Sunday AM Update: Those having any concern that the pandemic is wrecking complete havoc at the box office can rest a bit easy as Disney/20th Century Studio’s Free Guy smashed expectations with a $28.4M opening weekend. Worldwide the Shawn Levy-directed movie is at a $51M start. Something more to applaud is the fact that stateside business for Free Guy surged 24% on Saturday when you back out Thursday previews from Friday’s number; all indicative that great word of mouth works in the current marketplace, as well as sheer star power, and we’re talking Ryan Reynolds, who announced yesterday on social that Disney already wants a sequel to this movie which was held from release during Covid.
“This is the first non-IP, non-sequel that Disney has released in literally years. And not just because of the pandemic, but because of the culture of our industry, which more and more rarely bets, and bets big –they’ll bet small—but bets big on a new, original movie. That was the bet that (former 20th Century Studios Boss, now at Paramount) Emma Watts placed and that Disney doubled down on,” Levy told us recently. We also hear that former 20th Century Studios Exec Mike Ireland, who also at Paramount now, was also one of Free Guy‘s original champions.
“I want the studios to see that when we give the culture, when we give the audience, something new and original, and therefore inherently original, the audience comes, the audience exists,” says Levy.
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“If we end up evolving in an industry that is nothing but sequels and franchises, we’ll be the poorer for it,” he adds, “Not just as an industry, but as a culture.”
Another movie that also came in slightly ahead of expectations was Sony/Screens’ R-rated horror sequel Don’t Breathe 2 which did $10.6M. Back out that pic’s Thursday $965K previews from its $4.3M Friday, and Saturday at $3.65M was actually +7%. Again, another encouraging sign that the box office isn’t entirely in freefall, rather clicking with the younger demos.
The key thing here to remember is that both Free Guy and Don’t Breathe 2 were propelled by the 18-34 demo, respectively at 50% and 63%, and that’s a crowd who’s been increasingly showing that they’re unafraid to head out to the cinema.
That can’t be said for all moviegoing demos, in particular the older female crowd who didn’t show up in bulk to MGM/United Artists Releasing’s Aretha Franklin biopic Respect which despite a solid A CinemaScore did $8.8M in 4th place this past weekend. On one positive note, Respect, for an older-leaning movie turned in a higher start than Focus Features’ Stillwater which began at $5.1M, and held -45% in its second frame. But there’s concern here about films geared at older crowds in the pandemic especially as we head into Q4 awards season. Either Respect holds like a rock, or with great audience scores like these, it overperforms in its home ancillaries. However, it’s going to be a long road for older-skewing titles as the headlines of delta and lambda variants continue. From the moment the campaign for Respect began, overall moviegoing comfort levels dropped from 81% to 66% in NRG polling, while the worst confidence came from the female over 35 (52% sentiment) and over 45 (44% sentiment) quads; the latter demo dropping 30 points since Respect‘s promo push. Those demographics are Respect‘s targeted crowds, and among the few who bought tickets. Respect pulled in 67% over 35, 45% over 45, & 26% over 55 years old. Best markets were Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, NYC and LA.
Some might ask, what’s the big deal? So, Free Guy opens to a $26M+ weekend after last weekend’s The Suicide Squad did $26.2M, which was painted by the media and Warners as a collateral damage from the pandemic (yet, was the highest start for an R-Rated movie during Covid). Free Guy gets plenty of trumpets this weekend because it’s, once again, expensive original IP, which is very risky and it’s debuting at a time when younger adults have other distractions such as returning to school or college. There was a great concern out there that Free Guy was going to be sidelined due to Covid. Oh, and let’s not forget, Free Guy is on a pure 45-day theatrical window, which will only fuel its legs at the box office (Respect and Don’t Breathe 2 are also theatrical window titles).
Again, a majority of James Gunn’s Suicide Squad downfall stemmed from a marketing misfire in identifying the title from its predecessors, fanboys’ previous dissatisfaction with the DC franchise’s history, and, oh, it was available free to HBO Max subscribers, the negative results of which we witnessed again at the box office after the studio’s Space Jam 2 as the former Harley Quinn and friends film plummeted -70% this weekend with $7.75M.
