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Marvel's 'Guardians' rockets to $94 million domestic debut

(Reuters) - "Guardians of the Galaxy," Walt Disney Co's offbeat space adventure featuring extraterrestrial misfits and a talking raccoon, made $94 million in ticket sales this weekend, setting a record for an August film opening.

The film's strong beginning, however, isn't likely to jumpstart a lackluster summer box office season.

The 3D movie, which stars lesser-known characters in Disney's Marvel comic book universe, added $66.4 million from international markets, for a global debut of $160.4 million, Disney said on Sunday.

"Guardians" outgunned last weekend's leader, the science-fiction thriller "Lucy" that collected another $18.3 million in sales at domestic theaters, according to estimates from Rentrak.

"Lucy" stars Scarlett Johansson as a woman with a super-powered brain.

"Get On Up," a biography of the soul singer James Brown, was third with $14 million in its first weekend in theaters.

"Guardians" stars an ensemble cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper and Chris Pratt. After positive reviews, the film was the year's biggest Thursday night opening with $11.2 million in sales starting with 7 p.m. shows.

Even before the film's opening, Walt Disney said it was planning a sequel for release in July 2017.

Head of distribution for Walt Disney Studios Dave Hollis attributed the strong performance of "Guardians" to a combination of momentum started by "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in June, skillful marketing, and strong reviews.

"It starts with a great movie, and certainly the marketing was inspired," Hollis said.

Disney had marketed the film's lighter moments in trailers and commercials, including a machinegun-firing raccoon, to expand its popularity beyond traditional Marvel movie fans.

The movie features a soundtrack of music from the 1970s, including the songs "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Spirit in the Sky."

"Transformers: Age of Extinction," just passed $1 billion in global box office returns, according to Paramount Pictures.

"Guardians" performance, which beat Hollywood forecasts of a $65 million to $80 million opening, are not likely to energize the summer box office, however, as ticket sales are currently running 18 percent behind last year, according to Rentrak.

"It doesn't end it but it's certainly a step in the right direction," said Rentrak's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian about the slump. It only gave the overall summer box office a two percent lift, he said.

"Hercules," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the legendary muscle man, was fourth for the weekend with $10.7 million.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" was fifth with $8.7 million. The film has totaled more than $189.3 million in sales in U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak.

"Lucy" and "Get On Up" were released by Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.

Fox, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox, distributed "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." "Hercules" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction" were released by Paramount Pictures, a Viacom unit.

(This story was corrected to remove reference to Marvel in paragraph 13. "Trasformers: Age of Extinction" is a Paramount film.)

(Reporting By Ronald Grover and Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell)

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