20th Century Studios’ “Free Guy” could be the barometer the cinema industry is looking for as the Covid delta variant spreads domestically.
After months of franchise movies that hit theaters and streaming platforms on the same day, comes ‘Free Guy’. It will be released exclusively in theaters on Friday – a rarity during the pandemic.
The Disney film, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer, is also one of the few original concept films to hit the big screen this year.
Box office analysts are eager to see how the action comedy performs over its opening weekend, as it is arguably one of the purest tests of whether the cinema industry is really making a comeback. Most of the high-profile movies that have only been released in theaters — such as Universal’s “F9” and Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” — are part of established movie franchises, giving them a ready-made fan base yearning for a new episode.
Likewise, it was difficult with hybrid releases, like Warner Bros.’ “The Suicide Squad”, to determine whether ticket sales were affected by the pandemic or because the film was available to stream at home.
“There are fewer variables,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, referring to “Free Guy.” “We can actually analyze things in an empirical way rather than in a theoretical way.”
With an exclusive theatrical release, the box office performance will be based on three things: Were people comfortable going to the theater? Were they interested in seeing “Free Guy?” Did the movie get good word of mouth over the weekend?
“Disney has been holding onto ‘Free Guy’ for a while because the company is hopeful it can break through the confused checkout,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “The truth is that in a normalized market, ‘Free Guy’ would have a clear path to success.”
Bock noted that the film has sympathetic stars in Comer and Reynolds, good reviews, and positive word of mouth heading into its opening weekend.
“If ‘Free Guy’ doesn’t bring in $20 million or more this weekend, it could be a clear sign of more theatrical release chaos on the horizon.”
Current estimates for the film range from $15 million to $20 million.
Disney’s decision to keep this film on the movie theater list means the studio sees potential for a large-scale comedy to thrive even in the current climate, said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.
While some speculated that “Free Guy” could end up on Disney’s streaming service rather than movie theaters, CEO Bob Chapek said during an earnings call Thursday that the film’s previous distribution deal with Fox — which the company bought in 2019 — didn’t allow for much flexibility in terms of what it could be. the release method.
New Covid cases are being diagnosed at a rate not seen since February. Blame has fallen on the highly contagious delta variant, which spreads rapidly among unvaccinated people and sometimes causes breakthrough infections in the vaccinated. The pace of the spread has raised concerns that consumer behavior will change, as people become more cautious and state and local governments reintroduce precautions such as mask mandates in indoor environments such as theaters.
On August 20, San Francisco requires a vaccination certificate for indoor activities, including movie theaters. New York City plans to enforce proof of vaccination in indoor entertainment centers starting Sept. 13, although some establishments plan to have the plan go into effect on Monday.
Robbins said “Free Guy” has the benefit of a PG-13 rating, good buzz and a “core male audience that has been a driver of this year’s more positive box office performance.”
It also has Reynolds, who is not only the star, but has handled much of the marketing in recent months. The “wildcard,” Robbins said, is the fact that it’s an original property and doesn’t have built-in demand like movies that are part of major franchises.
Sony has postponed the release of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and has opted for an October opening instead of late September. If “Free Guy” does well this weekend, studios may be more confident in sticking to the current schedule.
Disclosure: “F9” is distributed by NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.