“Free Guy was built with one prime objective, audience delight” Levy told us about the pic, “we made it for an audience experience.”
“Disney from early on loved this movie, and that love went to another level, when they sat in a test screening of Free Guy, which I can say is the best of Ryan’s and my careers, and we both had successful test screenings in the past. You could feel it in that theater. I’m so grateful that the Alans were there (Bergman and Horn), and (Disney Marketing Boss) Asad (Ayaz) was there. You could feel that this movie becomes something bigger than the movie when it’s shared by an audience,” Levy tells Deadline. In addition, Free Guy is a win for 20th Century Studios President Steve Asbell and his team this weekend. SVP of Global Publicity Michelle Sewell was also a big supporter of Free Guy. “They really have given this the full Disney effort,” says Levy who’s been blown away by the campaign.
Levy received the script five years ago. He was initially reluctant to do it, that it is until Reynolds called him three years ago. Reynolds knew Levy was the guy for the project; the actor’s vision being a high concept videogame movie, but one that was warm and humanist, not limited to the gaming crowd.
“We made this movie for our younger Back to the Future-obsessed selves. We wanted that feeling of wish fulfillment, aspiration, a huge ‘what if’ at the center, but we wanted it to be as warm as it is funny. If it was just cool, we would have failed,” adds Levy.
“That was the key that unlocked me,” said Levy, “We called Emma. I said ‘It’s me and Ryan, let’s go'”
While most movies based on videogames are boxed by the parameters of their IP and gamer’ expectations, Reynolds and Levy weren’t burdened by any limits in making the movie, “and we got to create Free Guy with only our imagination as the rule of law” says the helmer.
Free Guy initially kicked off its campaign at NYC Comic-Con and Brazil CCXP 2019 with talent appearances and content drops before the pandemic kicked in. Reynolds and fellow Free Guy star Taika Waititi put their Marvel sensibility in the marketing with a huge online bit of their Deadpool and Korg characters watching the trailer, as well as a hilarious NPC lawyer content piece featuring attorney “Bryan Breynolds.”
Three trailers leveraged high-profile events including New York Comic-Con, Monday Night Football, and Summer of Game Fest. Early media kicked off with hits in key sporting events including MLB All-Star Game, NBA Finals (Games 3, 5, and 6), Concacaf Gold Cup (group stage, quarterfinals, and finals), Hallmark’s Christmas in July, connected TV takeovers and out-of-home teases with a “Big Movie, Big Screen” message (Sunset Wall, Hollywood Towers, The Grove, Penn Station and Marriott Times Square, Disney Story Times Square, Bus Ultra Super Kings, Wildposting, and more). There were also big broadcast moments in the Olympics, Bachelorette, NFL Hall of Fame Game, NBA Draft, Fantasy Island premiere, Stargirl premiere. Not to mention there were takeovers on connected TV, Fandango, IMDb, ESPN, IGN, Complex Jumbotron, Spotify and Soundcloud, Bustle Kindle Fire, and beyond.
Integrated marketing and synergy included #FreeGuyFieri/Food Network, Freeform Becomes Free Guy takeover, FX daylong stunt on Aug. 12, 5-day countdown blitz with countdown clocks across GMA, ABC World News and Nightline.
On the exhibition side, there was a Regal AR Activiation (where users can put on Guy’s glasses to see the game overlay of the city, with in-world tappable elements revealing fun moments from the film, and a level-up experience to get a Guy “cardboard cutout” to place into their world for a photo-op experience) and a Cinemark Esports Fortnite Duos tournament that included buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for entrants and a private watch party for the top two winners.
