‘Free Guy’ Breaks Out with $28.4 Million as ‘Suicide Squad’ Collapses in its Second Week

Ryan Reynolds' "Free Guy" beat expectations in a boost for theaters and original films. For Oscar-season movies, we may have a problem.
Ryan Reynolds as Guy in 20th Century Studios’ FREE GUY. Courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.
"Free Guy"

Disney’s “Free Guy” broke free of expectations on and off the screen. It grossed $28.4 million, beating projections by more than 40 percent. It was one of three new wide releases and the only one to stand out. What propelled the Ryan Reynolds comedy, and held back “Don’t Breathe 2” ($10.6 million) and “Respect” ($8.8 million), suggests how different audiences respond to the Delta variant and provides key insight about what audiences want.

North American theaters will gross around $75 million this weekend. That’s $10 million more than last weekend, which improves our rolling four-week 2019 comparison from 44 percent to 51 percent. (The same weekend in 2019 saw $121 million, putting this weekend’s result at 62 percent as much.)

On the AMC earnings call this week, CEO Adam Aron said his company would have a positive cash flow for Q4 2021 if domestic grosses for 2021 reached $5.2 million. Going forward, that means each week until December 31 would need to gross about 80 percent of the same week in 2019.

“Free Guy” cost more than $100 million, marketing not included. Foreign markets added $23 million this weekend, for $51 million worldwide. The film exceeded expectations, but profitability isn’t assured. Even so, Reynolds tweeted Sunday that Disney already wants a sequel.

A profit on “Free Guy” will require a strong hold and a domestic total of more than $80 million. Disney inherited the title from Fox and those contractual obligations mean the studio won’t see the same premium PVOD payday as other recent releases like “Black Widow.” It’s reasonable to expect that if and when there is a “Free Guy 2,” it will have a completely different distribution plan.

Disney’s “Free Guy” marketing touted it as a theater-only release; it opened better than Warner Bros.’ “Suicide Squad,” which opened day-and-date on HBO Max. That certainly suggests theater exclusivity enhances grosses, especially for a film like “Free Guy” that played heavily male (59 percent) and younger (70 percent under 35).

Another big difference between the films is that “Suicide Squad” — like Disney’s “Black Widow,” also a theatrical underperformer with PVOD availability — is part of a lengthy franchise. Audiences seem to suggest that they’re increasingly interested in original films rather than retreads.

That may not be the data point studios were looking for: Originality induces anxiety. A studio might be willing to spend $100 million for an original comedy with a reliable lead like Ryan Reynolds, but how often?

“Don’t Breathe 2” may have fallen victim to audience disinterest in familiarity, but it was hurt by competition and arrived after a season of horror films. (Sony didn’t release its Cinemascore.) In pre-Covid times, we might have expected to see it gross more than twice as much.


Perhaps the film that absorbed the greatest impact from the Delta variant was Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect.” It met expectations, but $8.8 million is underwhelming. Its target audience is older, a near-mirror image of “Free Guy” —  67 percent over 35, a group that is slowest in its return to theaters.

When the film moves to home availability, the acclaim for Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal could still pay off. Like “Free Guy,” it had an excellent A Cinemascore. It still has a chance to build, but the well-reviewed films for adult audiences that populate awards season may face a struggle.

“Jungle Cruise,” “Black Widow,” and “Old” all fell less than 50 percent. (The first two are on PVOD.) In its second week, “Suicide Squad” plummeted 70 percent. The HBO showings don’t help, but that collapse appears to stem more from negative audience reaction and “Free Guy” competition. Expect “Space Jam” to gross more.

Amy Forsyth, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur
“Coda”Apple TV+

“CODA,” Apple’s record-setting Sundance acquisition, began streaming Friday and opened in around 40 theaters. Bleecker Street oversees distribution and grosses were not reported. According to the online booking sites for two key theaters — the Angelika in Manhattan and The Landmark in Los Angeles, both of which offered the film on two screens — Saturday appeared to yield grosses of less than $2,500 in each theater, suggesting full weekends under $7,000 each.

These locations likely represent the best results for “CODA.” These theaters, like the film, appeal to older audiences. Bucking Saturday trends, it did better in matinees than in evening performances.

Amazon continued its nonreporting of theatrical grosses or theater counts for “Annette.” It streams starting Friday.


The Top 10

1. Free Guy (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 62; Est. budget: $100 million

$28,400,000 in 4,165 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $6,819; Cumulative: $28,400,000

2. Don’t Breathe 2 (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: (not released); Metacritic: 47; Est. budget: $15 million

$10,600,000 in 3,005 theaters; PTA: $3,527; Cumulative: $10,600,000

3. Jungle Cruise (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #2; also on Premium VOD at Disney+

$9,000,000 (-43%) in 3,900 theaters (-410); PTA: $2,308; Cumulative: $82,100,000

4. Respect (United Artists) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 63; Est. budget: $55 million

$8,805,000 in 3,207 theaters; PTA: $2,746; Cumulative: $8,805,000

5. The Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #1; also on HBO Max

$7,750,000 (-70%) in 4,019 theaters (+17); PTA: $1,928; Cumulative: $42,885,000

6. Old (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #3

$2,400,000 (-42%) in 2,631 theaters (-505); PTA: $583; Cumulative: $42,950,000

7. Black Widow (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #4; also on Premium VOD

$2,000,000 (-49%) in 2,060 theaters (-1,040); PTA: $971; Cumulative: $178,200,000

8. Stillwater (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #5

$1,300,000 (-54%) in 2,179 theaters (-432); PTA: $597; Cumulative: $12,543,000

9. The Green Knight (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #6

$1,163,000 (-55%) in 1,784 theaters (-1,014); PTA: $652; Cumulative: $14,738,000

10. Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #7; also on HBO Max through Sunday

$1,115,000 (-54%) in 1,841 theaters (1,028); PTA: $606; Cumulative: $68,083,000

Additional specialized/limited/independent releases

Not Going Quietly (Greenwich) – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: South by Southwest, Tribeca 2021

$12,000 in 2 theaters; PTA: $6,000

The Lost Leonardo (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Tribeca 2021

$13,209 in 3 theaters; PTA: $4,403

Nine Days (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3

$90,162 in 391 (-52) theaters; Cumulative: $498,268

Roadrunner (Focus) Week 5; also on PVOD

$70,000 in 126 (-142) theaters; Cumulative: $5,138,000

Summer of Soul (Searchlight) Week 7; also on Hulu

$14,000 in 26 (-16) theaters; Cumulative: $2,288,000

12 Mighty Orphans (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10

$11,670 in 30 (-12) theaters; Cumulative: $3,523,000

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