Wow! What a great movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy has a solid overall story interwoven with all of the essential narrative threads to make it a blockbuster. These include elements of good versus evil, survival, friendship, a touch of hopeful romance, and the belief that underdogs can reach their full potential. It's Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs at its finest. And it was brought to life with heartfelt, relatable and aspirational characters with well defined and often conflicting personas, laced with a range of humor from physical comedy to more sophisticated wit and sarcasm.
Because of this, Guardians of the Galaxy made roughly $94 million in its first weekend domestically, received a solid "A" CinemaScore from moviegoers, and obtained solid reviews from critics.
But what we experienced isn't just a blockbuster movie. We experienced the birth of a potentially long-term, blockbuster franchise. I realize that most of the top box office hits these days are franchises that span films, books, toys, apparel, video games and the like. But truly new franchises only come along every couple of years.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those. It's the Star Wars for today's generation. And the immense value of a blockbuster franchise cannot be overstated. It has been reported that the Star Wars franchise made roughly five times more money in merchandise and ancillary sales than it did from box office receipts. While both of the 2010 films Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3 were massive financial successes for Disney at the box office, with each taking in just over $1 billion worldwide, Toy Story 3 ultimately achieved about six times the retail sales of Alice in Wonderland when merchandise and ancillary markets were added. That's the difference between a blockbuster film and a blockbuster franchise.
When franchises are well crafted, audiences not only want to enjoy the story at the theater, but they also want to read it, wear it, sing it, play it, ride it, enter it, and sometimes even eat it.
Creating a blockbuster franchise like Guardians of the Galaxy isn't about art for art's sake. It requires astute critical thinking to insure that all the right ingredients are mixed in just the right proportions to generate audience interest and sales. It's what I term marketable artistry, something that Marvel and Disney do quite well. In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, it requires that the narrative be open-ended so that intriguing elements of the story are still left to be discovered (e.g. who is our hero's real alien father?). It requires unique characters that are worth emulating in persona and possessions (e.g. blasters, music). It demands that the action be built around a powerful play pattern (e.g. good vs. evil) with fanciful, exciting environments (e.g. worlds, planets) that consumers can explore in videogames, toys or theme park rides. It also requires unique iconography (e.g. characters, logos) that fans want to show off on t-shirts, posters and backpacks.
I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to the original 1969 comic book version of Guardians of the Galaxy, but its comic book rebirth in 2008 and the subsequent film brought it to life in a dramatic way worthy of blockbuster status.
Critics sometimes claim that massive franchises are too commercial. I disagree. Blockbuster franchises play a valuable role in people's lives by providing fanciful escapes in an array of ways. Besides, most attempts to create franchises fail because they don't have the right ingredients that audiences crave. Only the very best survive and thrive.
Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie, is on its way to becoming a huge box office success. But that success may be small in comparison to the success that is yet to come.
It appears that a new blockbuster franchise is born.