LOS ANGELES — “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the latest action film from Walt Disney’s Marvel Studios, opened as the top weekend picture in cinemas, smashing forecasts with ticket sales of $94 million for the best August opening ever.

The picture, a funnier take on usually serious superhero films, was forecast to pull in $72 million to $75 million, the estimates of BoxOfficeGuru.com and BoxOffice.com. “Get On Up,” a biopic about singer James Brown from Universal Pictures, opened in third place with sales of $14 million, researcher Rentrak said Sunday.

With “Guardians,” Disney and Marvel are bringing a scrappy, less-known group of comic-book heroes to cinemas. The studio spent $170 million making the movie, according to Box Office Mojo, and many millions on marketing.

The sales number “is absolutely astounding, especially since this is not a sequel, and what makes it even more impressive is that it’s based on characters that are not household names,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of Box Office Guru. “It’s a combination of a very strong brand for Marvel, the built-in audience of comic-book fans who know these characters, and … they really made a really good film.”

Sales at Imax theaters totaled $17 million, the best-ever for an August opening. Rentrak said the movie is the third-biggest debut for this year.

Unlike Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers, the Guardians come from more-distant reaches of the Marvel archive and stay truer to the comic-book publisher’s edgier early days, said Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times.

“Blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you’re not quite sure what’s going on, the scruffy ‘Guardians’ is irreverent in a way that can bring the first ‘Star Wars’ to mind,” he wrote.

“Guardians” stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, an American pilot who becomes the target of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by the super-villain Ronan, played by Lee Pace.

Quill joins with four misfits, and after discovering the true power of the orb, he leads an effort to save the galaxy, according to a studio synopsis of the picture. The film co-stars Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista, along with the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.

“Guardians” garnered a 92 percent favorable rating as of Aug. 1 from critics at Rottentomatoes.com, a website that distills reviews into a single number, and had a 96 percent positive rating with fans. One of the reasons Burbank, California-based Disney purchased Marvel for more than $4 billion was to bolster its products for boys and young men.

“Get On Up,” from Comcast’s Universal Pictures, features Chadwick Boseman as the late singer James Brown, known as the Godfather of Soul and The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Boseman garnered notices playing baseball great Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42.”

The new film chronicles Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history, and was directed by Tate Taylor, whose credits include the Civil Rights-era film “The Help.” Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James and Octavia Spencer co-star.

“Get On Up” garnered a 77 percent favorable rating from critics at Rottentomatoes.com and was forecast to bring in weekend sales of $19 million, according to BoxOffice.com.

Among returning films, Luc Besson’s thriller “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, pulled in $18 million in its second week of release for Universal to place second. BoxOffice.com had forecast revenue of $17.5 million.

Johansson, in the title role, plays a drug mule who accidentally ingests a hormone that frees her from mental and physical limitations, allowing her to exact revenge on her tormentors.

“Lucy” joins a number of smaller-budget movies that have done well this summer, such as “Neighbors” and “22 Jump Street.” The film was made for $40 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Weekend sales for the top 10 films rose 42 percent to $167.9 million from a year earlier. Sales year to date are down about 6 percent to $6.37 billion.

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