The past few months have been a demonstration of sorts for Hollywood and moviegoers on how the industry is operating while a pandemic is still going on. Although studios have become confident enough this year to start premiering their films, some of them have been hedging their bets by including simultaneous release dates on streaming services, oftentimes on their exclusive platforms. This practice has been accused by theater operators of cutting into their traditional box office earnings, and by film stars like Scarlett Johansson of reducing their potential box-office take. As if to refute the streaming fallback by content producers, sci-fi comedy “Free Guy” premiered this weekend to surprising results.
The Associated Press reports that the Ryan Reynolds starrer “Free Guy,” produced originally for distribution by 20th Century Fox but now released by Disney-owned 20th Century Studios, raked in a respectable $24.8 million after premiering last Friday, August 13, exclusively on cinemas with no simultaneous streaming debut. This was a gamble, as studios with streaming services seemed to capitalize on the Delta COVID variant forcing people to stay home and watch online. “Free Guy” however had significant pull in both its lead star and story concept to fill the North American box office unlike any film released during the pandemic.
“Free Guy” tells the story of Guy (Reynolds), a videogame non-playable character/NPC that is cast as a bank teller in the open-world massively multiplayer online game “Free City.” Originally content with following his programming-decided routine, Guy has a revelation when he receives a pair of sunglasses allowing him to see his world as “Free City” players see it, a virtual environment with character stats and abilities and more. He finds himself helping another player (Jodie Comer) who is looking for something in the game world, while “Free City” developer Antwan (Taika Waititi) tries to reprogram Guy or shut him down to preserve a company secret.
Originally slated to premiere August of last year, “Free Guy” was a 2020 big-screen victim of the pandemic and was moved to 2021. In addition to its positive box-office performance (because of no streaming alternative) and in spite of Delta variant concerns, the film has also scored decent reviews from critics. Ryan Reynolds actually announced on social media that Disney has given 20th Century Studios the go-ahead to develop a sequel. Once it does become available for streaming, “Free Guy” will not come to Disney+ first (being a 20th Century Fox production), so that is one other thing to consider.
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