"Guardians of the Galaxy," the hit movie about a group of misfit superheroes from Walt Disney's Marvel studio, stayed atop U.S. and Canadian theaters as Hollywood wrapped up what is poised to be the worst summer for box office sales since 2006.
"Guardians" collected $16.3 million in the first three days of the U.S. Labor Day weekend, outdrawing two new releases, researcher Rentrak said Sunday in a statement. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" remained in second place, generating $11.8 million.
"Summer 2014 was in the unenviable position of following what was the biggest revenue-generating summer of all time in 2013," Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Rentrak, said in a phone interview Sunday. "This made comparisons very tough."
"Guardians," No. 1 for three weekends since its Aug. 1 release, is the biggest summer film in the U.S. and put a positive cap on a mostly poor stretch for the industry. Sales have declined about 15 percent as of Tuesday, Aug. 26 from a year earlier, according to Rentrak, which estimates the summer total through Monday will be $4.05 billion, the least since $3.75 billion in 2006.
Two new films opened in wide release. "As Above/So Below," from Comcast's Universal Pictures, opened with sales of $8.3 million to rank fourth. The audience for the R- rated horror movie, in which explorers discover secrets in Paris's catacombs according to IMDB.com, was about 52 percent female and about 57 percent was younger than 25 years old, according to a Rentrak/Screen Engine's PostTrak survey.
The film was reviewed unfavorably by critics, getting a 23 percent positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com, which distills reviews into a single number.
"There are some interestingly contrived moments of claustrophobia and surreal lunacy, but this cliched and slightly hand-me-down script neither scares nor amuses very satisfyingly," Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian.
"The November Man," from Relativity Media, produced $7.7 million to place sixth. The spy thriller, which stars actor Pierce Brosnan, attracted an audience 83 percent of which was more than 25 years of age, a survey showed.
Brosnan stars as an ex-CIA operative who is brought back into action and pitted against a former pupil in a battle involving the Russian president-elect.
The film, which opened on Wednesday, Aug. 27, was forecast to earn $8.8 million for Relativity Media over four days. The film registered a 36 percent positive rating with Rottentomatoes.com.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the debut of "Ghostbusters," Sony re-released the 1984 hit comedy, starring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, in about 780 theaters this weekend. The film brought in $1.7 million.
Worldwide, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is still the top movie for the summer and for the year, with $1.07 billion in global revenue, according to Box Office Mojo. "Guardians" has about $548 million in worldwide sales and is unlikely to catch up.
While the international box office makes up a growing portion of film revenue, the U.S. remains the largest market. The sales that studios receive for movies in the home- entertainment market — cable TV showings, DVDs and movie downloads, for example — closely follow the domestic box office, and are in some cases tied directly to ticket sales.
With "Guardians," Marvel brought a scrappy, less-known group of comic-book heroes to cinemas, with an eye toward developing a new film series. The studio spent $170 million making the movie, according to Box Office Mojo. A sequel is planned for 2017, Disney said.
Chris Pratt, known for NBC's "Parks & Recreation" sitcom, stars as Peter Quill, an American pilot who becomes the target of a unrelenting bounty hunt in space. He's pursued after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by the super-villain Ronan, played by Lee Pace.
Pratt is joined by co-stars Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and characters voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.
The summer season runs from the start of May through the U.S. Labor Day holiday, which falls on Sept. 1 this year. Producing hits during this period is critical for studios, which generate about 40 percent of their annual box-office revenue when children are on school break.
Overall, the summer season has been a disappointment. Domestic ticket sales are down about 15 percent from a year earlier, according to Rentrak. Some studios shifted film releases to avoid conflict with the World Cup from mid-June to mid-July.
Others released clunkers like "Edge of Tomorrow," from Warner Bros. The Tom Cruise film cost $178 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo, and brought in $100 million in domestic sales.
Delays also played a role. Disney's Pixar division pushed back the release of "The Good Dinosaur" until November 2015 because the film wasn't ready, while Comcast's Universal Pictures postponed "Fast & Furious 7" until next year with the death of actor Paul Walker in an automobile accident.
Weekend sales for the top 10 films fell 5.2 percent to $80.5 million from a year earlier, Rentrak said. For the year to date, domestic ticket sales are down 5.2 percent to $7.2 billion.