In 1988, following his mother's death, a young Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by the Ravagers, a group of space pirates led by Yondu Udonta. Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, Quill steals an orb but is attacked by Korath, a subordinate to the fanatical Kree, Ronan. Although Quill escapes with the orb, Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture, while Ronan sends the assassin Gamora after the orb.
When Quill attempts to sell the orb on Xandar, capital of the Nova Empire, Gamora ambushes him and steals it. A fight ensues, drawing in a pair of bounty hunters: the genetically and cybernetically modified raccoon Rocket, and the tree-like humanoid Groot. Nova Corps officers capture the four, detaining them in the Kyln. A powerful inmate there, Drax, attempts to kill Gamora due to her association with Ronan, who killed his family. Quill convinces Drax that Gamora can bring Ronan to him, though Gamora reveals that she has betrayed Ronan, unwilling to let him use the orb's power. Learning that Gamora has a buyer for the orb, Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Drax work with her to escape the Kyln in Quill's ship, the Milano.
Ronan meets with Gamora's adoptive father, Thanos, to discuss her betrayal. Quill's group flee to Knowhere, a remote criminal outpost in space built in the giant severed head of a Celestial. A drunken Drax summons Ronan while the rest of the group meet Gamora's contact, the collector Taneleer Tivan. Tivan opens the orb, revealing an Infinity Stone, an item of immeasurable power that destroys all but the most powerful beings who wield it. Tivan's tormented assistant Carina grabs the Stone, triggering an explosion that engulfs Tivan's archive.
Ronan arrives and easily defeats Drax, while the others flee by ship, pursued by Ronan's followers and Gamora's adoptive sister Nebula. Nebula destroys Gamora's ship, leaving her floating in space, and Ronan's fighters capture the orb. Quill contacts Yondu before following Gamora into space, giving her his helmet to survive; Yondu arrives and retrieves the pair. Rocket, Drax, and Groot threaten to attack Yondu's ship to rescue them, but Quill negotiates a truce, promising the orb to Yondu. Quill's group agrees that facing Ronan means certain death, but that they cannot let him use the Infinity Stone to destroy the galaxy. On Ronan's flagship, the Dark Aster, Ronan embeds the Stone in his warhammer, taking its power for himself. He contacts Thanos, threatening to kill him after first destroying Xandar; hateful of her adoptive father, Nebula allies with Ronan.
The Ravagers and Quill's group join with the Nova Corps to confront the Dark Aster at Xandar, with Quill's group breaching the Dark Aster with the Milano. Ronan uses his empowered warhammer to destroy the Nova Corps fleet. Gamora fights and defeats Nebula, who then escapes, but the group find themselves outmatched by Ronan's power until Rocket crashes a Ravager ship through the Dark Aster. The damaged Dark Aster crash-lands on Xandar, with Groot sacrificing himself to shield the group. Ronan emerges from the wreck and prepares to destroy Xandar, but Quill distracts him, allowing Drax and Rocket to destroy Ronan's warhammer. Quill grabs the freed Stone, and with Gamora, Drax, and Rocket sharing its burden, they use it to destroy Ronan.
In the aftermath, Quill tricks Yondu into taking a container supposedly containing the Stone, and gives the real Stone to the Nova Corps. As the Ravagers leave Xandar, Yondu remarks that it turned out well that they did not deliver Quill to his father per their contract. Quill's group, now known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, have their criminal records expunged, and Quill learns that he is only half-human, his father being part of an ancient, unknown species. Quill finally opens the last present he received from his mother: a cassette tape filled with her favorite songs. The Guardians leave in the rebuilt Milano along with a sapling cut from Groot.
