It seems so silly in hindsight knowing what we know now, but prior to its release, the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was seen as a big gamble on the part of Marvel Studios. These were quirky D-list characters with zero name recognition that were almost completely divorced from the heroes the studio had spent six years building up. How could they possibly succeed?
Of course, Marvel knew better and Guardians of the Galaxy went on to become a major hit, so much so that even those who believed in the project were blown away. Among them was writer-director James Gunn’s brother, Sean Gunn, who plays Kraglin and the on-set Rocket Raccoon in the films. Sean Gunn was surprised by just how massive the first movie's success was, as he explained:
I always felt pretty confident that we would have something on our hands, at least that people liked, but I never ever imagined that it would be the massive, massive hit that it was. I never thought that they would be able to sell so much; that it would be marketed so well; and that kids would identify so well to it; and that people would compare it to their favorite 80s movies.
As someone who was aware of what his brother was capable of and had read the script, Sean Gunn knew that the doubters were wrong. He saw the potential of Guardians of the Galaxy and how special it could be, and that audiences would like it. Yet even with the confidence of having been a part of the film, Sean Gunn still couldn’t have predicted that it would be a hit on the massive level that it was.
As Sean Gunn told ComicBook.com, Marvel marketed this seemingly risky movie well and Guardians of the Galaxy wound up striking a major chord with audiences. Moviegoers of all ages found something to love, from younger audiences falling in love with the characters to how it reminded older audiences of the films of the 1980s. This brilliant alchemy resulted in an unqualified smash hit.
That first Guardians of the Galaxy came out in August of 2014 and went on to make $773.3 million worldwide to become one of Marvel’s biggest movies, surpassing all but Iron Man 3 and The Avengers at the time. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was even bigger and earned $863.7 million worldwide.
These former D-listers are now a billion dollar property and household names. They even have their own ride at Disneyland and one coming to Walt Disney World. That level of massive success probably would have surprised even the most pie-in-the-sky optimist of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded on its own merits, but also because it no longer matters if characters are considered A-list. As Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel have proven, Marvel is the selling point that gets people in the door and then the characters do the rest.