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Ryan Reynolds' Free Guy Wins Again At The Box Office, Adding A New Wrinkle To The Theaters vs. Streaming Debate

This summer has seen a pattern develop in regards to blockbusters – especially those that have been getting simultaneous theatrical and streaming debuts. While box office records have been set for the COVID-19 era in the last few months, with the big screen experience starting to bounce back after 2020, we have repeatedly seen movies with hybrid release models take a nosedive in their second weekends. Because of this, all eyes were on Shawn Levy's Free Guy for the past three days, curious how it would perform as a cinema-exclusive title – and the results are most definitely interesting, as the Ryan Reynolds film not only held on to the top spot, but held on strong. Check out the full Top 10 below, and then join me after for analysis!

Because Free Guy was developed as a 20th Century Fox title prior to the big studio merger in 2019, Disney didn't have the option to release the movie via Premier Access on Disney+ – something we've seen them do multiple times this year with titles like Cate Shortland's Black Widow, Jaume Collet-Serra's Jungle Cruise, and Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall's Raya And The Last Dragon. This set it up as an interesting experiment: would it follow the pattern of massive second weekend drops like Black Widow, Malcolm D. Lee's Space Jam: A New Legacy, or James Gunn's The Suicide Squad; or would it's theater-only release stop that from happening? Now that the smoke is clearing, it's hard not to notice that the percentage dip by the Ryan Reynolds film is about half of what those other movies did, only falling 34 percent.

It should be noted that the aforementioned pattern we've seen this summer isn't perfect. Justin Lin's F9 was also only available to watch on the big screen when Universal released it in late June, but it still saw a 67 percent drop in its second weekend over the July 4th holiday. And while Jungle Cruise was available for a premium price via streaming when it launched in late July, it only fell a reasonable 55 percent when it competed with The Suicide Squad in the first week of this month. There are also many external factors to consider, as one has to also recognize that the rising Delta variant numbers have impacted audience behavior, and there is always the impact of new competition. All the same, this is going to be a weekend that analysts point to as the debate about the co-existence of theaters and streaming rages on.

Regardless of how it's dissected in the macro scheme, Free Guy is independently a massive win for all involved. Being a movie not based on existing IP and that had been delayed several times, the film was predicted to make only about $20 million maximum in its first three days, and after successfully annihilating that low bar in its opening weekend, now it almost hit it again in its sophomore Friday-to-Sunday. The video game-inspired feature has now earned $58.8 million domestically, and $77.3 million worldwide. It still has quite a distance to go before it is profitable on paper, as the production had a nine-digit budget, and there is also marketing and publicity to account for, but it presently stands in a really strong place.

Part of the reason that Free Guy only dropped 34 percent this weekend is because it's a movie with a lot of buzz, and audiences of all ages have been really taken with it. That positivity could result in it continuing to make a lot of money in the coming weeks, especially as its broad appeal goes up against the R-rated horror of Nia DaCosta's Candyman, which is the big new wide release coming out this Friday.

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Ryan Reynolds wearing glasses in Free Guy

As for the new releases this weekend, it's a story of a surprisingly number of movies putting up some numbers that aren't all that impressive. Free Guy in its second weekend faced off against four new features making their way into theaters for the first time, and it thwarted them all off rather easily.

In recent weeks, family films (like Jungle Cruise) have been some of the strongest box office performers, and Cal Brunker's PAW Patrol: The Movie was able to nab second place in the Top 10 with its $13 million haul. The feature, based on the popular television series of the same name, skews much younger than the PG-13 antics in the new Ryan Reynolds movie, and it's reasonable to think that parents used it as a solid excuse to entertain their kids and spend a couple hours in an air conditioned theater. It should be noted that it's another example of a hybrid release, as Paramount Pictures has also made the title available to stream with a subscription to Paramount+ – so once again we'll be curious to see how well it does when we look at the numbers next week.

There are far fewer positive things to say about the outcomes for the trio of other new releases this weekend: Martin Campbell's action flick The Protege starring Maggie Q; David Bruckner's horror film The Night House starring Rebecca Hall; and Lisa Joy's sci-fi thriller Reminiscence starring Hugh Jackman. They all provided audiences with the potential for very different cinematic experiences, but it seems that movie-goers responded to none of them – resulting in a 7-8-9 finishing in the Top 10 and all of them making under $3 million in their respective first three days.

The Night House and The Protege were smaller releases, put into less than 3,000 theaters nationwide, but the performance by Reminiscence is particularly rough. There is a very real chance that when the numbers are finalized that the movie will be ranked last among all of the titles that Warner Bros. has put out this year, which is not great – even though the film was only made with a mid-range budget of $68 million (according to Deadline). One has to recognize that mid/late August is famously a terrible period for the box office, as summer plans wrap up and the school year begins, but this is still rough to see. It's possible that things look much better for it on the HBO Max side of things, but we have no idea since the studio doesn't release traffic or new subscriber statistics.

Next weekend, as mentioned, audiences will be able to start getting in the fall/Halloween spirit a bit early, as Candyman will be playing in theaters nationwide. The numbers for horror movies have been all over the map recently, with John Krasinski's A Quiet Place Part II putting up huge numbers, and Rodo Sayagues' Don't Breathe 2 not performing nearly as well as its predecessor, but we'll see how everything turns out next Sunday.

Eric Eisenberg

NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.