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Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds debuts at No 1 at US box office

The sci-fi action-comedy marks an interesting test for the film exhibition industry because it's playing exclusively in theatres, which is a rarity these days.

Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds debuts at No 1 at US box office

Ryan Reynolds attends the "Free Guy" New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on August 03, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images/AFP

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 US box office.

The movie, from Disney and 20th Century Studios, collected US$26 million from 4,165 North American theatres. Given its production budget above US$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 US$22.5 million for a global tally of US$51 million.

Free Guy marks an interesting test for the film exhibition industry because it's playing exclusively in theatres, 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 theatres, like Universal's F9, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski's follow-up A Quiet Place Part II and Paramount's GI Joe origin story Snake Eyes, were each sequels in popular film franchises, unlike Free Guy, which is based on an original concept and isn't part of an existing movie universe.

Though COVID-19 is undoubtedly deterring people from visiting their local multiplex, Free Guy  which is directed by Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, Night At The Museum) and co-starring Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi  had several factors working in its favour. Thanks to strong reviews and an "A" CinemaScore from audiences, it enjoyed positive word-of-mouth over the weekend.

The PG-13 film also benefitted because it appealed to older males, a demographic that has appeared to be less wary about returning to the big screen. In the case of Free Guy, 59 per cent of opening weekend ticket buyers were male and nearly 80 per cent were above the age of 18.

Movies geared toward younger crowds, like Disney's Jungle Cruise and Space Jam: A New Legacy, have been harder sells because families, especially those with unvaccinated children, have been more reluctant to go to theatres.

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 per cent," 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, though neither did much to galvanise ticket buyers.

The sequel to Don't Breathe secured second place on box office charts, earning US$10.6 million from 3,005 venues in its first three days of release. With a budget of US$15 million, it'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 US$26.4 million and ended its run with US$89 million in North America and US$157 million globally.

Respect notched the No 4 spot, with US$8.8 million in ticket sales from 3,207 screens in the US 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 US$55 million price tag. However, Respect has resonated with audiences, landing a strong "A" CinemaScore, which could give the film a long life on the big screen.

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 US$9 million to its domestic tally, which currently sits at US$82 million. Globally, Jungle Cruise has grossed US$154 million to date.

Rounding out the top five is The Suicide Squad with US$7.7 million from 4,019 locations, representing a brutal 72 per cent decline from its inaugural weekend. The comic book adaptation, based on a band of less-than-desirable super-villains, is currently on HBO Max and has made US$42 million at the North American box office so far.

Source: Reuters/sr

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