Box Office: ‘Free Guy’ Debuts at No. 1 With Surprisingly Strong $28.4 Million

Despite concerns the delta variant would keep moviegoers at home, Ryan Reynolds’ sci-fi action comedy “Free Guy” had a better-than-expected start at the domestic box office.

The movie, from Disney and 20th Century Studios, collected $26 million from 4,165 North American theaters. Given its production budget above $100 million, those ticket sales wouldn’t be much to celebrate in pre-pandemic times, but isn’t a bad result as a plague sweeps the globe.

Overseas, “Free Guy” amassed $22.5 million for a global tally of $51 million.

“Free Guy” marks an interesting test for the film exhibition industry because it’s playing exclusively in theaters, which is a rarity these days. Many high-profile films that premiered during the pandemic, such as Marvel’s “Black Widow” and “The Suicide Squad,” were available on streaming platforms on the same day as their theatrical debuts. The few films offered only in theaters, like Universal’s “F9,” “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Snake Eyes,” were each sequels in popular film franchises, unlike “Free Guy,” which is based on an original concept and not part of an existing movie universe.

Though COVID-19 is undoubtedly deterring people from visiting their local multiplex, “Free Guy” had several factors working in its favor. With strong reviews and an “A” CinemaScore from audiences, it enjoyed positive word-of mouth over the weekend. The PG-13 “Free Guy” also benefitted because it appealed to older males, a demographic that’s been less wary of returning to the big screen. Ticket sales were curbed for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and other recent offerings geared toward younger crowds because families have been more reluctant to go to theaters, especially those with unvaccinated children.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, says “Free Guy” had “a very good opening under difficult conditions.” Still, he points out, the movie business isn’t close to returning to normalcy because COVID-19 cases continue to surge and vaccination efforts have slowed.

“Moviegoing has shown flashes of strength during the summer, but the Delta variant has dampened any sustained improvement above 50%,” Gross says. “In a healthy market, movies would be opening considerably higher and holding better.”

This weekend’s other new nationwide releases, Sony’s thriller “Don’t Breathe 2” and MGM’s Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” each arrived in line with expectations, but neither did much to galvanize ticket buyers.

The sequel to “Don’t Breathe” secured second place on box office charts, earning $10.6 million from 3,005 venues in its first three days of release. With a budget of $15 million, that’s a decent start for the R-rated movie that takes place after a deadly home invasion. However, it’s a steep decline from its predecessor, 2016’s “Don’t Breathe,” which debuted to $26.4 million and ended its run with $89 million in North America and $157 million globally.

“Respect” notched the No. 4 spot, with $8.8 million in ticket sales from 3,207 screens in the U.S. and Canada. The film, starring Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul, received good but not great reviews, and it may struggle to achieve profitably in its theatrical run given its $55 million price tag.

“Respect” finished the weekend behind Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” now in its third weekend of release. The family friendly tentpole, led by Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, added another $9 million to its domestic tally, which currently sits at $82 million. Globally, “Jungle Cruise” has grossed $154 million to date.

More to come…

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