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 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
By Associated Press

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" rocketed to an estimated $145 million debut in North America, kicking off Hollywood's summer movie season with something the movie business has been craving: a sequel more successful than the original.

Director James Gunn's second "Guardians" film opened 54 percent higher than the 2014 runaway hit, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That release, which introduced the intergalactic band of misfits played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, debuted with $94 million in its first weekend.

Once a little-known oddball property in Marvel's vault, "Guardians of the Galaxy" has grown into one of the comic-book factory's biggest brands.

Walt Disney Co. validated the rise of "Guardians," too, by moving it from August (when the original opened) to the first weekend in May. Marvel has used the same weekend to effectively launch the summer season for the last decade.

The opening for "Guardians Vol. 2," which was made for about $200 million, is the second largest of the year, following Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" ($174.8 million). But it also turns back the tide of underperforming sequels, a developing scourge to Hollywood. Last summer saw a litany of sequels that failed to live up to earlier installments.

Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, left, and Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, in a scene from 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.'AP

"We spent a lot of time looking at sequels and the idea of sequel-itis," said David Hollis, distribution chief for Disney. "Really, poor quality films have been the thing that has, more than anything, been rejected by consumers over time.

"The ambition here was to make something that was unbelievably fresh and exciting," Hollis said. "As long as we can continue to deliver high-quality storytelling, high-quality world-creation, we'll be in great shape."

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" scored on that front, landing an A CinemaScore from audiences and an 82 percent "fresh" rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In two weeks of international release, the film has also made $269 million overseas. A third "Guardians" is already planned, as are crossovers with Marvel's Avengers.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers also are included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:

  1. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," $145 million ($124 million international).
  2. "The Fate of the Furious," $8.5 million ($30.1 million international).
  3. "The Boss Baby," $6.2 million ($11.9 million international).
  4. "How to Be a Latin Lover," $5.3 million ($5.6 million international).
  5. "Beauty and the Beast," $4.9 million ($11.9 million international).
  6. "The Circle," $4 million.
  7. "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion," $3.2 million ($43.9 million international).
  8. "Gifted," $2.1 million.
  9. "Going in Style," $1.9 million ($3.1 million international).
  10. "Smurfs: The Lost Village," $1.8 million ($5.6 million international).