Digital hits included emoji, spotlight trend, and premiere coverage on Twitter; custom stickers & gifs, influencer engagement, custom AR lens, and word-of-mouth program on Facebook and Instagram; shareable opportunities on TikTok. There were stunted digital PR beats for Mashable, Fandango, Buzzfeed, Bustle, IGN, LadBible, Yahoo!. There was a first-to-market spectacles opportunity on SnapChat with a custom Free City World lens. Alongside Fortnite, Disney tapped into the gaming community with a custom Free Guy Questline Integration, custom “Don’t Have A Good Day, Have a Great Day” emote and playable dude skin. Promotional elements include: influencer activations, social stunted interaction with talent, in game message of the day, CRM Fortnite social support, Fortnite store hero placement and in-console game support.
A big list of promo partners were lined up here by the Mouse House including XBOX celebrating NPCs in a global gaming campaign with a custom greeting and trailer during the XBOX Global Launch Celebration. The campaign also included the first ever XBOX NPC Awards consisting of three custom pieces launched across XBOX’s social channels, a NPC Lawyer content piece on late night Cable/TV and Outdoor digital boards in LA and NYC Times Square, incremental support across Microsoft businesses including a profile page on LinkedIn, co-branded gaming kits for influencers, PR events and activations and a premiere sponsorship with a first-time reveal of the HALO Warthog on the Red Carpet along with the NCP Trophy. Under Armour also was a co-branded spot highlighting the limited Edition Power Up Blue Sole Shoe with all of the proceeds going to support the Boys and Girls Club, with a digital and social campaign on Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube and a LEVEL UP workout on TikTok. Under Armour also sponsored the Premiere and had a themed shirt giveaway. Additional domestic partners included Zenni, GrubHub, GFuel, HyperX.
Audience breakdown to date from Disney for Free Guy is 59% male/41% female. General audience was 84%, with parents and kids repping 16% of all ticket buyers. Those over 25 were 54% of Free Guy‘s crowd. Premium formats including IMAX, PLF, 3D, DBox and 4D accounted for a very strong 29% of the pic’s weekend.
Big shoutout to Universal’s F9 which at $681.4M is the highest grossing Hollywood film during the pandemic. The movie crossed $500M at the offshore box office, becoming the first major motion picture studio to do so ($509.3M to be exact) since 2019 and one of only three titles (including two Chinese local movies, Detective Chinatown 3 at $686.3M and Hi Mom at $821M) to cross this milestone in 2020 and 2021.
Total weekend for all films per Comscore is $76.9M, +17% from last weekend. The 2021 annual box office is close to eclipsing 2020 with a running total of $1.9B, -1%, for the period of Jan. 1-Aug. 15.
This’s weekend’s top 10 films:
1.) Free Guy (20th/Dis) 4,164 theaters Fri $10.5M (includes $2.2M previews)/Sat $10.3M/Sun $7.6M/ 3-day $28.4M/Wk 1
2.) Don’t Breathe 2 3,005 theaters (Sony/SG) Fri $4.3M (includes $965K previews)/Sat $3.65M/Sun $2.56M/3-day $10.6M/Wk 1
3.) Jungle Cruise (Dis) 3,900 (-410) theaters, Fri $2.55M (-43%)/Sat $3.9M/$2.55M/ 3-day $9M (-43%)/Total $82.1M/Wk 3
4.) Respect (MGM/UAR) 3,207 theaters Fri $3.6M (includes $650K previews)/Sat $3M/Sun $2.2M/3-day $8.8M/Wk 1
5.) The Suicide Squad (WB) 4,019 (+17) theaters Fri $2.2M (-81%)/3-day $7.75M (-70%)/Total $42.9M/Wk 2
6.) Old (Uni) 2,631 (-507) theaters Fri $710K/Sat $990K/Sun $700K, 3-day: $2.4M (-42%)/Total $43M/Wk 4
7.) Black Widow (Dis) 2,060 (-1,040) theaters Fri $569K/Sat $846K/Sun $585K/3-day $2M (-49%)/Total $178.1M/Wk 6
8.) Stillwater (Foc) 2,179 (-432) theaters Fri $380K/Sat $560K/Sun $360K/3-day $1.3M (-54%)/Total $12.5M/Wk 3
9.) The Green Knight (A24) 1,784 (-1,014) theaters Fri $344K/Sat $455K/Sun $364K/3-day $1.16M (-55%)/Total $14.7M/Wk 3
10.) Space Jam: A New Legacy (WB) 1,841 (-1,028) theaters/3-day $1.115M (-54%)/Total $68M/Wk 5
Saturday AM Update: In what is a big win for an original piece of IP in the middle of August, and when kids are heading back to school, in particular during the pandemic, Disney’s 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy was truly vibrant yesterday. It came in with $10.5M, including $2.2M in Thursday night previews.
