Prior to its theatrical release, the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was seen as a risk for Marvel Studios. Sporting a production budget of $170 million, the space opera featured a collection of extremely obscure comic book characters that even some die-hard readers were unfamiliar with. It was banking mainly on the Marvel Cinematic Universe name, and fortunately for all involved, Guardians of the Galaxy worked out better than anyone could have anticipated. Opening to widespread critical acclaim, the movie became one of the top earners of 2014, grossing a whopping $773.3 million worldwide.
One of the reasons why Guardians was so commercially successful was the marketing campaign. From the beginning, the trailers sold James Gunn’s movie as something completely different from the rest of the MCU, highlighting the sense of humor and catchy soundtrack. The song “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede is now synonymous with the property, appearing in Guardians‘ first theatrical preview and setting the tone for a fun, wild ride. But if things turned out differently, audiences wouldn’t have heard the tune when they got their first look at Star-Lord and friends.
Speaking with THR, Gunn discussed that now-iconic first trailer (which offered the rap sheet of each team member), revealing that it was nearly scrapped in favor of another version that he described as “cheesy”:
“That [first teaser] trailer [for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’] tested not very well. We had another trailer that was very cheesy that sold the movie as something different than what it was — that tested a little better… And at the end of the day, the [marketing] guys were like, ‘This is what the movie is. We are selling what the movie is. Not something else.’ You’ve got to sell the movie for what it is, and that’s what they did. They really bought my trust with that on the first movie.”
Watching the teaser again, it’s easy to see why some may have been uncomfortable with the footage (remember, this was before Guardians became a bankable brand). It does not paint the “good guys” of the story in the most flattering light, as their crimes against society included murder, vehicular theft, assault and fraud. Coming off the overwhelming success of The Avengers, which starred a collection of well-meaning characters, this was an interesting group to build a summer tentpole around. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot were more anti-heroes than anything else, but it was that nature that made them appealing for audiences. Credit has to go to the marketing department for realizing early on that approach could work and betting against the test screenings. Who knows how Guardians might have turned out if a different first impression was made.
Now that the gamble paid off in spades, there should be no such qualms about the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Though a full teaser has yet to be unveiled, a “first look” video was definitely in line with the marketing for its predecessor, focusing on the quirky humor and character interactions (not to mention, “Hooked on a Feeling” playing in the background). Marvel seems to be following the old adage of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, which is probably a smart way to go. The Guardians advertising method was very effective, so it should be more of the same for the sequel.