Weekend Box Office Forecast: Marvel Studios’ GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 Tuning Up for $105M+ Domestic Debut as Summer’s Opening Act

Photo Credits: Disney & Marvel Studios ("Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3")

Friday Update: Meeting forecasts below, Guardians opened to $17.5 million from Thursday previews. A full report is available here.

Wednesday Forecast: Summer movie season is here, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 continues the long-standing tradition of a Marvel movie ushering in the long and lucrative industry period.

Final tracking and pre-sales observations are coming in generally on par with recent expectations, if on the bearish end of prior long range projections. Thursday’s first shows are in line to generate between $16 million and $18 million based on current models, which should translate to a domestic weekend between $105 million and $125 million through Sunday.

While the three-quel marks the 13th Marvel Cinematic Universe chapter to headline either the first weekend of May or final weekend of April, the umbrella franchise is certainly in a different spot than it was when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened six years ago on the exact same frame.

Since then, the Avengers‘ Infinity Saga came to an extended denouement in 2018 and 2019 with historic box office performances by Infinity War and Endgame (not to mention Black Panther and Captain Marvel). In the four years since, the brand has weathered the storms of COVID-19 production and theatrical shutdowns, as well as its own search for a new identity in the IP’s post-Endgame era.

Each MCU release has been an important one in the years since, crescendoing with Spider-Man: No Way Home ($260.1 million domestic opening / $814.1 million total) ahead of last year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($187.4 million / $411.3 million) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($181.3 million / $453.8 million).

Despite the blockbuster-level numbers, though, word of mouth on most films and Disney+ series have been more divisive than was common for the Marvel zeitgeist throughout the run up to the ultimate showdown with Thanos. Combined with the glut of Disney+ series released of the past three years, social media and general watercooler discourse have underscored the growing reality that audience goodwill may be cooling from a boil to a rolling simmer after the honeymoon phase that immediately followed the Infinity Saga’s phenomenal and unique decade-long run.

Primary reasonings behind this are apparent in Guardians Vol. 3‘s pre-release marketing and timing. The film, while promising an ending to self-contained trilogy shepherded by writer and director James Gunn, is arriving over half a decade since its immediate predecessor. Perhaps as importantly, Infinity War and Endgame — by some measures — served as semi-sequels to 2017’s Vol. 2 to begin with as they tackled and addressed several key character arcs.

Unlike the debut of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, another MCU three-quel, Guardians is not trending to out-open its direct predecessor like what occurred with the third (and fourth) Thor films, the third Spider-Man, the third Iron Man, and the third Captain America. Quantumania largely achieved the feat thanks to the promise of setting up the franchise’s next big bad in Kang the Conqueror.

That introductory hook was widely promised to have repercussions across the upcoming slate of Marvel stories, whereas the third Guardians is far more self-contained in marketing.

The upside: critics are enjoying the film overall, with 147 reviews aggregating at 80 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday morning. That’s not far behind Vol. 2‘s 85 percent, which went on to post a healthy 87 percent audience score as well.

Still, collateral damage has been observable with past cinematic franchises, and Vol. 3 may be the first arguable victim of it in quite some time for Marvel. While fandom is still far-reaching and commercially supportive of the franchise relative to any other brand, debates have heated up over sentiment that the current storylines have yet to culminate in a clear and unified direction in the way the series last achieved heading into 2012’s The Avengers.

That waypoint in MCU history is notable because it arrived four years after the universe kick-off, 2008’s Iron Man. The same amount of time has now passed since Endgame‘s release.

Not to lose sight of the forest for the trees, Vol. 3 is still poised to generate the franchise’s 19th $100 million-plus domestic opener. If past Guardians films are anything to go by, it will be slightly more walk-up and casual audience friendly thanks to a strong throughline of heartfelt comedy. That should spell good news for staying power if audience buzz is similar to that of critics, with only Fast X challenging for the male-driven audience until June.

Another fair observation to note is that Vol. 3 opens after a very strong run of films this spring, with the cherry-on-top blockbuster run of The Super Mario Bros. Movie helping to generate the highest grossing April in history when discounting the two years Infinity War and Endgame arrived in the final days of the month for 2018 and 2019.

To that point, April 2023 posted an estimated $904 million in domestic revenue, topping April 2017’s $812 million, 2018’s $745 million (sans Infinity), and 2019’s $608 million (sans Endgame).

Speaking of Mario, it could again post a record fifth weekend for animation — needing to surpass Frozen‘s $19.6 million to do so. The Nintendo hit already owns the first four weekend records by the medium.

While it may be easy to fret over the fact that this third Guardians film may be the first of the MCU “trilogies” not to grow from its prior installment, there is no reason for doom and gloom. It arguably represents the last bastion of pre-Endgame threads that will soon yield the floor again to films like November’s The Marvels, streaming series Secret Invasion and Loki‘s second season, and May 2024’s theatrical summer launch title, Captain America: New World Order, before near-future tentpoles like Deadpool 3, the next Avengers films, Fantastic Four, and many other (presumably) forward-looking sub-franchises.

In other words, while it may begin to lean a bit less on Marvel and comic book films than the industry has been accustomed to for the last decade, the market overall is healthy right now as a variety of content continues coming back to theaters and a very promising summer season lies ahead.

Weekend Ranges

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Opening Weekend Range: $105 – 125 million

Love Again
Opening Weekend Range: $2 – 5 million

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Fifth Weekend Range: $18 – 25 million

Weekend Forecast & Location Count Projections

Current projection ranges call for a 73 to 92 percent increase from last weekend’s $88.6 million top ten aggregate.

Film Studio 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, May 7 Fri Location Count Projection (as of Wed) 3-Day % Change from Last Wknd
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Disney / Marvel Studios $115,200,000 $115,200,000 ~4,400 NEW
The Super Mario Bros. Movie Universal Pictures $21,000,000 $520,400,000 ~3,800 -49%
Evil Dead Rise Warner Bros. Pictures $5,600,000 $54,000,000 ~3,100 -54%
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Lionsgate $4,000,000 $13,000,000 ~3,343 -41%
Love Again Sony / Screen Gems $3,000,000 $3,000,000 ~2,650 NEW
John Wick: Chapter 4 Lionsgate $2,900,000 $180,700,000 ~1,800 -40%
Air Amazon Studios $2,300,000 $51,300,000 ~1,700 -43%
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Paramount Pictures $2,200,000 $91,700,000 ~1,900 -47%
Big George Foreman Sony / AFFIRM Films $1,600,000 $5,500,000 ~3,054 -45%
Sisu Lionsgate $1,400,000 $5,900,000 ~1,006 -58%

All forecasts are subject to revision/finalization before the first confirmation of opening previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.

Theater counts are either studio estimates OR unofficial projections if preceded by “~”.

The above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.

Photo Credits: Disney & Marvel Studios ("Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3")