This puts the Shawn Levy-directed Free Guy on a track toward an estimated $26.4M opening. It’s a number that is higher than the mid-to-high teens that tracking had been seeing, and Disney proves once again it can beat projections during the pandemic.
This is a big deal for original high-concept movies on the big screen, and I hear this one, before P&A, was $120M. This provides a lot of hope to event filmmakers looking to launch projects in cinemas, that authentic ideas aren’t always destined to mobile phones in a streaming-obsessed world.
Also praiseworthy is the fact that Disney brass didn’t orphan Free Guy given their inheritance of the pic from the 20th Century Fox film brass who developed it. The Mouse House put a lot of marketing muscle behind. Imax, PLF and 3D drove 30% of Friday’s US/Canada ticket sales, a trend that’s kept up during the pandemic. When young moviegoers go out, they truly spend, and half of Free Guy‘s crowd was between 18-34.
The other big thing here with Free Guy is that it’s on a 45-day theatrical window; there’s no futzing by Disney with a day-and-date release similar to what they did on Black Widow, Cruella and Jungle Cruise. So, the A CinemaScore that this Ryan Reynolds’ movie received truly means it can leg out in theaters.
Some box office analysts keep telling me not to compare the ticket sales currently to pre-pandemic numbers. Hogwash. How else are we ever going to realize whether we’re above water or not? Free Guy‘s opening day beats the first Friday of Reynolds’ mid-August 2017 The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($8M) and opening weekend ($21.3M). Granted, that movie was rated R and received a B+.
Other great signs for the current marketplace: According to Market Insights firm EntTelligence, if this weekend’s current projections hold up, that would mean Free Guy is going to pull in well over 2M patrons, followed by Don’t Breathe 2 with 850k and Respect near 800k.
That’s over 3.6M people going to new movies, getting out of the house, braving delta, wearing a mask, and possibly buying some popcorn. By comparison, the total attendance on opening weekend for Jungle Cruise per the firm was 2.9M. Comscore shows 67% K-12 schools yesterday, down from 89% on summer break a week ago.
Other diagnostics on Free Guy: Males came out at 62%, 53% over 25 with 48% Caucasian, 23% Latino, 13% Black and 16% Asian/other. Best markets were in the west, notably Salt Lake City, Seattle, LA and San Francisco.
Heading into the weekend, social media analytics corp Relish Mix saw Free Guy‘s social tracking running 42% above awareness norms for an action comedy, with a reach of 345.4M on social media from 20th Century channels at 43.2M, and social media marketing machine Reynolds, who counts 76.1M followers.
In regards to chatter, RelishMix noticed that no one was being deterred by the new vax card policy. Despite “the trailer simultaneously showing too much, it still made audiences want to see the movie all the more, with excitement for Jodie Comer from Killing Eve and Taika Waititi, with positive comparisons to Ready Player One, Wreck It Ralph, The Matrix, The Truman Show on steroids to GTA Grand Theft Auto.”
Also shouting out about the film are Waititi to his 4.7M fans, and Comer to her 1.9M. Sweet piece from Reynolds on the pic’s background actors:
Also, showing a positive result is Sony/Screen Gems/Stage 6’s R-rated Don’t Breathe 2 with a $4.3M opening day, and projected $10.1M 3-day at 3,005 theaters, which is at the top of where Sony was seeing it.
