August 3, 2014 by Devin
So Guardians of the Galaxy is a box office smash, debuting with a $11.2 million opening, beating Godzilla, Amazing Spider-Man 2, and even Marvel’s own Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is especially important because Guardians of the Galaxy was seen as something of a risk by viewers. The comic book that this movie was roughly based on is only about 6 years old and not that well known by even the biggest of comic book geeks.
And then there was the issue of Rocket and Groot.
Rocket and Groot are, respectively, a talking raccoon and tree. The former has a tendency for big guns and wise cracks while the latter can only say the words, “I am Groot.” Many people wondered if a movie this weird would put off potential viewers, with many predicting box office failure. As one critic said:
We know what you’re thinking. Anything Marvel touches is gold. Except when Marvel pulls a Green Lantern. That is, to make a movie so abstract, so extreme in the dimension of sci-fi bizarreness, so alien-centric, with so many plots and sub-plots that the general public simply can’t connect with the characters or understand the story… To date, Marvel has turned second tier superheroes such as Thor into worldwide box office hits. But a Viking warrior based on Norse mythology—with a leading man that women worldwide find extremely attractive—is a much easier story to convey than a talking raccoon, a tree man, and a green space aliens running around on other planets for 2 hours.
These sentiments were shared by many on the internet, and that is because these ideas are based on a paradigm in Hollywood that I believe is flat-out wrong: that weirdness is a bad thing.
This is not to say that there are some movies that were weird and were not box office smashes, but I think people too often confuse weirdness for inaccessibility. For example, I think The Fountain was not a box office smash partially because it was really hard to get into. The movie did not hold the audience’s hand and relied on them to understand how the three different storylines were connected thematically and why they were all being told at the same time.
But you know what movie is also weird? Transformers. Think about it: this is a movie about alien robots turning into cars, trucks, and planes to fight each other. They came from a planet called Cybertron. The MacGuffin in the first film is a gigantic metal cube called the Allspark. None of this is anywhere close to normal, and yet no one blinks when these movies make a billion dollars at the box office.
I can see the opposition to that point already. “But Devin,” people will say, “Transformers grounded its world in a sense of reality. The Transformers are all designed to look like they could actually transform and the numerous human characters all react realistically.” This is a fair point, as the movies do seem to go out of their way to say, “This could actually happen.”
But how many people go to these movies for their realism? How many people saw the promotional materials for the latest Transformers movie and thought, “Man, that Mark Wahlberg seems to be going through parenting troubles that we all have. I want to see that movie!” I am willing to bet Wahlberg’s relationship with his daughter sold much fewer tickets than the image of the truck robot riding on top of the T-Rex robot.
And that is my ultimate point. Guardians of the Galaxy’s box office success is not despite its inherent weirdness, but because of it. It would not surprise me to find out that for every person who thought, “Eh, there is a talking raccoon in it. I don’t want to see it,” there were three or four that said, “There is a talking raccoon in it! That’s different. I’ll have to check this out.”
I do hope that Guardians of the Galaxy starts a bit of a revolution in Hollywood. I hope that Hollywood understands that audiences find appeal in the weird. I hope they understand that part of the appeal of Guardians of the Galaxy is that it delivers something that feels completely new, completely unique, and completely fresh. Marvel certainly does.
1. This article is also pretty hilarious in hindsight. My favorite part is when he says Godzilla will bomb partially because it’s opening right behind the new Adam Sandler movie. You get bonus points if you can tell me which Adam Sandler movie that is without looking it up.
2. Why would a truck need to ride a dinosaur? Who cares.
3. Also because it’s a really good movie.
4. DC on the other hand…