NEW YORK – “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, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” have grown into one of the comic-book factory’s biggest brands.
The 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,” 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.
“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…