In a post-credits scene, Tivan sits in his destroyed archive with two of his living exhibits: a canine cosmonaut and an anthropomorphic duck.Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord:Zoe Saldana as Gamora:Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer:Vin Diesel as Groot:Bradley Cooper as Rocket:Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser:Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta:Karen Gillan as Nebula:Djimon Hounsou as Korath:John C. Reilly as Rhomann Dey: A corpsman in the Nova Corps, the Nova Empire's military and police force.Glenn Close as Irani Rael:Benicio del Toro as Taneleer Tivan / The Collector:
Additionally, Josh Brolin appears, uncredited, as Thanos through voice acting and performance capture. Sean Gunn stood in for Thanos during filming and portrays Kraglin, Yondu's first mate in the Ravagers. Alexis Denisof reprises his role as Thanos's vizier, "The Other", from The Avengers. Ophelia Lovibond plays Carina, the Collector's slave; Peter Serafinowicz plays Denarian Garthan Saal, a Nova Corps officer; Gregg Henry plays Quill's grandfather; Laura Haddock plays Quill's mother, Meredith; Melia Kreiling plays Bereet; Christopher Fairbank plays The Broker; Mikaela Hoover plays Nova Prime's assistant; Marama Corlett plays a pit boss at the bar, The Boot; Emmett J. Scanlan plays a Nova riot guard; Alexis Rodney plays Moloka Dar; Tom Proctor plays Horuz, a Ravager; and Spencer Wilding plays a prison guard who confiscates Quill's Walkman. Canine actor Fred appears as Cosmo. Stephen Blackehart had a supporting role. Naomi Ryan also had a supporting role in the film, though it was cut in the final version. Cameos in the film include: James Gunn as a Sakaaran; Stan Lee as a Xandarian Ladies' Man; Lloyd Kaufman as an inmate; Nathan Fillion as the voice of an inmate; Rob Zombie as the voice of the Ravager Navigator; composer Tyler Bates as a Ravager pilot; and Seth Green as the voice of Howard the Duck.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige first mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy as a potential film at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International, stating, "There are some obscure titles, too, like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think they've been revamped recently in a fun way in the [comic] book." Feige reiterated that sentiment in a September 2011 issue of Entertainment Weekly, saying, "There's an opportunity to do a big space epic, which Thor sort of hints at, in the cosmic side" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige added, should the film be made, it would feature an ensemble of characters, similar to X-Men and The Avengers.
Feige announced that the film was in active development at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International during the Marvel Studios panel, with an intended release date of August 1, 2014. He stated that the film's titular team would consist of the characters Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket raccoon. Two pieces of concept art were also displayed, one of Rocket Raccoon, and one featuring the entire team. In August 2012, James Gunn entered talks to direct the film, beating out other contenders, including Peyton Reed and the duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. The Avengers director Joss Whedon, who signed a deal to creatively consult on all of the films leading up to The Avengers sequel, was enthusiastic about the selection of Gunn to direct, saying "James [Gunn] is what makes me think it will work... He is so off the wall, and so crazy, but so smart, such a craftsman and he builds from his heart. He loves the raccoon. Needs the raccoon... He has a very twisted take on it, but it all comes from a real love for the material. It's going to be hard for [the human characters] to keep up."
Nicole Perlman, who was enrolled in Marvel's screenwriting program in 2009, was offered several of their lesser known properties to base a screenplay on. Out of those, Perlman chose Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy, due to her interest in space and science fiction, adding, "I think [Marvel] were a little taken aback when I chose Guardians, because there were ones that would make a lot more sense if you were a romantic-comedy writer or something like that." Perlman spent two years writing a draft, immersing herself in the Guardians universe, and was asked in late 2011 to create another draft, before Gunn was brought in in early 2012 to contribute to the script. Gunn eventually rewrote the script entirely because "it didn’t work" for him; he would use the film The Dirty Dozen as a reference to convey his ideas of the film to Marvel. Gunn later explained that Perlman's draft was very different from the script he used during filming, including a different story, character arcs and no Walkman; he stated, "In Nicole’s script everything is pretty different... it's not about the same stuff. But that's how the WGA works. They like first writers an awful lot." In August 2012, Marvel Studios hired writer Chris McCoy to rewrite Perlman's script, however, it is unclear what contribution he had to the final script, since he did not receive production credit.
Gunn revealed that character introductions were the "hardest scenes to crack", with Thanos' introduction being the most difficult. He felt that "having Thanos be in that scene was more helpful to the [MCU] than it was to Guardians of the Galaxy," yet he still wanted Thanos in the film, without "[belittling] the actual antagonist of the film, which is Ronan." To solve his dilemma, Gunn chose to have Ronan kill "The Other", Thanos' vizier, saying, "I thought that was interesting, because we’ve had the Other, who’s obviously very powerful even in comparison to Loki, and then we see Ronan wipe his ass with him. So that I liked, but even that was sort of difficult, because it played as funnier when I first wrote it, and the humor didn’t work so much."
In September 2012, Gunn confirmed that he had signed on to direct the film and rewrite the script. By the end of November, Joel Edgerton, Jack Huston, Jim Sturgess, and Eddie Redmayne signed deals to test for the role of Peter Quill, as did Lee Pace, which he confirmed a week later in early December. Other actors who were considered for the role included Thor: The Dark World's Zachary Levi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Rosenbaum, and John Gallagher Jr. Chris Pratt was cast in the role in February 2013, as part of a multi-film deal that he signed with Marvel.
