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'Guardians' rallies summer box office with $11.2 million opening night

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The "Guardians of the Galaxy" stormed into the box office with a $11.2 million opening night, Walt Disney Co said on Friday, and could outperform expectations if it keeps drawing viewers with a new leading man, strong reviews and social media buzz.

"Guardians," the newest franchise from the Disney-owned Marvel universe, follows a rogue band of misfits on an intergalactic space adventure.

As the Guardians try to save the galaxy from a planet-destroying orb coveted by evil warlords, they may also "save the summer" for a slumping movie industry if the film exceeds expectations, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.

"This is a movie that everyone has been waiting for," Dergarabedian said.

Hollywood's summer box office has been in a funk, producing fewer blockbusters than usual and putting ticket sales 20 percent behind last year at $2.93 billion.

Early projections for the "Guardians" opening weekend at the U.S. and Canadian box office were estimated to reach between $65 million to $80 million. Dergarabedian said the movie could beat those forecasts especially if Saturday's attendance holds strong.

The film is benefiting from positive reviews and social media chatter, and Dergarabedian said actor Chris Pratt in the leading role of Star-Lord, is a "newly minted movie star, like a young Harrison Ford in 'Indiana Jones,' the lovable rogue and antihero who becomes the hero."

The success of "Guardians" could encourage studios to reconsider August as a key movie release month, he said. In past years, the prime summer release slot has been earlier.

Thursday night earnings for "Guardians" at the U.S. box office overtook the April opening of Marvel's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which made $10.2 million on its first night and went on to make $96.2 million in the United States and Canada over its first weekend.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by David Gregorio)

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