'Guardians of the Galaxy' Breaks Disney's Superhero Mold

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Guardians of the Galaxy is not only saving the 2014 summer movie season, it's rescuing Disney  from a staid superhero film blueprint.

With a $94.3 million opening weekend just a week ago, Guardians of the Galaxy posted the highest debut for August release in U.S. history. It obliterated the $69.3 million opening weekend for Universal's 2007 blockbuster The Bourne Ultimatum and beat the opening weekends of other Marvel fare including Disney's Thor: The Dark World ($85.7 million) and Fox's  X-Men: Days Of Future Past ($90.8 million) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($91.6 million).

The only superhero film it has trailed is Disney's Captain America: Winter Soldier, whose $95 million opening weekend led to $259 million in U.S. box office receipts that's made it the highest-grossing film of 2014 thus far. During a summer that left many moviegoers looking forward to the latest installments of Lions Gate Film's waning Hunger Games and Hobbit series this fall, Guardians of the Galaxy was a rare original treat.

By rights, it shouldn't have been. Guardians of the Galaxy is a niche Marvel Comics title that's only hit stride in recent years. The current team has only been together since 2008, none of them have the pop-culture cachet of Captain America or Iron Man and two of the principals are a giant tree alien and an anthropomorphized raccoon.

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However, when you make Vin Diesel the voice behind that giant tree, give Bradley Cooper the look of a quick-witted raccoon and have the affable Chris Pratt from NBC's Parks And Recreation lead them as the bumbling Lothario Star-Lord, you embrace alchemy that's almost completely absent from the current generation of superhero tales. Chris Hemsworth's Thor, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker, Chris Evans' Captain America and the entire X-Men ensemble all have one common thread beyond their comic book lineage: They're all stiffs. They're self-important demigods who somehow still aren't powerful enough to free themselves of their pulpy source material or their wooden comic-on-screen delivery.

Robert Downey Jr. gave Hollywood a taste of what superhero films could be if the actors were allowed to act and if the characters could bend to their strengths. His Tony Stark/Iron Man character drove a franchise that made $1.04 billion in the U.S. in just three films. The X-Men ($1.3 billion), Spider-Man ($1.58 billion) and Batman ($1.9 billion) franchises have all made more, but in 7, 5, and 8 films, respectively. Not accounting for inflation, the average $346.6 million made by Iron Man films in the U.S. trails only the average $416 million made by the first two Hunger Games movies.

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