In January 2013, filming was scheduled to take place at Shepperton Studios in London, United Kingdom, and Marvel Studios announced that the film would be released in 3D. Victoria Alonso, an executive producer on the film, said that filming would begin in June. She also said that both Rocket Raccoon and Groot would be created through a combination of CGI and motion capture, going on to say that "You can't do any motion capture with a raccoon – they won't let you put the suit on. But we will do rotomation, probably, for some of the behavior... we definitely will have performers to emulate what James Gunn will lead to be, the behavior and the performance. He's very clear on where he wants to take the characters." In March 2013, Feige discussed Guardians of the Galaxy in relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, saying, "It's much more of a standalone film. It takes place in the same universe. And when we've been on the other side of that universe in other movies, you might see those characteristics in Guardians, but the Avengers are not involved with what's happening out there at this time." Feige also stated that 95% of the film would take place in space. In mid-March, Dave Bautista was signed to play Drax the Destroyer. Other actors who had been considered for the role included Isaiah Mustafa, Brian Patrick Wade and Jason Momoa. By the following week, sculptor Brian Muir, who sculpted Darth Vader's mask for the Star Wars films, was revealed to be working on the film.
In early April 2013, Zoe Saldana entered into negotiations to star as Gamora in the film, and it was confirmed she had been cast later that month. Also in April, Michael Rooker joined the film's cast as Yondu, and it was announced that Ophelia Lovibond had been cast in a supporting role. By this point in time, Lee Pace was in final negotiations to play the villain of the film. In May, Marvel offered John C. Reilly the role of Rhomann Dey. At the same time, it was disclosed that filmmakers were looking at actors including Hugh Laurie, Alan Rickman, and Ken Watanabe, for another role, and that Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were providing finishing touches to the script. A few days later, Glenn Close was cast as the head of the Nova Corps in the film, followed shortly by the casting of Karen Gillan as the film's lead female villain. By June 2013, Benicio del Toro was cast in the film, as part of a multi-film deal with Marvel Studios. Later in the month, it was confirmed that Reilly had been cast as Rhomann Dey.
Special effects makeup designer David White took head and body casts of actors, such as Bautista, to experiment with materials used to create the characters. White said, "James always pushed for practical and makeup effects. He wanted, like me, to see the real deal there on set." White was careful not to use "modern" creature designs to ensure they did not fall short in Gunn's uniquely envisioned world. White and his team created upwards of 1,000 prosthetic makeup applications and 2,000 molds of different colored aliens. For the specific aesthetic look to the film, Gunn wanted to create "a colorful science-fiction world", and include elements of 1950s and 60s pulp movies, citing the Ravagers' spaceships, which he compared to muscle cars, as an example of the latter.
Principal photography began around July 6, 2013 in London, United Kingdom, under the working title of Full Tilt. Filming took place at Shepperton Studios and Longcross Studios. Later in July, Gunn and the film's cast flew from London to attend San Diego Comic-Con International, where it was revealed that Pace would play Ronan the Accuser, Gillan would be Nebula, del Toro as The Collector, and that Djimon Hounsou had been cast as Korath. Close was later revealed to play Nova Prime Irani Rael. Also at San Diego Comic-Con, Feige stated that Thanos would be a part of the film as the "mastermind". On August 11, 2013, filming began at London's Millennium Bridge, which was selected as a double for Xandar. In August 2013, Marvel announced that Bradley Cooper would voice Rocket. On September 3, 2013, Gunn said that filming was "a little over half[way]" complete. Also in September, Vin Diesel stated that he was voicing Groot. However, Marvel did not confirm Diesel's involvement in the film at the time. On October 12, 2013, Gunn announced on social media that filming had completed.
Director of photography Ben Davis used Arri Alexa XT cameras for the film, saying, "I’M traditionally a photochemical fan, but going with the digital format was the right way for this movie... the Alexa [provided] the right look for this particular film." During the opening scenes in the 1980s, Davis chose JDC Cooke Xtal (Crystal) Express anamorphic prime lenses because they "had more anamorphic artifacts and aberrations, which [he] felt added something." Davis used spherical Panavision Primos for the rest of the film. Additionally, Davis worked closely with production designer Charles Wood in order to achieve the correct lighting looks for each scene. Dealing with two fully CGI characters forced Davis to shoot scenes multiple times, usually once with the references for the characters and once without them in the shot.
