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‘Free Guy’ is One of Ryan Reynolds’ Best Box Office Debuts

Moviegoing was up this week over last week, with ‘Free Guy,’ ‘Don’t Breathe 2,’ and the Aretha Franklin biopic ‘Respect’ all exceeding expectations.
Comer and Reynolds in Free Guy
Twentieth Century Studios
By  · Published on August 16th, 2021

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office attendance numbers for Free Guy, Don’t Breathe 2, and Respect.

Ryan Reynolds is finally a real, live movie star! It’s only taken him around twenty years. Blue fairy has come through and turned the funny boy into a genuine box office draw. He doesn’t need the Deadpool suit or the Green Lantern ring or Denzel Washington or Sandra Bullock leading the way. Like his titular character in Free Guy, Reynolds has now shown his full potential.

Free Guy, an original-enough idea not supported by any exact existing IP,  grossed $28.4 million (actual*) in its first few days, which is about 3.1 million tickets sold**. That’s much better than the 1.1 million tickets debut of his action-comedy sequel Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife earlier this year. In fact, it’s even better than last weekend’s box office champ, the DC superhero movie The Suicide Squad.

Free Guy gave the actor one of his best openings ever. Not bad considering how many comic book characters Reynolds has played over the years. If we filter the actor’s work further, Free Guy drew Reynolds’ biggest crowd for a non-voice role, non-cameo, non-Deadpool release in almost a decade, since Safe House in 2012.

Top 10 Ryan Reynolds Movies by Box Office Attendance

RankMovie TitleOpening Weekend AttendanceTotal Domestic Attendance
1Deadpool (2016)15.3 million42 million
2Deadpool 2 (2018)13.8 million35.6 million
3X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)11.3 million24 million
4Green Lantern (2011)6.7 million14.7 million
5Safe House (2012)5.05 million15.9 million
6The Proposal (2009)4.48 million21.9 million
7The Amityville Horror (2005)3.7 million10.2 million
8Free Guy (2021)3.1 million3.1 million
9Blade: Trinity (2004)2.6 million8.4 million
10The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)2.4 million8.4 million

Free Guy Box Office vs Expectations

The latest starring Ryan Reynolds also not only topped the box office chart in its debut but it exceeded expectations. For the most part. Last week, Box Office Pro predicted Free Guy would only make as much as about 2.2 million tickets. With a peak possible crowd number of about 2.7 million. However, in mid-July, before pandemic fears were back on the rise, Box Office Pro’s too-wide range of potential was equivalent to anywhere between 1.6 million and 3.8 million tickets sold.

Even then, the reality wound up on the higher side of expectations. Part of its success could have been its theatrical exclusivity. Free Guy isn’t streaming anywhere for a while. Also, its reviews were surprisingly positive (82% on Rotten Tomatoes, 62 on Metacritic). Free Guy is actually Reynolds’ third-best-reviewed wide release (and sixth-best overall). And its audience reception (95% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes) was great, as well. First-night moviegoers gave Free Guy an ‘A’ grade via Cinemascore polling. That’s terrific for any movie, especially one starring Reynolds, and means there’s good word of mouth.

Cinemascore grades for Ryan Reynolds movies:

Free Guy, Deadpool, Deadpool 2,  – A
Safe House, The Proposal – A-
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Blade: Trinity, Definitely Maybe, The In-Laws, Self/Less – B+
Green Lantern, The Amityville Horror, Smokin’ Aces, The Change-Up, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Waiting – B
Just Friends, Criminal – B-
R.I.P.D., Life, Van Wilder – C+

Don't Breathe 2 Trailer Lang
Sony Pictures

Don’t Breathe 2 Box Office

Meanwhile, an unoriginal movie that opened over the weekend, was slightly less successful. Like Free Guy, Don’t Breathe 2 exceeded box office expectations. The horror sequel grossed $10.6 million (actual*), equal to around 1.2 million tickets**. That’s better than Box Office Pro’s forecast last week of less than a million people. However, last month, the site gave 1.2 million as the movie’s lowest possible attendance. The original Don’t Breathe sold around 2.9 million tickets five years ago with a smaller budget.

Of course, Don’t Breathe 2 received much worse reviews (51% on Rotten Tomatoes, 48 on Metacritic) than Don’t Breathe (88% on Rotten Tomatoes, 71 on Metacritic), which opened in first place five years ago. And much of its negative reception has included outright disapproval for its reassessment of a rapist as a hero. For some reason, Cinemascore didn’t poll Don’t Breathe 2 ticket buyers on Friday night, but the movie’s audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is actually currently higher than that of its predecessor.

Respect Box Office

That release was also a theatrical exclusive, as was the third big opener of the past weekend: Respect. The entertaining biographical portrayal of the life of Aretha Franklin grossed $8.8 million (actual*). That’s about 960,000 people** who went to see Jennifer Hudson in the role of the Queen of Soul. Low for a music icon’s life story, but we also shouldn’t really compare it to anything in pre-pandemic times.

And it, too, was higher than the forecast figure. Last week, Box Office Pro guessed the musical biopic would draw about 870,000 people. Yet the site did offer a high-end for potential as being 1.1 million. Last month, that potential topped at almost 2 million. Reviews for Respect were modest (63% on Rotten Tomatoes, 63 on Metacritic), while the Cinemascore grade was exceptional (though typical for a music biopic): ‘A.’

The Rest

In other new release box office news, The Lost Leonardo opened on just three screens over the weekend and managed the second-best per-theater average: 454 tickets (Free Guy had the best with 743). The documentary, which premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, concerns the mystery of a work that may or may not have been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Overall, this past weekend’s box office attendance was up from last weekend’s disappointment. About 8.2 million Americans bought movie tickets compared to the previous week’s 7.1 million. But that’s still down from the weekend before and the peak weekend of the year, which was in mid-July.

Box Office Attendance for August 13 - August 15, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen AttendanceTotal AttendanceStudio
1Free Guy3.1 million7443.1 million20th Century Studios
2Don't Breathe 21.2 million385.04366811.2 millionScreen Gems
3Jungle Cruise0.996 million2529 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
4Respect0.962 million3000.962 million MGM
5The Suicide Squad0.82 million2104.7 millionWarner Bros.
6Old0.3 million1004.7 millionUniversal Pictures
7Black Widow0.2 million10619.5 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
8Stillwater0.14 million651.4 millionFocus Features
9The Green Knight0.13 million 711.6 millionA24
10Space Jam: A New Legacy0.12 million667.4 millionWarner Bros.

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures.

** Ticket sales and attendance figures are determined with each year’s average ticket prices. Currently, for 2021, that average is $9.16.

All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.