August 4, 2014
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Defying the projections of most box-office analysts, Marvel's sci-fi superhero blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy grossed a massive $94 million at the domestic box-office this weekend. In a lengthy post on Facebook, writer/director James Gunn thanked the fans who made Guardians of the Galaxy such an out-of-the-box smash, dedicating the film to "anyone who ever felt cast aside, left out, or different."

Gunn also revealed that he's already hard at work on the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. "I've spent this weekend hard at work on the sequel. I couldn't help myself!" he wrote. "The [box-office] results are nice but it's really the creative process I love and that keeps me going. I'm on fire with this thing! The Guardians have so many hardships and heartaches and triumphs ahead of them, and I can't wait to share them with all of you."

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will hit theaters in July 2017. Scott Meslow

5:48 p.m. ET
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

A 12th woman has come forward to accuse Republican nominee Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. Former Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen, now 30, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat in an interview published Thursday that Trump grabbed her before an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in July of 2006.

"Before the show, we were photographed outside the building. Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt," Laaksonen said. "I don’t think anybody saw it, but I flinched and thought: 'What is happening?'"

Laaksonen noted someone had told her at another event that year Trump liked her "because I looked like Melania [Trump] when she was younger." Trump married his third wife just one year prior to the alleged incident.

Laaksonen made the allegations after being contacted by Ilta-Sanomat, as part of an effort by the paper to interview Finnish women who have met Trump. She had never before discussed her experience. Trump has not yet responded to Laaksonen's allegations, though he has steadfastly denied those of the other 11 women who have come forward in recent weeks. Becca Stanek

5:13 p.m. ET

On Thursday, President Obama set the record for the most commutations ever granted by a president in a single year by shortening the sentences of another 98 prisoners. That brings Obama's total for 2016 up to 688 commutations; throughout his entire presidency, Obama has commuted 872 sentences as he pushes for reforms to the criminal justice system.

"While there has been much attention paid to the number of commutations issued by the president, at the core, we must remember that there are personal stories behind these numbers," White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote on the White House website Thursday afternoon. "These are individuals — many of whom made mistakes at a young age — who have diligently worked to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated."

All of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted Thursday were serving time for non-violent, drug-related offenses; 42 of the 98 were facing life sentences. Some of the prisoners will not be released until 2018, and others will have to enter residential drug treatment programs after they are released. Becca Stanek

4:27 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

New polls of the swing states conducted by Quinnipiac University show Hillary Clinton claiming leads in Virginia and North Carolina, but neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in Georgia and Iowa. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Quinnipiac results released Thursday are improvements across the board for Clinton from the previous Quinnipiac poll results released Sept. 22.

In the four-way matchup including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in Virginia, Clinton led by 12 points, 50 percent to 38 percent. The last time Quinnipiac polled Virginia, Clinton's lead was much slimmer, at 45 percent to 39 percent. In North Carolina, Clinton's winning margin inched up, from 3 points on Oct. 3 to 4 points in Thursday's results, with the Democrat leading 47 percent to 43 percent.

In Georgia, the two candidates are locked in a statistical tie, with the GOP nominee edging Clinton 44 percent to 43 percent. This marks a big leap for Clinton, who trailed Trump by 7 points in the Peach State at the end of September. In Iowa, both Clinton and Trump snagged 44 percent — another big gain for Clinton, who trailed Trump there in September with 37 percent support to his 44 percent.

"Time is running out and Donald Trump has lost his leads and now is tied with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and Georgia. North Carolina appears to be moving in her direction also," said Quinnipiac University Poll assistant director Peter Brown. "It's clear that Donald Trump has not worn well on the voters of these four key states," Brown added.

The polls were conducted by phone from Oct. 20-26. In Virginia, 749 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. In North Carolina, 702 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. In Georgia, 707 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. In Iowa, 791 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Becca Stanek

4:12 p.m. ET

North Dakota Oil Pipeline protesters are being removed from their camp in Morton County by police in riot gear driving military-style vehicles. The protesters are accused of trespassing by the county's sheriff's department: "We cannot have protesters blocking county roads, blocking state highways, or trespassing on private property," Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said.