Gunn revealed that his brother, Sean Gunn, took on multiple roles during the filming process, such as standing in for Rocket, which he noted was beneficial for the other actors, including Saldana, Pratt, and Bautista, who responded positively to Sean and his on-set performances. Special effects makeup designer David White made two life-size versions of Rocket and a bust of Groot as aids for visual effects, with White saying, "it gives [the filmmakers] a good indication of where visual effects needs to pick up and whether Rocket can actually reach certain things or use certain devices." These busts were also used to see how the on-set lighting would affect the characters, to assist with the visual effects lighting process.
In January 2015, Disney revealed that the film came in "slightly over the agreed budget" at $232.3 million, with Disney receiving a rebate of $36.4 million from the British government. It was previously estimated to have had a $170 million budget.
In November 2013, Gunn stated that he attempted to use as many practical effects as possible while filming to aid the use of CGI and motion capture during post-production, saying, "Our sets are enormous. We have a prison that is 350,000 pounds of steel. Anybody who knows me knows I love the mix of practical and CGI effects... I can't wait for people to see it, because it's astonishingly beautiful." After the release of Thor: The Dark World, Feige stated that the Infinity Stones would be a focus in the film, as well as going forward into the Phase Three slate of films within the MCU. In a separate interview for The Dark World in November, Feige added that a third, unknown Infinity Stone would be seen in the film, referred to as the "Power Stone" by the Collector. The mid-credits scene in The Dark World revealed Lovibond's role as the Collector's aide, later named Carina. In December 2013, Marvel confirmed that Diesel would voice Groot.
A few weeks of additional filming, involving the film's main cast and crew, occurred in March 2014 at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. In April 2014, Gunn described Thanos as the "head of the snake" in the film, and confirmed he would appear via performance capture. In May 2014, Gunn stated that the film features an "enormous" amount of smaller and minor characters from the Marvel Universe, adding that he felt the film had the most characters overall of any Marvel Studios film to date. Costume supervisor Dan Grace added to this by saying, "We really, really get the feeling of the scale and scope of the galaxy. We visit five planets, we see a hundred different races." The film introduces the alien race Sakaaran, who act as Ronan's mercenaries, as a replacement to the Badoon, as the Badoon film rights belonged to 20th Century Fox.
By the end of May, Josh Brolin was revealed as the voice of Thanos, with Feige confirming in July that Brolin also provided the performance capture for the character. Thanos communicates via hologram for much of the film, though he does appear in a scene with Ronan and Nebula. In June 2014, Feige added that Thanos and his followers are "the biggest piece of connective tissue that will eventually lead us back into Avengers films in the future." On casting Brolin, Feige said,
We reached out to him and it was one of those things that does not happen all the time but when it does it’s very nice, where he was totally intrigued. He was a fan of what we did, he met with Jeremy Latcham in a hotel in London and learned about the characters a little bit. I spoke to him on the phone a few times. We ran it by James who loved it, ran it by Joss [Whedon] who loved it because Thanos is in this universe because of Avengers. Then we shot him and recorded for it.
On July 7, 2014, Gunn announced on social media that he had completed work on the film. In August, regarding the post-credit scene, Gunn revealed that the scene did not involve Howard the Duck when it was originally filmed, rather he was added during post-production, a decision made by "some combination of [Gunn] and the editor Fred Raskin". As the decision to add the character was made late in the post-production process, he had to be designed that day, before being handed off to Sony Pictures Imageworks to animate. Also in August, regarding the pre-credit scene of Groot dancing, Gunn stated that he himself danced to provide motion reference for the animators, and that the decision was made to place the scene before the credits, rather than during or after them, because of positive responses from a test audience, which made Marvel and Gunn feel that they did not want "people walking out and missing this thing". Marvel used design firm Sarofsky once again for the film's title sequences, after liking their work for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sarofsky developed a custom typeface based on the font used in the teaser posters for the opening credits, which was tinted orange to offer a better contrast to the film's blue and grey imagery. One of the typography solutions offered before the final product wound up being repurposed as the locator cards seen throughout the film.
The film featured 2,750 visual effects shots, which make up approximately 90% of the film. The visual effects were created by: Moving Picture Company (MPC), who worked on creating Groot, as well as Morag, Xandar, the Dark Aster and the final battle on Xandar; Framestore, who worked on creating Rocket, extending the Kyln prison set and constructing Knowhere; Luma Pictures, who worked on Thanos; Method Studios, who worked on creating the Orb opening and revealing its powers, as well as the holographic displays at the Nova Corps command center; Lola VFX; Cantina Creative; Sony Pictures Imageworks, who worked on Howard the Duck and creating the Dark Aster shots with MPC; CoSA VFX; Secret Lab; Rise Visual Effects Studios; and Technicolor VFX. Pre- and post-visualizations were done by Proof and The Third Floor, with Proof also contributing to the creation of Rocket and Groot.
