Guardians of the Galaxy is tracking for a $60 million or better open at the U.S. box office. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

Mark it down. I'm saying right here, right now that Guardians of the Galaxy will earn at least $500 million in worldwide box office receipts and unleash a new franchise for Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios.

Crazy like a (rocket) raccoon
Sound crazy? Consider the signs. The Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series has sold well. Trailers have drawn raves and social media interest is high. Now pre-release data sourced by TheWrap says Marvel's space epic is tracking for $60 million when it opens the weekend of August 1. That's about in line with domestic openings for Marvel franchise-starters Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.

Skeptics will note that neither film earned $500 million worldwide. Worse, The Incredible Hulk opened at $55 million in June 2008, five weeks after Iron Man, but failed to crack $300 million worldwide. Yet these films also came before The Avengers changed our notion of what a Marvel movie could be. Those that followed have earned substantially more than $500 million worldwide:

Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Domestic opening

$174.14 million

$85.74 million

$95.02 million

Worldwide gross

$1,215.44 million

$644.78 million

$712.73 million

CinemaScore / Rotten Tomatoes

A / 79% of audiences

A- / 79% of audiences

A / 94% of audiences

Sources: Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes, The Hollywood Reporter.

A parallel universe
Which category does Guardians belong in? I'm going with the post-Avengers slate because early reviews seem to track with what we've seen from the most recent Marvel movies. Screenrant gathered reactions posted to Twitter following a recent press screening and found most critics praising the movie. Overall, says tweets about the movie are running between 9-to-1 and 21-to-1 positive versus negative.

Winter Soldier was producing similarly positive buzz before its open and went on to break April box office records. Guardians of the Galaxy probably won't enjoy the same level of success, but it also doesn't need to. Establishing a thief, an assassin, a revenge-driven brute, and two CGI-rendered alien vagrants as a team fans want to see more of is win enough.

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