Marvels, which has been bumped from July all the way out to November.
I will have more to say of that film’s chances — as well as Guardians’ own prospects — as more data comes in.
* As always, I am using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, in this case adjusting May 2017 prices for those of March 2023.