Producer Nik Korda noted how helpful it was to have Sean Gunn and Krystian Godlewski portray Rocket and Groot on set, as it provided references for lighting and on-set performances to the animators. When creating Groot, MPC realized early on that his eyes would be essential in maintaining the character's human qualities, as his face couldn't move in the way that humans' do. MPC visual effects supervisor Nicolas Aithadi explained that, "When you look at humans what makes the eyes interesting is the imperfections – trying to make these two irises not aimed at the same place – trying to make them strange and look more human." Textures for Groot came from a number of sources, including inspiration from a botanical garden in London, and the character was modeled as individual branches, rigged individually, to simulate a muscle system for the character.
One of the major challenges for Framestore in creating Rocket was his fur. Framestore's Rachel Williams explained that, since "raccoon fur is made up from a layer of short fine hair and a layer of longer thicker hairs", these layers were separated and animated individually, removing the need to use "guide hairs" to control the movements of thick sections of fur. Framestore and MPC worked closely sharing assets, to ensure shots of Rocket at MPC would match the Rocket created by Framestore, and vice versa for when Groot was needed by the other studio.
In order to give Thanos "the performance and the weight that he deserved", Luma Pictures created a new facial animation system to re-create Josh Brolin as a fully CG character, using his "eyes, some of his cheek, how his muscles move when he talks". The character's large jaw, and the deep groves that run down his face, had "to be carefully planned out with the movement of his face."
In August 2013, Gunn revealed that Tyler Bates would be composing the film's score. Gunn stated that Bates would write some of the score first so that he can film to the music, as opposed to scoring to the film. In February 2014, Gunn revealed that the film would incorporate songs from the 1960s and 1970s, such as "Hooked on a Feeling", on a mixtape in Quill's Walkman, which acts as a way for him to stay connected to the Earth, home, and family he lost. In May 2014, Gunn added that using the songs from the 60s and 70s were "cultural reference points", saying, "It’s striking the balance throughout the whole movie, through something that is very unique, but also something that is easily accessible to people at the same time. The music and the Earth stuff is one of those touchstones that we have to remind us that, yeah, [Quill] is a real person from planet Earth who’s just like you and me. Except that he’s in this big outer space adventure."
When choosing the songs, Gunn revealed he "started the process by reading the Billboard charts for all of the top hits of the '70s", downloading "a few hundred" songs that were "semi-familiar — ones you recognize but might not be able to name off the top of your head" and creating a playlist for all the songs that would fit the film tonally. He added that he "would listen to the playlist on my speakers around the house — sometimes I would be inspired to create a scene around a song, and other times I had a scene that needed music and I would listen through the playlist, visualizing various songs, figuring out which would work the best." Most of the songs were played on set to help "the actors and the camera operators find the perfect groove for the shot", with David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" the only song chosen and added during post-production. Gunn also said that the opening scenes were designed with "Hooked on a Feeling" in mind; however once Gunn discovered "Come and Get Your Love", the song used in the sequence, Gunn felt it was a "better fit."
Three albums were released by Hollywood Records on July 29, 2014: The film's score, Guardians of the Galaxy (Original Score), which features the music composed by Bates for the film; Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), which comprises the twelve songs from Quill's mixtape; and a deluxe edition featuring both albums. By August 2014, the album which mirrored Quill's mixtape had reached the top of the Billboard 200 chart, becoming the first soundtrack album in history consisting entirely of previously released songs to top the chart. Hollywood Records also released a cassette version of the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack on November 28, 2014, as an exclusive to Record Store Day participants. The cassette, which is the first cassette Disney Music Group has released since 2003, comes with a digital download version of the album.
The world premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy was held on July 21, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The film was released theatrically in the United Kingdom on July 31, 2014, and in the United States on August 1, in 3D and IMAX 3D. The film was released in 4,080 theaters in the United States, making it the widest August release, breaking the five year record held by G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (4,007 theatres). The breakdown of venues was: 354 IMAX screens, 3,200 3D screens, 350 large format screens and 240 D-Box screens. In its sixth weekend, Guardians of the Galaxy was playing in 69 territories, its most.
