BY PAMELA MCCLINTOCK | HollywoodReporter.Com
Troy Warren for CNT #Entertainment
The movie did so well that star Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy received word Saturday that Disney wants a sequel. Aretha Franklin biopic ‘Respect’ also debuted over the weekend.
Free Guy has spawned a new Hollywood studio franchise after opening well ahead of expectations despite the precarious state of the box office recovery.
The action-comedy — starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Shawn Levy — grossed $28.4 million from 4,165 North American theaters to easily top the chart. Overseas, it took in $22.5 million from 41 markets for a global start of $51 million (Free Guy doesn’t yet have a release date in China).
The domestic performance of the family-friendly, PG-13 film is a much-needed boost for Hollywood as consumer confidence dips again amid the Delta variant and a surge in COVID-19 cases. The international marketplace is also being heavily impacted in numerous countries, including France and Italy, where proof of vaccination is now required.
Headed into the weekend, Disney and 20th Century predicted a North America opening of $17 million to $20 million. Others were more bullish, but most didn’t predict more than $22 million.
Free Guy even bested the domestic launch of The Suicide Squad a week ago. One difference — Levy’s film is receiving a 45-day exclusive theatrical release in theaters before going to Disney. From Warner Bros., Suicide Squad was made available simultaneously on HBO Max.
Video-game adaptations are never an easy sell and have a decidedly mixed track record at the box office. Plus, Free Guy was delayed no fewer than four times because of the COVID-19 crisis, posing numerous marketing challenges for Disney and the filmmakers.
Free Guy, buoyed by strong reviews, great word-of-mouth and an A CinemaScore, underscores Reynolds’ star power, as well as the growing partnership between he and Levy. On Saturday, Disney officially asked for a sequel, according to a tweet from Reynolds.
Among those turning out, 71 percent of the audience was under the age of 35, including 50 percent between ages 18 and 34, the most likely group to go to theaters in the pandemic era. Males made up 59 percent of the audience, while Free Guy did huge business on Imax and other premium large format screens that are a major draw for fanboys.
In the film, Reynolds plays a bank teller who discovers he is actually a non-player character in a video game. He’s determined to become the hero and save his friends from getting deleted by the game’s creator. Taika Waititi, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery also star.
Sony and Stage 6’s home-invasion horror pic Don’t Breathe 2 debuted in second place with $10.6 million and was also aided by a diverse audience.
The sequel, earning a B CinemaScore, was helmed by Rodo Sayagues in his feature directorial debut. Stephen Lang reprises his role as Norman Nordstrom/The Blind Man. Brendan Sexton III and Madelyn Grace also star.
Aretha Franklin biopic Respect opened in fourth place with $8.8 million. The MGM and United Artists Releasing movie, starring Jennifer Hudson as the iconic singer, did okay for a title relying on older audiences — and particularly older females — who are the most reluctant to return to theaters. According to PostTrak, 45 percent of ticket buyers were 45 or holder, including 26 percent over the age of 55. 67 percent of the audience was female.
Respect likewise earned an A CinemaScore and strong exits. It played to an ethnically diverse audience; 48 percent of the audience was Black.
Among holdovers, Disney holdover Jungle Cruise came in third in its third weekend. The Dwayne Johnson-Emily Blunt movie received a simultaneous release in cinemas and on Disney+ Premier Access for an additional $30.
Jungle Cruise finished Sunday with a domestic total of $82.1 million and $72.2 million overseas for a global cume of $154.3 million.
Warner Bros. and DC’s Suicide Squad fell a steep 70 percent to $7.8 million in its second weekend for a meek 10-day domestic total of $42.9 million. Directed by James Gunn, the antihero pic rounded out the top five.
Overseas, Suicide Squad posted $17 million from 70 markets for a foreign tally of $75.2 million and $118.1 million worldwide.
Both Disney and Warners maintain that flexible release models, including day-and-date are needed because of the pandemic.
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