For a horror film in the current pandemic marketplace, it’s a respectable result by Sony, which has been thrifty with its P&A (iSpot only shows Sony spending $4.6M on TV ads, which generated over 562M impressions to Disney’s $10.3M on Free Guy, which reached 942M+ impressions); and it’s a result that isn’t that far from Screen Gems’ mid-August 2018 Slender Man, which did a $4.8M opening day and $11.3M opening weekend.
But for a sequel to a 2016 critically acclaimed horror movie (which is rare at 88% certified fresh), it’s gotta be something of a quality upset for the studio, as critics weren’t on board at 50%, and audience sentiment slid from a B+ CinemaScore on the first installment to a B this time around.
PostTrak is at low 73% positive and 55% recommend. The first Don’t Breathe opened to an amazing $26.4M stateside off an under $10M production cost during the final weekend of August –when people typically don’t go to the movies– and legged out to $89.2M domestic, $157.8M global. The sequel here cost $15M, I hear, before P&A.
Don’t Breathe 2 drew 52% females, 53% over 25, and 63% between 18-34 with the diversity draw being largely an evenly spread 31% Caucasian, 31% Black, and 30% Latino and 9% Asian/other. Best markets, I hear, were the North East and South.
Still it’s an impressive pull-off here by Sony with Don’t Breathe 2, as RelishMix reports that the cast wasn’t activated on social media. That said, “With a short five week ramp up to Friday the 13th, Don’t Breathe 2 social media awareness approached normal levels at 77.1M across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with activity at normal levels too. Viral reposting rate is near normal at 31:1 with view counts at 32.3M on YouTube for 3 videos and 5.3M views on Facebook for 18 videos,” reports the analytics corp.
RelishMix adds, “Convo for Don’t Breathe 2 is mixed-positive, as fans who saw the original in 2016 were wondering which story elements will return, the merits of a sequel with call-out comparisons to Terminator 2, A Quiet Place, Bird Box to Split. Fans think that ‘blind man’ has become one of the most badass characters in cinema history — antagonist or protagonist, blind man is a guy you don’t wanna mess with. Audiences are friend-tagging each other on Facebook while threads debate the potential for this chapter on YouTube.”
MGM/United Artists Releasing’s Arthea Franklin biopic Respect is seeing $9M for third place, which is where it was pegged to be. We’ll see if more people come out tonight; the film has all the goods including an A CinemaScore, great 89% positive by audiences on PostTrak and a decent 63% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s even great word of mouth here on social media, with RelishMix observing, “Fans are getting goosebumps and chills of excitement for Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, with call-outs declaring those who got vaccinated specifically to go into the theater to support the opening of the film. Additional excitement bubbles around casting choices of Marlon Wayans, Mary J Blige and Audra McDonald — and songs that will be in the film plus early callouts for a ‘best actor’ Oscar.”
The hurdle here for Respect is its target demo of females (63%) and African Americans (47%), who in movie tracking research are the more reluctant demographics to come out during the pandemic, but we’ll see. Older crowd here with 86% over 25, 64% over 35, 44% over 45 with guys showing up at 37% and 36% Caucasian, 11% Latino and 6% Asian/other. Respect sang the best on the East coast Mid-West where close to 63% of its money came from verus the average of 51%.
Respect’s social cast is enthusiastically led by Hudson, who is sharing her journey with the movie to her 16.5M fans. Also touting are Wayans with 19.1M, Forest Whitaker 2.9M, and Marc Maron 1.4M. Blige shared the trailer yesterday to her 10M Facebook followers.
Hudson on Instagram:
In 4th place is Disney’s theatrical-day-and-date and on Disney+ Premier Jungle Cruise which in its third Friday did $2.55M, -43% for a projected weekend of $8.98M, -43% for a running total by EOD Sunday of $88.1M.