In June 2014, Gunn stated that the film had always been planned as a 3D film, and "Unlike many directors, I've been actively involved with converting every shot to 3D, making sure it works perfectly for the story and the film, making sure it's spectacular and immersive without being silly, distracting, or overly showy." Gunn also revealed that the IMAX 3D version would include shifting aspect ratios, to make the viewing experience "even fuller and more encompassing. I've personally chosen all the places where the changes occur... The changing aspect ratios in this case are actually a part of the storytelling." In July 2014, Gunn revealed that there were multiple scenes he had cut from the film, and he was investigating how to release them, either in an extended cut of the film, or as bonus features on the film's home media release.
At Disney's D23 Expo in August 2013, Feige presented footage first revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2013. The first trailer for the film debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on February 18, 2014, with a special introduction by Chris Pratt. The Los Angeles Times said the trailer delivered "some spirited alien action, with exploding spaceships and muscled bad guys, not to mention a few purely comedic moments," while spotlighting "a number of the offbeat characters." Total Film noted the similarity of the trailer's opening clip to the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which Gunn stated was a big influence for Guardians, and made note of the "edgy" humor used throughout. Total Film also noted the similarity of the trailer to the one debuted at Comic-Con and D23, with a few new shots featuring Nebula and the Collector. Social media response to the trailer was strong, with 88,000 mentions across Twitter, Facebook and various blogs in a 12-hour period. Those numbers were comparable to trailers for other superhero films like Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and noteworthy for the late night time period in which it premiered. The trailer received 22.8 million views in the 24 hours after it debuted. After the debut of the trailer, Blue Swede's version of "Hooked on a Feeling", which was prominently used throughout the trailer, went up 700% in sales the following day. The line from Serafinowicz's character, "What a bunch of A-holes.", was only intended to be featured in the trailers, but due to its positive reception, was included in the final cut of the film. Gunn noted that a different teaser was almost released "that was very cheesy [and] sold the movie as something different than what it was", as it tested better than the version that was ultimately released. Gunn credited the marketing teams at Marvel and Disney for having faith in the latter version, despite how it tested, over choosing the version that would have mis-marketed the film.
In March 2014, the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "T.A.H.I.T.I." introduced the Kree race to the MCU, which began a storyline that recurs throughout the series and involves finding a hidden Kree city. Also in March, ABC aired a one-hour television special titled, Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe, which included a sneak peek of Guardians of the Galaxy. Starting in April 2014, a two-part comic was released, titled Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude. Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with art by Wellington Alves, the first issue focused on the background of Nebula and her bond with Thanos; the second issue featured the adventures of Rocket and Groot before they join forces with the other Guardians. In June 2014, Mike Pasciullo, senior VP of Marvel Studios, described the marketing approach for Guardians of the Galaxy by saying that Marvel had "built a robust marketing program for the theatrical release that carefully integrates traditional advertising, social media, digital marketing, strategic promotional partnerships, organic entertainment integrations [and] publicity."
In July 2014, Marvel launched a viral marketing campaign for the film called "Galaxy Getaways", a fictional travel website that allows users to book passage to some of the planets depicted in the film, including Xandar, Morag, and Knowhere. Beginning July 4, 2014, a sneak peek of the film was presented at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Magic Eye and ABC Sound Studio theaters, respectively. Approximately 14 minutes of the film was screened on July 7, 2014, in IMAX 3D in the United States, and 3D theaters and IMAX 3D in Canada, along with two trailers. The screening was met with positive reviews, praising the humor, the 3D and IMAX conversion, and Cooper's portrayal of Rocket. However, it was criticized for beginning partway through the film, not allowing viewers to easily acclimate to the film's tone, and for how the general audience might respond to a film within the MCU without established characters making appearances.
On July 12, 2014, Gunn and the actors from the film promoted Guardians of the Galaxy at the Lido 8 Cineplex in Singapore. On July 17, 2014, Disney Interactive released an action RPG video game titled Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon for iOS, Android and Windows devices. The game's original story was written by Dan Abnett, and was meant to complement the film. On July 21, Pratt, Saldana, Bautista, Diesel and Cooper appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to promote the film and debut some additional exclusive content. On July 29, Pratt and Saldana rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange as part of the film's marketing strategy.
On August 14, Marvel released the scene of Groot dancing, which was shortly followed by an announcement from Funko that they were releasing a toy "Dancing Groot". The Hollywood Reporter noted that the quick release of the scene from Marvel two weeks after the film's theatrical release, along with the rush announcement from Funko, indicated the popularity of both the character and the scene. The scene also produced the word "grooting", coined by Michael Rooker, in which a person dances similar to Groot, with the word entering the social media lexicon. Also in August, Marvel held a special screening of the film at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where Pratt dressed as Star-Lord to entertain the patients.
