‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ to End ‘Super Mario’s’ Four-Week Box Office Reign With $120 Million Debut

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the conclusion to Marvel’s trilogy about an intergalactic crew of misfits, looks to kick off summer moviegoing season with a bang.

The superhero adventure is hoping to bring in $120 million in its opening weekend, falling in between the starts of 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” ($94 million) and 2017’s sequel ($146 million). There’s a chance that “Vol. 3” could fall short of those projections and land closer to a less-spectacular $110 million to $118 million, according to independent tracking services.

Of course, it’s hard to chide a film that hits $100 million in its domestic debut. But the idea, especially for tentpoles that cost $200 million-plus, is to grow, not shrink, the fanbase with new installments. Reviews for “Guardians 3” are decent (it holds a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes) but sources say tracking has been stagnant in the lead-up to its theatrical premiere. That points to either mounting indifference to the newest phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or a sign that Disney waited too long to conclude the “Guardians” story, which began nearly a decade ago and turned Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista into bona fide movie stars and writer-director James Gunn into an A-list filmmaker. At the same time, there’s not really a gauge for a franchise that’s 32 films deep.

Not every comic book movie can establish records. But other than the blockbuster success of Sony’s Marvel sequel “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (one of six movies to ever cross $2 billion worldwide), the MCU has struggled to churn out a billion-dollar hit since the grand finale of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Pandemic-era installments, including “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” have been especially frontloaded at the box office. Earlier this year, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” continued that trend by crushing expectations with its huge $106 million debut but failing to sustain momentum in the following weeks. It ended its theatrical run with less than $500 million worldwide, the worst result in the Paul Rudd-led trilogy.

At the international box office, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is expected to add $130 million to $140 million from all markets including China, which is estimated to account for a disappointing $15 million to $20 million of that total. China, once a huge territory for Marvel, hasn’t been friendly toward any Hollywood movies (except “Avatar: The Way of Water”) in recent years.

Either way, ticket sales for “Guardians 3” will be more than enough to end the four-week box office reign of Universal and Illumination’s animated “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which stands as the highest-grossing film of the year with $490 million domestically and $1.026 billion globally.

Elsewhere in North America, Sony’s romantic comedy “Love Again,” starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas and set against a backdrop of Celine Dion’s discography, is aiming to earn $5 million from 2,650 theaters in its debut. The movie, which features new songs from Dion, cost $9 million. Otherwise, holdovers like “Mario” and horror sequel “Evil Dead Rise” will round out box office charts.

Gunn returned to write and direct “Vol. 3,” which is his final Marvel movie before he takes the reins at rival comic book studio DC. The emotional tale brings back Pratt’s Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Bautista as Drax the Destroyer and Vin Diesel’s Groot as they embark on one last mission, to protect Bradley Cooper’s Rocket from evil forces that threaten to dissolve the team.

In Variety’s review, chief film critic Peter Debruge says the film comes to a “satisfying close.” He wrote, “Gunn has been incredibly successful about navigating the line between ironic self-awareness (on his part) and sincere emotional investment (on ours).”