Warner Bros.’ R-rated critically acclaimed James Gunn DC title The Suicide Squad saw a second Friday of $2.2M, -81% for an estimated second weekend of $8.1M, -69% for a running ten-day of $43.2M. That drop isn’t a shocker since the movie is available for free to HBO Max subscribers. As Free Guy‘s over-indexing and Don’t Breathe 2‘s numbers prove: There’s a young set who’s unafraid to head to the cinema during the pandemic.
1.) Free Guy (20th/Dis) 4,164 theaters Fri $10.5M/3-day $26.4M/Wk 1
2.) Don’t Breathe 2 3,005 theaters (Sony/SG) Fri $4.3M/3-day $10.1M/Wk 1
3.) Respect (MGM/UAR) 3,207 theaters Fri $3.6M/3-day $9M/Wk 1
4.) Jungle Cruise (Dis) 3,900 theaters (-410), Fri $2.55M (-43%), 3-day $8.98M (-43%)/Total $88.1M/Wk 3
5.) The Suicide Squad (WB) 4,019 (+17) Fri $2.2M (-81%)/3-day $8.1M (-69%)/Total $43.2M/Wk 2
Previous Friday Update: Disney/20th Century Studio’s Free Guy is off to a very hopeful start, clocking $2.2M last night from previews that started at 6PM. It’s a number that’s just under the Thursday night of Disney’s Dwayne Johnson-Emily Blunt family movie Jungle Cruise which made $2.7M. That film only had Thursday night as a pure theatrical window before becoming available day-and-date the next day on Disney+ Premier and in theatres. Free Guy has a 45-day theatrical window in all global markets.
Another plus? Free Guy posted higher Thursday previews than Reynold’s previous August hit The Hitman’s Bodyguard which did $1.65M. Note that 2017 release was rated R while Free Guy is PG-13. Hitman’s Bodyguard posted a pre-pandemic gross of $21.38M.
Conservative expectations are that the Shawn Levy-directed film opens to mid-to-high-teens at 4,165 theaters today. All studios are nervously watching the box office as headlines of the surging delta variant poise to shake up the fall and holiday season.
That’s not the case for Free Guy: It’s respecting a theatrical window. The reason why Disney kept Free Guy theatrical was due to a previous pay one TV window commitment the production had with HBO under its original contract terms at 20th Century Fox. Nonetheless, Disney is giving a big push for the Ryan Reynolds film this weekend. The previous Fox brass who hatched Free Guy were excited about this film, and it’s clear in Disney’s push for the film, they are too. iSpot estimates that the TV campaign spend for Free Guy is at $10.3M, including airings on Disney-owned networks, triggering ad impressions of 942.2M. The top networks who booked ads were NBC (16.2%), Hallmark (9.9%), ABC (8.6%), USA Network (4.6%), ESPN (4.4%). Free Guy had ads on the Olympics (20.6%), NBA games, (5.1%), the sitcom Mom (2.1%), NFL (1.8%), and ESPN SportsCenter (1.8%).
Stage 6 Films and Screen Gems’ R-rated horror thriller Don’t Breathe 2 took in $965K last night off shows starting at 7 p.m. in 2,575 locations. The studio is eyeing $8M-$10M. Critics soured on this sequel at 50% Rotten to the first 2016 chapter’s 88% certified fresh. Don’t Breathe 2, which is rated R, posted a preview number that’s under the $1.2M of Sony’s previous horror title Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, however that movie was PG-13; that sequel opening to $8.8M, and currently counting $23.7M. Screen Gems’ PG-13 Slender Man which opened during the same exact weekend three years ago posted a Thursday night of $1M.
MGM/United Artists’ Respect had a great Thursday night as well with $650K besting the preview night results of Harriet and Blackklansman which were $600K each. A high single digit result is expected. Both pre-pandemic titles, Blackkklansman saw a $10.8M opening at 1,512 over Aug. 10-12, 2018 while Harriet did $11.6M at 2,059 theaters over the first weekend of November, 2019. The movie, directed by Liesl Tommy, stars Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul.
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