In June 2012, Marvel filed eleven trademark applications for Guardians of the Galaxy, covering a Variety of consumer products, from video games to cosmetics. Disney Consumer Products partnered with Mad Engine, C-Life, New Era, Hasbro, Disguise, Rubies, Sideshow Collectibles, Lego, KIDdesigns, iHome, Funko, Freeze, Fast Forward, and Innovative Designs to produce merchandise for the film, with releases starting in June 2014. Mad Engine and C-Life were partnered as the core apparel outfitters, producing a line of T-shirts and fleece jackets, while New Era produced headwear and hats. Hasbro produced toys for the film; Disguise and Rubies produced the costumes; and Sideshow Collectibles was given charge of the collectibles. Lego announced three toy sets based on scenes from the film, while iHome created character speakers, Funko made vinyl bobble heads, Freeze crafted 1980s-inspired apparel, and backpacks and stationery were made by Fast Forward and Innovative Designs. Despite first films in a potential new franchise usually being off-limits to licensees, Marvel used Iron Man's success as evidence of unknown characters becoming hits with audiences to attract partnerships. Licensees embraced Rocket as the film's potential breakout character, with Drax and Gamora being used for older demographics; Star-Lord’s obsession with 1980s nostalgia, including his "Awesome Mix Vo. 1" cassette, has also served as a basis for tie-in products. In August 2014, Funko announced a toy based on "Dancing Groot", while in October 2014, Marvel and KID designs announced a replica of dancing Groot, for release in December 2014.
In December 2014, Disney made a second marketing push, to coincide with the film's home media release with additional merchandise. Merchandise partners included: KID designs with its replica dancing Groot; Funko’s Fabrikations line with a plush Rocket; Mattel’s Hot Wheels character cars; C-Life, Hybrid-Jem Sportswear, Freeze, MZ Berger, Accutime, AME and Her Universe with apparel; ThinkGeek with jewelry and watches; American Greetings with cards; Jay Franco with homegoods; and Vandor with drinkware. Additional partners included Mad Engine, Just Play and Dragon Models. Paul Gitter, senior vice president of Marvel licensing at Disney Consumer Products said, "The demand for Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise has been truly out of this world. Our merchandising and retail partners are doing a tremendous job of providing creative and innovative ways for fans to continue interacting with these popular characters and showcase their fandom year round."
Guardians of the Galaxy was released for digital download by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on November 18, 2014 and on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD on November 24, 2014, in the United Kingdom and on December 9 in the United States. The digital and Blu-ray releases include behind-the-scenes featurettes, audio commentary, deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and an exclusive preview of Avengers: Age of Ultron. As of October 4, 2015, the film has earned over $118 million in sales in the US.
The film was also included in the 13-disc box set, titled "Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Two Collection", which includes all of the Phase Two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was released on December 8, 2015.
Guardians of the Galaxy earned $333.2 million in North America and an estimated $440.2 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $773.3 million. The film became the third highest-grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, behind The Avengers and Iron Man 3. It was the third highest-grossing 2014 film (behind Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) and the highest-grossing superhero film of 2014. It had a worldwide opening weekend of $160.7 million. Deadline.com calculated the net profit for the film to be $204.2 million, when factoring together "production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs, with box office grosses, and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV," placing it fifth on their list of 2014's "Most Valuable Blockbusters".
Guardians of the Galaxy earned $11.2 million on its Thursday night pre-opening, surpassing Captain America: The Winter Soldier's gross ($10.2 million) for the biggest Thursday evening start for a movie in 2014. IMAX accounted for 17% of the total gross ($1.9 million), which was the biggest August pre-release in IMAX format. On its opening day, the film earned $37.8 million, including the Thursday night earnings. Guardians of the Galaxy was the number one movie during its opening weekend and grossed $94.3 million, setting an August weekend record. During the opening weekend, IMAX earnings amounted to $11.7 million and 3-D showings accounted for 45% of ticket sales. The film's success was partially attributed to its appeal to both genders: the opening weekend audience was 44% female, which is the biggest proportion ever for a MCU film; 55% of the opening-weekend audience was over the age of 25.