The protesters, many of whom are Native Americans from the Lakota and Dakota reservations, maintain that the land they are on was given to the Great Sioux Nation in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, BuzzFeed News reports. The government later reclaimed the land.

Hundreds of protesters had originally flocked to the camp to protest against the oil pipeline's construction, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Critics say the pipeline could spill and contaminate the tribe's supplies; it would also cross sacred Native American lands and burial grounds. Jeva Lange

4:06 p.m. ET

Speaking on Thursday in front of a crowd of 11,000 people in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, first lady Michelle Obama made a shocking declaration: She considers Hillary Clinton a "friend."

"People wonder," the first lady acknowledged, whether she and the Democratic nominee she's been stumping so passionately for are actually close. But Obama put that rumbling to rest, detailing how close the Obama and Clinton families are before eventually calling the Democratic nominee "my girl."

The North Carolina appearance was the first joint event for Clinton and Obama, and it was Clinton's second-largest crowd of the campaign. And while Obama made an impassioned plea for early voting, telling the thousands assembled that claims of a "rigged" election — like the ones Clinton's opponent Donald Trump has been making — are merely efforts to suppress voter turnout, the shared stage was mostly an opportunity for the two women to gush over each other:

It seems as though if Clinton has her way and throws that post-election national dance party, Obama is sure to be on the guest list. Kimberly Alters

2:49 p.m. ET

Conservative commentator and writer S.E. Cupp really, really wanted to root for the Republican nominee. But after "witnessing some real progress in our outreach to women ... I did not expect an egomaniacal arsonist to come along and set all that ablaze," she writes in a new op-ed for The New York Times, "The Lonely Life of a Republican Woman."

Cupp decries the fact that Donald Trump has taken her party "back to the Dark Ages — or at least the 1950s," claiming that it is increasingly difficult for women Republicans to justify remaining with the right, even when it might be in their best interest in the long run:

Democrats' lofty language about empowering women sounds great (and way better than Mr. Trump's), but President Obama's economy has done just the opposite. By many metrics, women (and men) are worse off. The poverty rate is higher than it was in 2007. Real median household income is down. More Americans are dependent on the government for assistance. Homeownership is down. Student debt has skyrocketed, along with the national debt. We now know that Obamacare is becoming unaffordable.

None of this is empowering, not for working women, mothers, small-business owners or students. Whether you're a veteran or a millennial, it's hard to argue that big government has solved your problems efficiently, if at all.

But before we can make that case to women, Republicans will have to earn the right to be heard at all. That will require emptying the party of Mr. Trump's enablers. Who knows how long that will take, but in the meantime, women would frankly have to have been lobotomized to believe anything the Republican Party tells them. [The New York Times]

Read Cupp's tough-love takedown at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

2:38 p.m. ET
Welgos/Getty Images

Paleontologists have uncovered countless dinosaur bones, but what they have yet to find is a dinosaur brain — that is, until now. Researchers recently realized what they thought was a run-of-the-mill skull fossil actually may contain a chunk of fossilized dinosaur brain tissue. Scientists think the brain tissue came from a "large leaf-eating dinosaur, possibly from a species similar to the iguanodon," which roamed the Earth some 130 million years ago, Mashable reports.

The brain tissue, which looks like a nondescript brown rock at first glance, was found by an amateur fossil hunter in Sussex in 2004. Scientists believe the dinosaur's head fell into a swamp when it died, which prevented the brain tissue from decaying like soft tissue usually does. Instead, The Independent explained, the brain was essentially "pickled by the highly acidic and low-oxygen water."

Still, some scientists aren't convinced this is the real deal. Lawrence Witmer, a paleontologist from Ohio University, stressed that brain tissue is "one of the first things that decomposes after an animal dies." He told NPR he thinks what researchers have discovered is "part of the protective outer covering of the brain."

However, researchers insist they've spotted what appear to be blood vessels, which, Vox noted, is "the tell-tale sign this was indeed part of a brain." "They're incontrovertible, they can't be anything else," said Alexander Liu, a co-author of the research. "They have the right diameters, they branch in the right way, they're hollow, and they are in the right places." Becca Stanek

See More Speed Reads