Of course there are plenty of ways we can define “most significant,” but with the news that Guardians of the Galaxy has now raked in more than $586 million worldwide, it’s worth exploring the concept a little more.
Let’s start with the fact that Guardians has passed the first Iron Man in terms of global box office receipts (all stats via Box Office Mojo). That makes it Marvel’s top-grossing non-sequel ever worldwide — and yes, for the purposes of this comparison, I’m counting The Avengers as a sequel since it followed up solo films from more than half the team members. It’s also within striking distance of Iron Man‘s domestic take of $318.4 million, which wouldn’t be possible if it was falling off at the rate of a normal 21st Century movie. But Guardians of the Galaxy actually increased its weekly haul from week four to week five, so even if it starts dropping away now, it’s got Iron Man in its sights.
A case can and certainly has been made that Iron Man wasn’t exactly a high profile super hero before his first trip to the silver screen, but there’s no argument that public awareness of the Armored Avenger was much higher than it was for the Guardians characters. What isn’t up for debate is that Marvel struck gold with its casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and that he helped define the way everyone saw that role, even having his characterization spill back into the comics a bit. That actually makes the success of Guardians of the Galaxy even more impressive, because while its producers certainly made good casting choices, it isn’t reliant on a single actor or actress that steals the show.
Along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which released in April, GotG helped prove that super hero blockbusters don’t need to open in the summer or holiday months in order to draw huge crowds. With Marvel, DC and other studios planning more comic book adaptations than ever over the next five years, that was an important theory to have validated.
Most of all, while it doesn’t mean that Marvel can just put out anything and know that it will succeed, the studio does now know that it can get creative and dip deep into its huge library of characters in order to make profitable films. With some of its most popular and historic characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four unavailable for Marvel movies for the forseeable future, Marvel now can rest assured that if it comes up with a solid script and matches it with a director with the proper sensibility, the hero or heroes at the center of it don’t need name recognition to achieve both critical and box office success.
Add that all up and it sounds like Marvel’s most significant movie so far. No one could have foreseen that kind of status for Guardians of the Galaxy even a few months ago.