Without a doubt, Disney (DIS 1.60%) Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is already smashing success. When it launched in the U.S. on August 1, Guardians quickly set a new record for the biggest-ever August opening weekend at $94.3 million. As it stands, Guardians has grossed a whopping $645.2 million globally, including more than $320 million from U.S. audiences alone.
Curiously, however, while that makes Guardians the United States' biggest box office hit of 2014 so far, it's still only the seventh highest-grossing film worldwide. Thanks to lower international sales, Guardians of the Galaxy trails behind the likes of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA) Paramount's $1.08 billion blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction, $756.7 million from Disney's Maleficent, $746 million from Twenty-First Century Fox's (FOXA) X-Men Days of Future Past, and even $714 million from fellow Marvelite Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Guardians of the Galaxy isn't done yet
But remember, Guardians' total doesn't include any proceeds from China, where it's set to launch next Friday, October 10, 2014. And make no mistake: We shouldn't underestimate the impact of China's burgeoning box office.
For reference, in April Captain America: The Winter Soldier enjoyed a $38.8 million weekend debut in the Middle Kingdom, where it ultimately went on to reach $115.6 million. The following month, X-Men: Days of Future Past opened in China to $39.4 million en route to a $116.5 million total. Even more impressive, Transformers: Age of Extinction added an almost absurd $301 million from Chinese audiences, including its $92 million June weekend debut.
I suspect Guardians of the Galaxy's performance in China will be closer to (if not slightly higher) than that of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If that turns out to be the case -- and keeping in mind Guardians is still tacking on several million dollars per week elsewhere -- it would easily be enough to propel Guardians of the Galaxy to near the $800 million mark when all is said and done.
Why Disney investors are rejoicing
That would not only make it the second-highest grossing movie of 2014 so far, but also the third-largest film in Disney's Marvel cinematic universe to date behind only the $1.519 billion and $1.215 billion from Marvel's The Avengers and Iron Man 3, respectively. Not too shabby considering many industry watchers -- myself included -- had worried whether the quirky team and humor behind Guardians of the Galaxy would appeal to audiences on a broader scale.
We knew Disney was set to book a tidy profit from Guardians of the Galaxy as it stands, even despite the enormous $230 million it spent producing, marketing, and distributing the film. But if Guardians manages to perform in China as I've speculated above, it will have capped an epic box office run for what was arguably Disney's riskiest Marvel film to date. This not only bodes well for Guardians' individual profitability, but also demonstrates the ability of Disney to profitably bring to life many of the lesser-known names from Marvel's stable of more than 9,000 distinct characters.
All things considered, it seems safe to say Disney and Marvel are only just getting started.