Although the film fell to second place in its second and third weekends, behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the film was number one in its fourth, fifth and sixth weekend. By doing so, it became the first film in 2014 to top the domestic box office in non-consecutive weeks, the first film of the summer (May–August) to be the number one film in three weekends and the first MCU film to be the top film for four weeks, surpassing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers, both of which were number one for three weeks, and tied The Dark Knight for the most weeks at number one among comic book-based films. Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com felt Guardians success was "unconventional" and was "shattering expectations". The film remained in the top 10 for ten weekends.
The film was the top grossing film of summer 2014 (ahead of Transformers: Age of Extinction), first of 2014 to pass $300 million for its domestic gross, and was the third highest-grossing domestic film of 2014 (behind American Sniper and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1). The film was said to have "injected life" into an otherwise lower than normal summer box office.
Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 42 international markets and grossed $66.4 million on its opening weekend. The biggest debuts came from Russia ($13 million), the United Kingdom ($10.8 million), Mexico ($6.5 million), Brazil ($6.5 million) and South Korea ($4.7 million). The film topped the weekend box office two times, in its first and second weekends. In its eleventh weekend, the film opened in China, earning $29.8 million, its largest, and became the third highest opening in the country for any Disney release, behind Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and was an all-time industry record opening in October. The following weekend saw an additional $21.3 million from China, making China the highest grossing market with $69 million. The film's three biggest markets in total earnings were: China ($96.5 million); the UK ($47.4 million); and Russia ($37.5 million).
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 91% approval rating with an average rating of 7.8/10 based on 288 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Guardians of the Galaxy is just as irreverent as fans of the frequently zany Marvel comic would expect—as well as funny, thrilling, full of heart, and packed with visual splendor." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 76 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". CinemaScore audiences gave Guardians of the Galaxy an "A" grade rating on an A+ to F scale, while earning an "A+" among under-18 and 25- to 34-year-old viewers.
Scott Foundas of Variety said "James Gunn's presumptive franchise-starter is overlong, overstuffed and sometimes too eager to please, but the cheeky comic tone keeps things buoyant — as does Chris Pratt’s winning performance", and praised the film's look created by cinematographer Ben Davis, production designer Charles Wood, and special effects makeup designer David White. Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter also praised the film's look, and felt "A well-matched ensemble rises to the challenge of launching a heroic origin film with distinctive style, abundant thrills and no shortage of humor." The Daily Telegraph's Robbie Collin said, "A brand new summer family blockbuster this may be, but it plays by old, half-forgotten rules; trimming out the clutter and cross-referencing for snappy, streamlined, Saturday-cartoon fun". Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said, "Blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you're not quite sure what's going on, the scruffy Guardians is irreverent in a way that can bring the first Star Wars to mind, in part because it has some of the most unconventional heroes this side of the Mos Eisley Cantina." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, "While Guardians takes you down one after another crazy narrative turn, it also pulls you into – and, for the most part, keeps you in – a fully realized other world." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "Guardians of the Galaxy is a late summer treat — a mostly lighthearted and self-referential comic-book movie with loads of whiz-bang action, some laugh-out-loud moments and a couple of surprisingly beautiful and touching scenes as well," calling it "a refreshing confection of entertainment." Jim Starlin, creator of Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Thanos, said it "might be Marvel's best movie yet".
Jake Coyle of the Associated Press was more critical of the film, calling it "terribly overstuffed and many of the jokes get drowned out by the special effects... The pervasive movie references detract from the stab at freshness, and Guardians depends all too much on the whimsy of '70s anthems for an original beat." He also felt that Close, Reilly and del Toro were underused in the film. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "In place of wit, Guardians offers a sort of generalized willingness to be amusing, an atmosphere of high spirits that feels like lots of people pumping air into a tire that has a hole in it. Everyone is clearly working, but nothing is really happening–and yet the effort is so evident that there's an impulse to reward it." Kyle Smith of the New York Post also had a negative response to the film, comparing it to Howard the Duck and Green Lantern, and criticizing the dialogue, villains, soundtrack, lack of suspense, and the characters of Quill, Rocket, and Drax. The film received mixed reviews in China, where viewers complained that the film's "poor subtitle translation not only spoiled the fun of watching it, but also made it difficult to understand its humor."
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released on May 5, 2017, again written and directed by James Gunn. Pratt, Saldana, Bautista, Diesel, Cooper, Rooker, Gillan, and Sean Gunn all reprise their roles in the film, and are joined by Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, Chris Sullivan as Taserface, and Kurt Russell as Quill's father Ego.
In April 2017, Gunn announced he would return to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It is scheduled to be released in 2020.